According to USA Today and the San Diego Union-Tribune, in a ceremony in Virginia Beach, Virginia on January 13, 2017, outgoing Navy Secretary Ray Mabus presented upgraded valor medals to 16 Navy special operations personnel (or their families, in the case of two of the fallen sailors), including a posthumous Navy Cross to the family of fallen Navy SEAL Charles Keating IV. Chief Petty Officer (SEAL) Keating was killed in battle against the Islamic State in Iraq in May of 2016.
The upgrades included eight Silver Stars and eight Navy Crosses. A ninth Navy Cross upgrade was not physically presented, as the service member recipient was unable to attend the ceremony. The award recipients belonged to both east and west coast Naval Special Warfare (NSW) commands, though it was unclear if all were SEALs. Non-SEAL personnel at the NSW commands are also exposed to combat operations on a regular basis.
The upgrades were made as part of a larger military-wide review of awards below the Medal of Honor first called for by the Obama administration back in 2014. In the Navy, Mabus directed the review of over 300 awards. As a result, more than 30 upgrades were made for sailors and Marines, including the 17 presented on January 13 in Virginia Beach. Two upgrades are reportedly to be made to the Medal of Honor, though those awards have not yet been announced.
We looked at those likely to receive the upgrades to the Medal of Honor here on SOFREP.
In all, an estimated 1,000 Silver Stars and 100 service crosses were reviewed for possible upgrade, according to the Union-Tribune. The Navy Cross is given for “extraordinary heroism while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States,” in which a service member is exposed to significant danger and/or personal risk. The Silver Star is awarded for bravery in combat, among other things.
None of the identities of the upgraded award recipients — excepting Keating — were made public in the ceremony. The Department of Defense, however, has recently begun listing the award recipients on its website, though it was unclear when and if these awards would appear there publicly.
Keating was killed fighting the Islamic State in Iraq alongside Kurdish Peshmerga fighters as part of a SEAL Team ONE advise and assist mission, according to CNN. He had previously been awarded the Silver Star for valor in action that occurred just three months prior to his death, in Syria. That combat was as a result of the same train and assist mission.
(photo courtesy of Misael Virgen and the San Diego Union-Tribune).