Secretary of Defense Mark Esper is seeking to posthumously upgrade a Silver Star award to the Medal of Honor for Alwyn Cashe, U.S. Army sergeant who died saving others in Iraq nearly 15 years ago.

U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn C. Cashe, from Oviedo, Florida was on a combat patrol on October 17, 2005, in Samarra, Iraq, when a roadside bomb detonated near the Bradley fighting vehicle carrying him and his fellow soldiers. 

Cashe, 35, suffered fatal burns while repeatedly returning to the burning vehicle to pull his fellow soldiers from it, despite being on fire himself. He died on November 8 of that year at the Brooke Army Medical Center, Fort Sam Houston, in San Antonio, Texas. At the time, he was awarded a Silver Star Medal.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper told members of Congress this week in a letter that Cashe’s actions “merit the award of the Medal of Honor.” If awarded, Cashe would be the first Black service member honored with the Medal of Honor in Iraq or Afghanistan.

From left to right, then-2nd Lt. Leon Matthias, Staff Sgt. George Alexander, Jr., and Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe.

Esper’s letter comes on the heels of a bipartisan push from lawmakers to upgrade Cashe’s Silver Star Medal, the third-highest U.S. military combat honor, to the Medal of Honor, which is the nation’s highest award.

Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-FL) whose district includes Cashe’s birthplace Sanford as well as Oviedo, along with Rep. Michael Waltz (R-FL), an Army combat veteran representing the neighboring congressional district, spearheaded the effort. In October of 2019, the pair, along with Dan Crenshaw (R-TX), formally requested an upgrade in a letter to Esper.

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Because the incident with Cashe occurred 15 years ago, Congress must waive a rule that requires the Medal of Honor to be awarded “within five years after the date of the act justifying the award” before the Pentagon can move forward. 

Waltz and Crenshaw already have gotten approval for a floor amendment attached to the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, which the House has passed. However, there has been no action yet in the U.S. Senate. Thus, the House sponsors are looking for a Senate sponsor.

“Once legislation is enacted authorizing the President of the United States to award, if he so chooses, the Medal of Honor to SFC Cashe, I will provide my endorsement to the President,” Esper said, adding that the final authority for the award “rests solely with the President.”

“My favorable determination in no way presumes what the President’s decision might be,” Esper added.

“Alwyn was a hero in the purest and most profound sense. He gave his own life to save the lives of his fellow soldiers,” Rep. Murphy said in a statement. “I am overjoyed that the Secretary of Defense has determined that SFC Cashe’s actions merit the Medal of Honor, a conclusion I strongly share.”

She added, “I will work with my colleagues to swiftly grant the President the authority he needs to provide this valiant soldier with the recognition he earned.”

“Alwyn Cashe’s extraordinary courage on behalf of his fellow soldiers, in the face of danger and death, embodies everything the Medal of Honor represents,” Waltz said in the release. 

“Cashe is a Florida and American hero. He without a doubt deserves our nation’s highest honor — and I’m very glad Secretary Esper and our Department of Defense agree and recognize his heroic actions. Now Congress needs to act to waive the five-year statute of limitations and allow the Department of Defense’s recommendation to move forward and proceed to the President to give final approval.”

There have been six Medals of Honor awarded for the war in Iraq, all of them posthumously. Eighteen have been awarded for the war in Afghanistan.