TCTI: Too Crazy To Ignore
Dave Ross

Army captain who criticized superiors to finally receive Medal of Honor

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.

Dave Ross, KIRO Radio Morning News Anchor
Dave Ross hosts the Morning News on KIRO Radio weekdays from 5-9 a.m. Dave has won the national Edward R. Murrow Award for writing five times since he started at KIRO Radio in 1978.
Top Stories

  • Broken Record
    Kansas City fans reclaim the world noise record from Seattle

  • Another Way Across
    A group is pushing for a third route across Lake Washington for light rail

  • 9-Month Closure
    Businesses on the Seattle waterfront hope to survive a long upcoming closure
ATTENTION COMMENTERS: We've changed our comments, but want to keep you in the conversation.
Please login below with your Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or Disqus account. Existing MyNorthwest account holders will need to create a new Disqus account or use one of the social logins provided below. Thank you.
comments powered by Disqus
Sign up for breaking news e-mail alerts from MyNorthwest.com
In the community
Do you know an exceptional citizen who has impacted and inspired others?
KIRO Radio and WSECU would like to recognize six oustanding citizens this year. Nominate them to be recognized and to receive a $2,000 charitable grant.