Sgt. 1st Class Earl Plumlee, a Green Beret in the U.S. Army's 1st Special Forces Group, was presented the Silver Star for actions in Afghanistan in 2013. California Congressman Duncan Hunter, a Marine Corps veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, doesn't think the Silver Star is enough for Plumlee and is appealing to Army Secretary Eric Fanning to review the award.
According to the Washington Post, Rep. Hunter believes McHugh downgraded Sgt. 1st Class Plumlee's Medal of Honor because the Special Forces NCO faced a criminal investigation for illegally selling a rifle scope online.
Plumlee was nominated for the Medal of Honor for heroism in repelling a Taliban ambush. The nomination was downgraded to the Silver Star by then-interim SECARMY John McHugh with a recommendation from the Senior Army Decorations Board. The Silver Star is two levels below the Medal of Honor, which an Inspector General report deemed appropriate.
In August 2013, a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) touched off a complex Taliban attack on Forward Operating Base (FOB) Ghazni. The FOB is home to the Ghazni Provincial Reconstruction Team and a fortified NATO base housing about 1,400 people.
Polish soldiers pull security near a breach in the perimeter wall following a complex attack on Forward Operating Base Ghazni, Aug. 28, 2013. Coalition partners, with the help of the Afghan National Army, defeated the Taliban attack. (Operational photo courtesy of Polish Land Forces)
The VBIED blew a hole in the perimeter wall. Insurgents dressed as Afghan National Army soldiers poured into the breach. Unfortunately for them, the other side of the wall contained the 1st Special Forces Group, including one Sgt. 1st Class Earl Plumlee.
Four operators, Chief Warrant Officer 3 Mark Colbert, Sgt. 1st Class Andrew Busic, then-Staff Sgt. Earl Plumlee, and Sgt. 1st Class Nate Abkemeier drove a truck to blast site as fast as possible. Once there, all dismounted from the truck and started returning fire.
While the others moved for cover, Plumlee walked right into Taliban attack. He hit one insurgent in the chest with a round from his sidearm and the man exploded – the fighters were all rigged with suicide vests.
Left to right: Sergeant First Class Busic, Staff Sergeant Earl Plumlee, Chief Colbert, and Sergeant First Class Nate Abkemeier.
The fighters had the men surrounded. Busic recalls Plumlee killed four or five insurgents then moved back to Busic's position to clear the rest. They searched the surrounding area for anything or anyone that might be part of the attack.
Plumlee even pulled a severely wounded soldier out of harm's way, conducted proper first-aid, and directed an Army civilian and soldier to get the wounded to a surgical center.
"It was probably the proudest moment of my career," Plumlee said at his Silver Star ceremony. "Just to be with those guys, at that time, on that day was just awesome."
Four Afghan civilians, three police officers, 10 Taliban fighters, and one soldier, Staff Sgt. Michael Ollis, were killed in the attack. Ten Polish soldiers were also wounded. It could have been a lot worse. One Special Forces officer told the Army that Plumlee and the other special operators who rolled up on the attackers saved the base that day.
"It's no exaggeration when I say they saved FOB Ghazni," the Special Forces officer said. "If they would have arrived 10 seconds later than they did, the insurgents would have been in the more densely populated part of FOB Ghazni."
Rep. Hunter requested that the Defense Department explain how it came to the conclusion to downgrade the award, to justify the Secretary of the Army's authority to downgrade the award, and to determine if Plumlee's criminal investigation was the reason for the downgrade. An Inspector General report on Hunter's requests was obtained by Military Times.
"The review process... found that the nominee's valorous actions did not meet the MOH criteria outlined in Army Regulation (AR) 600-8-22, "Military Awards," dated June 24, 2013. By majority vote, the SADB recommended the SS."
One member of the Senior Army Decorations Board told the IG that Plumlee was doing his job as an NCO and the standard to receive the Medal of Honor should be higher for someone of that rank.
"... a senior NCO, versus a private who would be seized by the moment and take extremely valorous and courageous action; there's a difference between those two. One's a leader. One's a Soldier. And so when I looked at the circumstances and, although the battle was ferocious and unfortunately a couple members were killed, I just thought that it wasn't a sufficient level for the Medal of Honor based off of the individual and the circumstances and that, I just felt there was an expectation of a leader who did a phenomenal job, that there was something more that [the nominee] needed to have done in order to, in my mind, to make a recommendation for a Medal of Honor."
The board member specifically mentioned to the IG that even though Plumlee took out almost half of the attacking insurgents, that fact wasn't in the eyewitness statements supporting Plumlee's Medal of Honor award.
SFC Earl D. Plumlee, assigned to 1st Special Forces Group (A), is presented the Silver Star Medal for his actions in Afghanistan at Joint Base Lewis-Mcchord, Washington on 1 May, 2015. (U.S. Army Photo by Spc. Codie Mendenhall).
Plumlee was nominated for the Medal of Honor three months after the battle. His nomination was even approved both the JSOC commander and by Marine Corps General Joseph F. Dunford, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan at the time. Dunford wrote that Plumlee's actions "clearly meet the standard" for the Medal of Honor.
For now, Plumlee's Silver Star award will stand. At their own Silver Star ceremony, Busic and Colbert told Stars and Stripes it wasn't about the recognition anyway.
"We don't do our job for awards or accolades," he said. "We just do it to serve."