Moving right into the chaos” is how Sgt. 1st Class Earl D. Plumlee, assigned to 1st Special Forces Group at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, described his hardest day on the job.
The day was Aug., 28, 2013. A dozen insurgents launched an attack on Forward Operating Base Ghazni in eastern Afghanistan. The attack came by way of a vehicle-borne IED, a 400-pound car bomb that breached the eastern side of the base.
Driving an unarmored pickup truck, Plumlee rushed to the site of the blast. His truck was hit with a rocket-propelled grenade, but miraculously it did not explode. The JBLM Green Beret dived out of his vehicle under enemy fire, killed several attackers with a pistol and a grenade, and applied tourniquets to the wounded. His actions allowed fellow soldiers to take cover.
Three months after the attack, Plumlee was nominated for the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military award. It is bestowed sparingly, going only to those deemed the bravest of the brave.
Plumlee’s nomination was denied last fall by then Army Secretary John McHugh. He chose to approve the Silver Star, a lower but still impressive award. The decision has been subjected to scrutiny.
When McHugh made his decision, Plumlee’s record included a criminal investigation involving an illegal online sale of a rifle scope. Plumlee has since been cleared of the charges, but the allegation may have cost him the highest honor.
That doesn’t sit well with U.S. Rep. Duncan D. Hunter (R.-Calif.). He has been Plumlee’s fiercest advocate, and now that a new Army Secretary, Eric Fanning, has been sworn in, Hunter wants to resurrect Plumlee’s case.
Hunter’s philosophy can be summed up succinctly: If driving an unarmored pickup directly at a dozen attackers armed with suicide vests, rifles, grenades and other weapons doesn’t qualify as “the bravest of the brave,” what does?
At his JBLM ceremony awarding him the Silver Star, Plumlee stated that it was the opportunity to help fellow soldiers that makes him most proud. “Just to be with those guys, at that time on that day was just awesome.”
Plumlee, like so many in the armed forces, sees supreme acts of bravery as just part of the job. It is a measure of the quality of soldiers at JBLM that three others who served there – Staff Sgt. Ty Michael Carter, Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Petry and Capt. William Swenson – stand with the handful of America’s living Medal of Honor recipients.
Every day, U.S. service members meet storms of crisis and conflict. They are subjected to countless hazards and hostilities, often amid heat, hunger and sleep deprivation.
This is the hard job of the military, and doves and hawks alike must acknowledge the steep challenges facing our all-volunteer force. The commitment and sacrifice asked of them are staggering.
This past Memorial Day weekend, America remembered those who made the greatest sacrifice. Among them was Staff Sgt. Michael H. Ollis, who died from wounds sustained in the Ghazni attack, despite Plumlee’s best efforts to save him.
An award, though bestowed with good intentions, is merely a facsimile of the awe and appreciation most Americans feel toward soldiers like Plumlee. He ran toward the fire, not away; he thought of his fellow soldiers, not himself.
Plumlee says he never expected an award for his valor. This proves that even if he never gets to wear the Medal of Honor around his neck, he already embodies the selflessness it represents.