2:09 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Please, be seated. Thank you. Good afternoon, and welcome to the East Room of the White House, decorated for the holiday season and to celebrate the gift of gratitude.
It’s an appropriate backdrop for this ceremony, we believe, because our hearts are overflowing with gratitude today as we honor the unparalleled courage and commitment to duty and the indispensable, indisputable gallantry and intrep- — you know, it’s just hard to explain where your soldiers got the courage they got: the late Sergeant First Class Alwyn Cashe, the late Sergeant First Class Christopher Celiz, and Master Sergeant Earl Plumlee — Plumlee. You know, our nation’s newest recipients of our highest military award: the Medal of Honor.
I want to thank all of our distinguished guests that are here today: the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs; the Secretary of the — of the — Secretary Austin; the Enlisted Advisor [to the] Chairman, Colón-López; and the leaders of the United States Army; and the Vice President of the United States and the Second Gentlemen.
And I’m Jill’s husband. Jill is here. (Laughter.)
As we add these three new names to our nation’s roll of honor, I also want to recognize previous Medal of Honor recipients who are here today to honor their brothers in arms: Matthew Williams. Matthew, stand up so people can see. (Applause.) Thomas Payne. (Applause.) And Edward Byers. (Applause.)
Each of you know what it means to stare down danger and summon the strength in the moment of trial. And we are grateful for all that you three have done and so many more.
And the family of Sergeant First Class Alwyn Cashe has — has been 16 years — this has been 16 years in coming.
Representative Murphy, Representative Waltz, thank you for your efforts — your continued efforts — along with the team. And Sergeant Cashe’s commanders, commander-in-arms, his medical team, and the family who worked with such dedication over so many years to make this recognition possible.
October 17th, 2005, Sergeant Cashe was commanding a Bradley fighting vehicle on night patrol in Iraq. They came under enemy fire. An improvised explosive device detonated, igniting the vehicle’s fuel and engulfing it in flames.
Sergeant extracted himself and, without hesitation, turned back to the vehicle to help free the driver and extinguish flames on the driver.
In the process, Sergeant First Class Cashe’s uniform — drenched in fuel — caught fire, causing severe burns. The patrol was still taking enemy fire, but Cashe thought only of his fellow soldiers trapped in the troop compartment.
So he pushed his own pain aside and returned to the burning vehicle as his — and pulled four soldiers free — four more. At this point, with the second- and third-degree burns covering almost 75 percent of his body, his uniform mostly — mostly burned away, the Sergeant saw there were still two soldiers and their interpreter unaccounted for.
So he went back into the inferno for a third time and got everyone out of that inferno. That was his code. And his love for his 3rd Infantry Division ran deep. No soldier was going to left — be left behind on his watch. And when helicopters began to arrive, he insisted that his troops be evacuated before he would go.
Later, at Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas, where he and other members of his team were taken for treatment, when he regained the ability to speak, his first thoughts were for his units. He asked, first thing, “How are my boys?” “How are my boys?”
Alwyn Cashe was a soldier’s soldier — a warrior who literally walked through fire for his troops. Sergeant succumbed to his injuries on November 8, 2005, surrounded by those he loved and who loved him.
He was a hero. He was a beloved son and brother, a proud husband, and a father of three children.
Sergeant Cashe and his family gave everything for our country. Their devotion to his memory and their years working to make sure that his courage and selflessness were properly documented and honored is a testament to the love that he inspired and the legacy he left behind.
Sergeant First Class Cashe is now the seventh individual to receive the Medal of Honor for his actions in Operation Iraqi Freedom and the first African American to receive it since the Vietnam war.
And Tamara, Alexis, Kasinal — I’m so honored to award your husband, your dad, your brother the recognition that he earned. I know it’s tough. As honored as you are, it’s got to be tough to be here today.
He’ll be remembered — he’ll be remembered forever.
Sergeant First Class Christopher Celiz was an Army Ranger through and through with 1-75 — “the Rangers Lead the Way.”
On July 12, 2018, nearing the end of a fifth deployment — the fifth deployment — Sergeant Celiz was leading an operation in the Paktia Province of Afghanistan — not a very friendly place — to clear the area of enemy forces.
Attacked and pinned down by a large force, the Sergeant exposed himself to enemy fire in order to retrieve a heavy weapon system that allowed his team to fight back and reach a secure location.
