Next month, President Obama will award the Medal of Honor to a soldier who survived an ambush in Afghanistan and who then raised a ruckus by saying his superiors left his men hanging.
Former Army Captain William D. Swenson, who’s from Seattle, was a military mentor and trainer with Afghan Forces in Kunar Province in northeastern Afghanistan on Sept. 8, 2009 when all hell broke loose.
McClatchy reporter Jonathan Landay, was embedded with Swenson’s group. “Neither I, nor the American troops I was with had ever been in anything like this before.”
Landay found himself in a Taliban ambush that left five Americans and nine Afghan soldiers dead.
“When the first elements of [this] reached the very outskirts of the village, the first shots were fired and they quickly grew into a storm of machine gun fire and rocket propelled grenade fire,” describes Landay.
It was Captain Swenson, an adviser to the Afghan Border Police, who called for artillery support and when his request was denied, drove repeatedly into heavy enemy fire to retrieve the dead and wounded.
“It started becoming quite obvious that the insurgents were trying to encircle us. Later, Captain Swenson told me that two of the insurgents actually came down a hill and started shouting at him to surrender, and he answered them by throwing a grenade at them,” says Landay.
Swenson was joined by then-Marine Corporal Dakota Meyer, who was awarded the Medal of Honor in September 2011.
But Swenson came out of it angry. He felt his men were victims of the Army’s new rules of engagement which limited artillery strikes.
“U.S. commanders declined to provide it citing new rules that were instated in an effort to reduce civilian casualties here in Afghanistan,” says Landay.
In his post-action interview – which was uncovered by the Military Times, Swenson unloaded on the rules, saying “When I’m being second-guessed by higher or somebody that’s sitting in an air-conditioned [office] why [the] hell am I even out there in the first place?” Let’s sit back and play Nintendo.” He finally left the Army in 2011.
After that, Swenson’s Medal of Honor documents were somehow “lost,” according to the Army. None of the documents could be found until Congressman Duncan Hunter of California put pressure on the Defense Department to get the process moving again. Although, the Army denies his criticism had anything to do with the delay.
On October 15, Captain William Swenson will be recognized for his heroism in an engagement that he feels wouldn’t have been so deadly if his superiors had just provided the support he asked for.
KIRO Radio’s Owen Murphy contributed to this report.