Military Display Cases Loading... Please wait...

The nation’s highest combat honor awarded to Navy Senior Chief Edward Byers

Posted

President Obama awards the Medal of Honor to U.S. Navy Senior Chief Edward Byers during a ceremony at the White House on Monday, Feb 29, 2016. REUTERS/Gary Cameron

On Monday, Navy Senior Chief Edward Byers was awarded the nation’s highest combat honor for his role in a hostage rescue mission. Byers is believed to be first service member to ever earn the Medal of Honor while assigned to the secretive SEAL Team 6. But it is his plans for the future that could make him even more unique: Byers wants to return to combat.

“This honor carries with it some obligations that I need to carry out,” Byers told the Post Friday in an interview at the Pentagon. “But, I plan to continue doing my job as normal and to continue being a SEAL.”

If he does return, Byers would likely become the first Medal of Honor recipient since the Vietnam War to return to the battlefield. A review of online records of the several hundred recipients from Vietnam found less than half a dozen who saw further combat after receiving the Medal of Honor.

It is not a lack of will or courage that has historically kept Medal of Honor recipients off the battlefield, but rather injuries and, just as often, bureaucratic delays.

By definition, actions worthy of the Medal of Honor must come at grave risk of death or injury. Nine of the 20 men awarded the Medal since Vietnam died earning it — four in Iraq, three in Afghanistan, and two during the “Black Hawk Down” battle in Mogadishu, Somalia in 1993. Three more — Army Capt. Florent Groberg, Marine Cpl. William “Kyle” Carpenter and Army Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Petry — suffered significant injuries shielding comrades from grenade and suicide bomber explosions. All eventually left military life without deploying again.

The approval process for the Medal of Honor can also be incredibly long. Witnesses must be found and re-interviewed by investigators. Then the nomination moves up a line of approvals that, according to a government flow chart illustrating the process, covers 14 steps, from a soldier’s battlefield commander to the president. Approval for Byers’ award took more than three years, just below the average for reviews under President Obama.

The approval process for the Medal of Honor can also be incredibly long. Witnesses must be found and re-interviewed by investigators. Then the nomination moves up a line of approvals that, according to a government flow chart illustrating the process, covers 14 steps, from a soldier’s battlefield commander to the president. Approval for Byers’ award took more than three years, just below the average for reviews under President Obama.