I was disturbed to read in a Washington Post article recently about the case of Sgt. First Class Earl D. Plumlee, an Army Special Forces soldier who was serving with First Special Forces Group in Afghanistan in the summer of 2013, and whose recommended award of the Congressional Medal of Honor (CMH) was downgraded to a Silver Star by the Army’s civilian head.

According to the article, written by Dan Lamothe, then-Staff Sgt. Plumlee showed extreme heroism in a battle with Taliban insurgents in Ghazni, Afghanistan, at a forward operating base that came under attack. The outer perimeter of the base was breached by the attackers, allowing a number of them to pour inside. Plumlee reportedly fought off the attackers, most, if not all of which were wearing suicide vests. He exposed himself to the detonating vests, killed a number of the attackers with his sidearm, and at points in the fighting, faced his enemy at a distance of no more than 20 feet.

Plumlee was recommended for the CMH by the head of the Special Operations Task Force in the area, Colonel Patrick B. Roberson, and the recommendation was approved all the way up the chain of command—until it reached the secretary of the Army. Army Secretary John M. McHugh then “downgraded” the award to a Silver Star.

Why the downgrade?

Were Plumlee’s actions, documented as demonstrating “extraordinary heroism,” not worthy of the award?  Did he prove to have committed some act in the battle that merited the award’s downgrade? The answer is, by all accounts, no.

Plumlee was, however, investigated by the Army’s Criminal Investigative Command at around the same time that he was being considered for the CMH. He was alleged to have attempted to sell a military rifle scope online. Plumlee was never charged with a crime related to the investigation.

One is left to wonder why Plumlee’s award was thus downgraded, and one is left to conclude that it was because the Army secretary did not want to deal with having to award the nation’s highest citation for bravery to a soldier if there was any chance that soldier might bring any embarrassment to the Army.

Therein lies the source of my disturbance.

We here at SOFREP have previously addressed issues with the CMH. The award is not a popularity contest. Nor should a service member’s lifestyle or actions off the battlefield play into the consideration of the award.