During the firefight, a member of his team was critically wounded as they called for a medical evacuation. But as the rescue helicopter arrived and began taking fire as well, the Sergeant knew it was — time was critical to get his wounded teammate loaded and treated. So he once again, knowingly and willingly, stepped into the enemy’s crosshairs.
Sergeant Celiz used his body as a shield for the aircraft and its crew against the heavy incoming fire.
The helicopter began to take off, and he put himself directly between the cockpit and the enemy, ensuring the aircraft could depart and sustaining what would prove to be a mortal wound.
He knew he was hit, but he waved for the aircrew to depart without him.
In the face of extreme danger, he placed the safety of his team and his crew above his own.
I can offer no better encapsulation than the words of the U.S. Army Air Ambulance pilot in command that day. He said, quote, “Courage, to me, is putting your life on the line to save the life of another, as demonstrated by Sergeant First Class Chris Celiz, who died protecting my crew.” End of quote.
Christopher Celiz was courage made flesh.
Today, we add his name to the elite vanguard of American warriors who, generation after generation, have strengthened and inspired our nation with their unwavering bravery and service.
His legacy lives on in the lives he saved, the teammates he mentored, and the memories he made with his beloved wife, Katie, and especially — and their precious daughter, Shannon. Thank you for sharing your dad with our country, Shannon. We’ll never forget the debt that we owe you and your whole family.
August 28, 2013: Then-Staff Sergeant Earl Plumlee was snapping a quick photo with members of his unit at Forward Operation Base Ghazni in Afghanistan. Then insurgents, it turned out, detonated a 400-pound car bomb that blew open a 60-foot-wide breach in the perimeter wall.
Staff Sergeant Plumlee and members of his special operations team immediately hopped in the nearby truck and raced toward the blast to defend the base.
When they arrived, they encountered insurgents coming through the wall, all wearing explosive vests. Our troops started taking rocket fire, recoilless rifle fire, and small arms fire.
While the driver of their truck maneuvered into the line of enemy fire to shield injured members of their team outside the vehicle, the Staff Sergeant exited the vehicle and used his own body to shield the driver. He left whatever cover the truck provided him and began to engage the invaders.
Outnumbered with no regard for his own safety, at times armed with only a pistol, Staff Sergeant Plumlee attacked the insurgent forces, taking them on one by one.
And time and again, bullets flew by, sometimes only inches away. And time and again, Staff Sergeant Plumlee closed with the enemy.
And multiple occasions during the fight, the insurgents detonated their vests right in front of him — Plumlee — at one point hurling him into a wall and injuring his back.
When a fellow soldier was severely wounded, Plumlee immediately ran to the soldier’s position, carried him to safety, and administered Tactical Combat Casualty Care before returning to the fight.
Ultimately, Staff Sergeant Plumlee was able to organize three Polish soldiers to mount an effective defense of the base,
clear the area, and regain a security posture.
His heroic actions and the battlefield leadership gained the recognition of some of our highest military commanders, including a man who knows a little bit about battles, our Chairman of our Joint Chiefs, General Milley, and General McConville, who are here today — who are here today to honor him as well.
They saw extraordinary bravery of what then-Staff Sergeant Plumlee did and they understood the worse outcome he prevented from taking place. They understood what would have happened had he not done what he did.
Now Master Sergeant Plumlee has — this recognition has been too long in coming, delayed for you and your family as well.
And no one — no one will ever forget how you sprang into action when our — when the enemy attacked our base.
And I’m grateful for your continued service and dedication to the country. And that goes for your wife Terrie and your children, Lillian and Lincoln, as well.
Because it’s not just the person who wears the uniform who serves, it’s the whole family who serves: the sleepless nights, the missed holidays, the empty chairs, the celebrations, and the way you give back to your community.
The English poet John Milton once wrote, “They also serve who only stand and wait.” “They also serve who only stand and wait.”
While today we honor three outstanding soldiers whose actions embodied the highest ideals of selfless service, we also remember the high price our military members and their families
are willing to pay on behalf of our nation.
We remember the strength and the sacrifices of these military families, caregivers, and survivors.
