WASHINGTON — Three Soldiers whose acts of bravery spanned over 12 years were inducted into the Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes in a ceremony Friday.
The Defense Department and the Army honored Medal of Honor recipients Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Celiz, an Army Ranger, Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe, an infantry platoon sergeant, and Master Sgt. Earl Plumlee, a Green Beret, at Conmy Hall, Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Virginia.
Secretary of the Army Christine E. Wormuth lauded the recipients for their dedication to their comrades and families. On Thursday, Cashe and Celiz were posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor and Plumlee accepted the award from President Joe Biden at the White House.
“Each of these incredible Soldiers and their families that we honor today, while from different parts of the country, different walks of life, and different religious faiths, represent what is best about our Army,” Wormuth said. “The common thread that binds them is the love of their teammates and their love for their families.”
“We will strive every day to live up to their legacy,” said Army Chief of Staff, Gen. James C. McConville.
Celiz’s acts of bravery had spread throughout his unit long before a fateful summer day in July 2018. Celiz had been deployed to Afghanistan as a leader of a special operations unit comprised of American and ally forces.
News of Celiz’s exploits had even reached then-Army Vice Chief of Staff McConville, whose son had served as a medical evacuation helicopter pilot in Afghanistan at the same time as Celiz’s final deployment there.
“He told me that many times, Chris put his life in jeopardy for his fellow Soldiers,” McConville said during the ceremony. “And for those crews, acts of bravery like this are heroic to us [but] routine for Chris.”
On July 12, 2018, insurgents attacked Celiz’s unit near Paktia Province, Afghanistan. After enemy gunfire wounded an ally, Celiz repeatedly put himself in harm’s way and used his body as a shield against enemy machine gun rounds until his team could carry the ally to safety. Celiz would later die of his injuries.
Celiz’s wife, Katie, took the stage to receive the Medal of Honor flag. Katie Celiz expressed her thanks to the Army Ranger community who helped care for Chris’s daughter, Shannon.
“In a way Chris thought of his Soldiers as his own children,” Katie said. “And he sincerely wanted to see them not only succeed in the Army, but to succeed in life. He pushed them, he encouraged them, he listened to them, and he always did his personal best to lead by example.”
Cashe, a former drill sergeant, dedicated his career to caring for and mentoring his Soldiers. His concern for their well-being led to Cashe’s heroic acts on Oct. 17, 2005, while deployed to Samarra, Iraq. When the Bradley vehicle Cashe commanded rolled over an improvised explosive device, it ignited into flames.
While suffering burns to 72% of his body, Cashe went into the burning vehicle again and again, until he had rescued six of his Soldiers.
“Sergeant Cashe took care of his Soldiers both on and off the battlefield,” McConville said. “He knew their families. And I believe that's why Sergeant Cashe didn't hesitate to act in the face of enemy fire.”
The nation’s first African-American Secretary of Defense, Lloyd J. Austin, noted the historic moment for Cashe, who became the first African-American recipient of the award since the Vietnam War. Austin also spoke of the respect Cashe’s troops had for the Soldier, from his teammates in Iraq, to his recruits at Fort Benning, Georgia.
“Looking back on his career I’m struck by all the times that he put himself last: In the barracks being the last to sleep because he was checking on his men; after the blast demanding that he be the last Soldier to be evacuated; and in the hospital insisting that he be tended to last,” Austin said.
“Above all, he took great pride in taking care of his Soldiers,” Austin added.
Cashe’s wife Tamara, daughter, Alexis, and sister, Kasinal Cashe-White, waited more than 16 years for their loved one to be awarded the medal. Cashe’s sister credited the 3rd Infantry Division and Lt. Gen. Gary Brito for leading the push for Cashe’s nomination. Tamara and Cashe-White accepted the Medal of Honor flag.
“For a while there it looked like we wouldn’t [get the medal awarded]” Cashe-White said. “But we did. I thank all of you who have helped in the journey [and] in the struggle. When you think of my brother … think of him as a Soldier who loved ‘his boys,’ who died showing how much he loved his boys. He was a Soldier first.”
McConville commanded the 101st Airborne Division at the time that Plumlee risked his life for fellow Soldiers against invading insurgents in August 2013. McConville visited Ghazni Province, Afghanistan, to meet with Plumlee shortly after the attack, where enemy forces broke into a U.S. forward operating base. Plumlee engaged multiple insurgents armed with suicide vests and repeatedly risked his life alongside his Special Forces teammates.
“What I saw there was extraordinary warriors who fought against overwhelming odds,” McConville said of Plumlee and Special Forces Soldiers. “They defeated an enemy that could have killed hundreds of Soldiers and would have had strategic consequences for both the United States and our allies and partners.”
After insurgents tore open a wall of a U.S. forward operating base in Ghazni, Plumlee and other U.S. Soldiers raced toward the breach. Armed with only a machine gun and pistol, Plumlee attacked the enemy forces several times and eventually led a successful counterattack with U.S. and Polish Soldiers.
Austin lauded Plumlee for deferring credit to his teammates.
“Plumlee is a humble guy,” Austin said. “He's never wanted to be singled out for his heroism. And he's quick to remind people that it's not about him, it's about the team.”
An experienced Soldier with multiple deployments under his belt, Wormuth also praised Plumlee’s family: his wife, Terry, and his children, Lillian and Lincoln, for enduring times of separation.
“The Plumlees are an incredible Army family; one that has weathered many combat deployments, training, rotations, and long years of service,” she said. “Through it all, they've only grown stronger together. We are lucky and proud that they remain part of the Army family and continue to serve our country.”
Plumlee thanked the Cashe and Celiz families for sharing the spotlight with him as well as Austin and the Army’s senior leaders.
“You’ve honored me today,” Plumlee said after his induction. “I look forward to honoring you with my continued service.”