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10th Mountain Division soldier to receive Medal of Honor today

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At the White House today, four years after his heroic actions in eastern Afghanistan, a 10th Mountain Division-affiliated soldier will receive the Medal of Honor.

During a seven-hour battle in the Ganjgal Ghar valley on Sept. 8, 2009, Capt. William D. Swenson is credited with coordinating a response to a massive enemy ambush and leading multiple runs to recover wounded and killed soldiers.

The battle took place as a coalition group attempted to encourage elders to connect with the Afghan government. The insurgents, who had as many as 60 fighters, attacked the group from multiple angles and elevations.

The battle had a high cost: five American and 10 Afghans died, and dozens of coalition members, including Capt. Swenson and Marine Sgt. Dakota Meyer, were wounded.

An Army narrative of the battle said Capt. Swenson’s actions saved the lives of more than a dozen Afghan military personnel.

Capt. Swenson, who retired from the Army in 2011, served at the time as an embedded trainer and mentor of the Afghan National Security Forces, affiliated with the 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team.

Capt. Swenson is the first living Army officer to be nominated for the award in four decades, the second 10th Mountain Division soldier to receive the Medal of Honor since 2001 and the third in division history. He is the second service member from the Ganjgal Ghar valley battle to receive the Medal of Honor. The first was Sgt. Meyer, then a corporal, who received the award in September 2011.

The other division soldiers who have received the honor are Sgt. 1st Class Jared C. Monti, who was honored posthumously in September 2009, and Pfc. John D. Magrath in 1945 for his actions during World War II.

A Washington Post story on Sunday said Capt. Swenson, who has shied from the spotlight since the award was announced, and other observers disagree with Sgt. Meyer’s account of the battle, calling it misleading and inflated.

However, two Army officers received reprimands for spurning calls by Capt. Swenson and others for artillery and air support during the battle.

The process to present Capt. Swenson the honor was delayed for years after he was first nominated in December 2009. The U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Marine Gen. John Allen, had to resubmit Capt. Swenson’s nomination in July 2011 after what the Army called a bureaucratic foul-up. A McClatchy Newspapers investigation published Aug. 6, 2012, found that there may have been an effort to kill Capt. Swenson’s nomination.

The delay in his nomination prompted Rep. Duncan Hunter Jr., R-Calif., to ask the Army and Defense Department in January for an explanation.

Representing the division during today’s ceremony will be division Command Sgt. Maj. Rick Merritt and Col. Mark F. O’Donnell, former commander of 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment.

Capt. Swenson’s actions and a timetable of the 2009 battle have been recreated on a new Army website, http://wdt.me/PoeLZW. Video of today’s ceremony can be seen at http://wdt.me/swenson-livecast. The Washington Post story can be found at http://wdt.me/pZxNco.

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