And we remember and renew our sacred obligation to those who serve this nation in uniform. As a nation, we have many obligations to our children, the elderly, those in need, but we have only one truly sacred obligation — sacred obligation — and that’s to properly prepare and equip those troops we send into harm’s way, to care for them and their families both while they’re deployed and when they return. That commitment never expires. And as Commander-in-Chief, I promise it’s a commitment that we will keep.
So, God bless you all. And may God protect the troops who are out there right now.
And now it’s my great honor to ask for the citations to be read and award the Medal of Honor to Sergeant First Class Alwyn
Chase [Cashe], Sergeant First Class Christopher Celiz, and Master Sergeant Earl Plumlee.
MILITARY AIDE: Will the Cashe family please join the President on stage?
Attention to orders.
The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress March 3rd, 1863, has posthumously awarded in the name of Congress the Medal of Honor to Sergeant First Class Alwyn C. Cashe, United States Army, for conspicuous gallantry at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty.
Sergeant First Class Alwyn C. Cashe distinguished himself by acts of gallantry above and beyond the call of duty while serving as Platoon Sergeant with Company A, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division in Salah Ad Din Province, Iraq, on October 17th, 2005.
While on a nighttime mounted patrol near an enemy-laden village, the Bradley Fighting Vehicle which Sergeant First Class Cashe was commanding was attacked by enemy small-arms fire and an improvised explosive device, which disabled the vehicle and engulfed it in flames.
After extracting himself from the vehicle, Sergeant First Class Cashe set about extracting the driver, who was trapped in the vehicle.
After opening the driver’s hatch, Sergeant First Class Cashe and a fellow soldier extracted the driver, who was engulfed in the flames.
During the course of extinguishing the flames on the driver and extracting him from the vehicle, Sergeant First Class Cashe’s fuel soaked his uniform, igniting and causing severe burns to his body.
Ignoring his painful wounds, Sergeant First Class Cashe then moved to the rear of the vehicle to continue in aiding his fellow soldiers who were trapped in the troop compartment.
At this time, the enemy noted his movements and began to direct their fire on his position.
When another element of the company engaged the enemy, Sergeant First Class Cashe seized the opportunity and moved into the open troop door and aided four of his soldiers in escaping the burning vehicle.
Having extracted the four soldiers, Sergeant First Class Cashe noticed two other soldiers had not been accounted for and again he entered the building to retrieve them.
At this time, reinforcements arrived to further suppress the enemy and establish a Casualty Collection Point.
Despite the severe second- and third-degree burns covering the majority of his body, Sergeant First Class Cashe persevered through the pain to encourage his fellow soldiers and ensure they received needed medical care.
When medical evacuation helicopters began to arrive, Sergeant First Class Cashe selflessly refused evacuation until all of the other wounded soldiers were evacuated first.
Sergeant First Class Cashe’s extraordinary heroism and selflessness above and beyond the call of duty were keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army.
Signed Joseph R. Biden, the President of the United States.
MILITARY AIDE: Will the Celiz family please accompany the President?
Attention to orders.
The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, March 3rd, 1863, has posthumously awarded in the name of Congress the Medal of Honor to Sergeant First Class Christopher A. Celiz, United States Army, for conspicuous gallantry at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty.
Sergeant First Class Christopher A. Celiz distinguished himself by conspicuous gallantry above and beyond the call of duty while engaged with the enemy in Paktia Province, Afghanistan, on July 12th, 2018.
As the leader of a special purpose unit comprised of partnered forces and members of the 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, Sergeant First Class Celiz led an operation to clear an area of enemy forces and thereby disrupt future attacks against the government of Afghanistan and allied forces.
Shortly after his team reached their final objectives, a large enemy force attacked, placed effective fire on him and his team, preventing them from maneuvering to counterattack.
Realizing the danger the attack posed to his team and the operation, Sergeant First Class Celiz voluntarily exposed himself to intense enemy machine-gun and small-arms fire to retrieve and employ a heavy weapon system, thereby allowing U.S. and partnered forces to regain the initiative, maneuver to a secure location, and begin treatment of a critically wounded partnered force member.
As a medical evacuation helicopter arrived, it was immediately engaged by accurate and sustained enemy fire.
Knowing how critical it was to quickly load the casualty, Sergeant First Class Celiz willingly exposed himself to heavy enemy fire to direct and lead the evacuation.
