Captain William D. Swenson Awarded Medal of Honor

Led forces in seven hours of continuous fighting following ambush in Afghanistan

Captain William Swenson / U.S. Army
October 15, 2013

United States Army Captain William D. Swenson is being awarded with the Medal of Honor on Tuesday for actions taken after an Afghan National Security Force-led mission that he was advising was ambushed by a host of well-armed, well-positioned insurgents.

On Sept. 8, 2009, Swenson was part of Operation Buri Booza II (a.k.a. Dancing Goat II), which aimed to connect with local leaders in Eastern Afghanistan’s Gangjal Gar valley. The operation was recreated in detail by an Army website.

Unreflected in corroborated advance intelligence was the large insurgent presence in the area. As soon as the forces, mainly comprised of Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers and Afghan Border Police (ABP) members, entered the valley they were ambushed in close quarters by up to 60 insurgents firing medium machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades.

It was Swenson who initially observed a swarm of enemy fighters attempting to flank their position. Swenson immediately returned fire and directed and coordinated the response of his partnered Afghan soldiers that allowed forces to gain cover for the insurgent’s initial volley.

Swenson’s fellow advisor to the Afghan forces, Sgt. 1st Class Kenneth Westbrook, was hit in the face and chest and lay exposed in an open area. Swenson "returned accurate fire and repelled the enemy, despite coming under direct enemy fire that killed two adjacent ANA soldiers, and wounded another." He manuevered over 50 meters of open ground to reach Westbrook and administer first aid.

At one point, Swenson was offered surrender and asked to give in to the demands of the Taliban. Swenson replied effectively, according to the Army’s official narrative of the event.

"Outnumbered, flanked and facing enemy capture, Swenson put down his radio and halted his treatment of Westbrook long enough to reply to the enemy’s demands for surrender, by throwing a hand grenade. Following his example, the members of the [Tactical Action Center] rallied. Swenson’s example, and his element’s stout resistance, effectively disrupted the enemy attack and pushed them back beyond hand grenade range," explains the narrative.

Swenson’s push allowed enough room for air support to arrive and evacuate Westbrook along with other wounded soldiers.

Following evactuation, Swenson reentered the area in an unarmored vehicle twice to evacuate other wounded that were initially unable to make it to the casualty collection point.

Video of Swenson’s selfless actions was captured by the MedEvac crew that day.

According to the Army, it has been determined that Swenson’s actions directly contributed to the preservation of more than a dozen Afghan lives. Although Westbrook later died of his wounds, he was able to depart the Afghan theater and spend his last weeks of life with his family and loved ones.

"In seven hours of continuous fighting, Swenson braved intense enemy fire, and willfully put his life in danger against the enemy’s main effort, multiple times in service of his fallen and wounded comrades, his unit, his country, and his endangered Afghan partners," writes the Army.