As reported in USA Today on December 5, 2016, two U.S. Navy sailors — both likely SEALs — will have their Navy Cross awards upgraded to Congressional Medals of Honor, following a review conducted by the Secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus, upon the order of Defense Secretary Ash Carter.
Per the article in USA Today, “Brad Carson, who helped oversee the review as the top Pentagon personnel official, said the upgraded medals likely will be awarded to Navy SEALs who have been at the forefront of dangerous missions in the post-9/11 world.”
While that reasoning makes sense, there have nevertheless been a number of non-SEALs who have also received the Navy’s second-highest award for valor. Each service awards its own service cross for heroism, and the Navy awards it to both Navy sailors and Marines. There have been 47 Navy Crosses awarded in public since 9/11/2001, according to USA Today.
Mabus’ wording when describing the upgrades did not definitively indicate whether the upgrades would apply to Marines, sailors, or one of each. Of note, one Marine was awarded the Navy Cross in secret for his actions in 2012 while he was reportedly assigned to the Army’s special mission unit (commonly called “Delta Force”). The Marine responded to the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, in September 2012, from the U.S. embassy in Tripoli. An Army soldier also assigned to Delta Force reportedly received the Distinguished Service Cross as well for actions on the ground in Benghazi.
In another example, a Navy corpsman attached to the Second Marines, Regimental Combat Team 2, Hospitalman Apprentice Luis Fonseca, also received a Navy Cross for his actions in Iraq in 2003. He would also be eligible for the upgrade to the CMOH.
Another Navy corpsman, meanwhile, Chief Petty Officer Justin Wilson, assigned to Marine Special Operations Command (MARSOC), was awarded a Navy Cross for his heroic actions in Afghanistan in 2011, in which he treated wounded Marines while also suffering from injuries due to an improvised explosive device attack. Five other MARSOC Marines have also received the Navy Cross since the unit was created in 2006.
One can see a list of Navy Cross recipients (those made public, anyway) here.
Assuming Brad Carson is right, though, and the upgrades to CMOH apply to SEALs, here are the potential new recipients of the Medals of Honor. The below are the Navy SEALs who have been awarded the Navy Cross in the conflicts since 9/11/2001 [it is possible that some are not on this list, as the awards are sometimes bestowed in secret].
Matthew Axelson, awarded the Navy Cross for his actions in Afghanistan in 2005, as part of a 4-man Surveillance and Reconnaissance unit that was compromised by anti-coalition militia fighters (as detailed in the book and movie “Lone Survivor”).
Stephen Bass, awarded the Navy Cross for his actions while detailed to the British Special Boat Squadron (SBS) in Afghanistan in November 2001, while attempting to rescue two Americans, including deceased CIA officer Mike Spann.
Nicolas Checque, awarded the Navy Cross (posthumously) for his actions during the rescue of an American hostage in Afghanistan in 2012. Navy SEAL Edward Byers was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions during the same rescue operation.
Danny Dietz, awarded the Navy Cross for his actions in Afghanistan in 2005, as part of a 4-man Surveillance and Reconnaissance unit that was compromised by anti-coalition militia fighters (as detailed in the book and movie “Lone Survivor”).
Mark Donald, awarded the Navy Cross for his actions in Afghanistan while detailed to a Joint Operational Unit in 2003. See his citation here.
Marcus Luttrell, awarded the Navy Cross for his actions in Afghanistan in 2005, as part of a 4-man Surveillance and Reconnaissance unit that was compromised by anti-coalition militia fighters (as detailed in the book and movie “Lone Survivor”).
Britt Slabinski, awarded the Navy Cross for his actions on “Roberts’ Ridge,” during Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan in 2002. Read more here.
Unidentified SEAL, awarded the Navy Cross (in secret) for his actions during an August 2009 attack in Afghanistan.
If both Medals of Honor are indeed awarded to SEALs, it will bring the number of Navy SEALs who have received the award since the creation of the SEAL Teams to eight. The previous recipients of the Medal of Honor are Bob Kerrey, Tom Norris, Mike Thornton, Michael Monsoor, Mike Murphy, and Ed Byers.
Image courtesy of US Navy