As the casualty moved from a position of cover and out into intense enemy fire, Sergeant First Class Celiz made a conscious effort to ensure his body acted as a physical shield to his team carrying the casualty and the crew of the aircraft.
As the casualty was loaded and Sergeant First Class Celiz’s team returned to cover, he alone remained at the aircraft, returning a high volume of fire and constantly repositioning himself to act as a physical shield to the aircraft and its crew.
With his final reposition, Sergeant First Class Celiz placed himself directly between the cockpit and the enemy, ensuring the aircraft was able to depart.
As the helicopter lifted off, Sergeant First Class Celiz was hit by enemy fire. Fully aware of his own injury but understanding the peril to the aircraft from the intense enemy machine gun fire, Sergeant First Class Celiz motioned to the aircraft to depart rather than remain behind to load him.
His selfless actions saved the life of the evacuated partnered force member and almost certainly prevented further casualties among other members of his team and the aircrew.
Throughout the entire engagement, Sergeant First Class Celiz significantly changed the course of battle by repeatedly placing himself in extreme danger to protect his team, defeat the enemy, and it ultimately cost him his life.
Sergeant First Class Celiz’s extraordinary heroism and selflessness above and beyond the call of duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army.
Signed Joseph R. Biden, the President of the United States.
MILITARY AIDE: Master Sergeant Plumlee, will you please accompany the President?
Attention to orders. The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, March 3rd, 1863, has posthumously awarded in the name of Congress the Medal of Honor to Staff Sergeant Earl D. Plumlee, United States Army, for conspicuous gallantry at the risk of his life and above and beyond the call of duty.
Staff Sergeant Earl D. Plumlee distinguished himself by acts of gallantry above and beyond the call of duty on August 28th, 2013, while serving as a weapons sergeant, C company, 4th Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne) in support of Enduring Freedom.
Sergeant Plumlee instantly responded to an enemy attack on Forward Operating Base Ghazni — Ghazni Province, Afghanistan — that began with an explosion that tore a 60-foot breach in the base’s perimeter wall.
Ten insurgents wearing Afghan National Army uniforms and suicide vests poured through the breach. Sergeant Plumlee and five others mounted two vehicles and raced toward the explosion. When his vehicle was engaged by enemy fire, Sergeant Plumlee reacted instinctively, using his body to shield the driver prior to exiting the vehicle and engaging an enemy insurgent 15 meters to the vehicle’s right with his pistol.
Without cover and in complete disregard for his own safety, he advanced on the enemy, engaging multiple insurgents with only his pistol. Upon reaching cover, he killed two insurgents — one with a grenade and the other by detonating the insurgent’s suicide vest using precision sniper fire.
Again, disregarding his own safety, Sergeant Plumlee advanced alone against the enemy, engaging several insurgents at close range, including one whose suicide vest exploded a mere seven meters from his position.
Under intense enemy fire, Sergeant Plumlee temporarily withdrew to cover, where he joined up with another solider and, together, they mounted another counterattack.
Under fierce enemy fire, Sergeant Plumlee again moved from cover and attacked the enemy forces, advancing within seven meters of a previously wounded insurgent who detonated his suicide vest, blowing Sergeant Plumlee back against a nearby wall.
Sergeant Plumlee, ignoring his injuries, quickly regained his faculties and reengaged the enemy forces.
Intense enemy fire once again forced the two soldiers to temporarily withdraw. Undeterred, Sergeant Plumlee joined a small group of American and Polish soldiers, who moved from cover to once again counterattack the infiltrators.
As the force advanced, Sergeant Plumlee engaged an insurgent to his front left. He then swung around and engaged another insurgent who charged the group from the rear. The insurgent detonated his suicide vest, mortally wounding a U.S. solider.
Sergeant Plumlee, again, with complete disregard for his own safety, ran to the wounded soldier, carried him to safety, and rendered first aid. He then methodically cleared the area, remained in a security posture, and continued to scan for any remaining threats.
Staff Sergeant Earl D. Plumlee’s extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty are in keeping with the finest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, the Special Forces Regiment, and the United States Army.
Signed Joseph R. Biden, the President of the United States. (Applause.)
(A prayer is recited.)
2:36 P.M. EST
2:09 P.M. EST