Remarks on Presenting the Medal of Honor to Master Sergeant Earl D. Plumlee and Posthumously to Sergeant First Class Alwyn C. Cashe and Sergeant First Class Christopher A. Celiz
Please, be seated. Thank you. Good afternoon, and welcome to the East Room of the White House, decorated for the holiday season and to celebrate the gift of gratitude.
It's an appropriate backdrop for this ceremony, we believe, because our hearts are overflowing with gratitude today as we honor the unparalleled courage and commitment to duty and the indispensable, indisputable gallantry and intrepid—you know, it's just hard to explain where your soldiers got the courage they got: the late Sergeant First Class Alwyn Cashe, late Sergeant First Class Christopher Celiz, and Master Sergeant Earl Plumlee. You know, our Nation's newest recipients of our highest military award: the Medal of Honor.
I want to thank all of our distinguished guests that are here today: the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs; the Secretary of the—Secretary Austin; the Enlisted Adviser [to the]* Chairman, Colón-López; and the leaders of the United States Army; and the Vice President of the United States and the Second Gentlemen. And I'm Jill's husband. Jill is here. [Laughter]
As we add these three new names to our Nation's roll of honor, I also want to recognize previous Medal of Honor recipients who are here today to honor their brothers-in-arms: Matthew Williams—Matthew, stand up so people can see; Thomas Payne; and Edward Byers. Each of you know what it means to stare down danger and summon the strength in the moment of trial. And we are grateful for all that you three have done and so many more.
And the family of Sergeant First Class Alwyn Chase [Cashe]* has been 16 years—this has been 16 years in coming. Representative Murphy, Representative Waltz, thank you for your efforts—your continued efforts—along with the team. And Sergeant Cashe's commanders, commander-in-arms, his medical team, and the family who worked with such dedication over so many years to make this recognition possible.
October 17, 2005, Sergeant Cashe was commanding a Bradley fighting vehicle on night patrol in Iraq. They came under enemy fire. An improvised explosive device detonated, igniting the vehicle's fuel and engulfing it in flames. Sergeant extracted himself and, without hesitation, turned back to the vehicle to help free the driver and extinguish flames on the driver.
In the process, Sergeant First Class Cashe's uniform—drenched in fuel—caught fire, causing severe burns. The patrol was still taking enemy fire, but Cashe thought only of his fellow soldiers trapped in the troop compartment. So he pushed his own pain aside and returned to the burning vehicle as his—and pulled four soldiers free—four more.
At this point, with the second- and third-degree burns covering almost 75 percent of his body, his uniform mostly burned away, the sergeant saw there were still two soldiers and their interpreter unaccounted for. So he went back into the inferno for a third time and got everyone out of that inferno. That was his code. His love for his 3d Infantry Division ran deep. No soldier was going to left—be left behind on his watch. And when helicopters began to arrive, he insisted that his troops be evacuated before he would go.
Later, at Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas, where he and other members of his team were taken for treatment, when he regained the ability to speak, his first thoughts were for his units. He asked, first thing, "How are my boys?" "How are my boys?"
Alwyn Cashe was a soldier's soldier, a warrior who literally walked through fire for his troops. Sergeant succumbed to his injuries on November 8, 2005, surrounded by those he loved and who loved him. He was a hero. He was a beloved son and brother, a proud husband, and a father of three children.
Sergeant Cashe and his family gave everything for our country. Their devotion to his memory and their years working to make sure that his courage and selflessness were properly documented and honored is a testament to the love he inspired and the legacy he left behind.
Sergeant First Class Cashe is now the seventh individual to receive the Medal of Honor for his actions in Operation Iraqi Freedom and the first African American to receive it since the Vietnam war.
And Tamara, Alexis, Kasinal, I'm so honored to award your husband, your dad, your brother the recognition that he earned. I know it's tough. As honored as you are, it's got to be tough to be here today. He'll be remembered; he'll be remembered forever.
Sergeant First Class Christopher Celiz was an Army Ranger through and through with 1-75—"the Rangers Lead the Way." On July 12, 2018, nearing the end of a fifth deployment—the fifth deployment—Sergeant Celiz was leading an operation in the Paktia Province of Afghanistan—not a very friendly place—to clear the area of enemy forces. Attacked and pinned down by a large force, the sergeant exposed himself to enemy fire in order to retrieve a heavy weapon system that allowed his team to fight back and reach a secure location.
During the firefight, a member of his team was critically wounded as they called for a medical evacuation. But as the rescue helicopter arrived and began taking fire as well, the sergeant knew it was—time was critical to get his wounded teammate loaded and treated. So he once again, knowingly and willingly, stepped into the enemy's crosshairs.
Sergeant Celiz used his body as a shield for the aircraft and its crew against the heavy incoming fire. The helicopter began to take off, and he put himself directly between the cockpit and the enemy, ensuring the aircraft could depart and sustaining what would prove to be a mortal wound.
He knew he was hit, but he waved for the aircrew to depart without him. In the face of extreme danger, he placed the safety of his team and his crew above his own.
I can offer no better encapsulation than the words of the U.S. Army Ambulance pilot in command that day. He said, quote, "Courage, to me, is putting your life on the line to save the life of another, as demonstrated by Sergeant First Class Chris Celiz, who died protecting my crew," end of quote.
Christopher Celiz was courage made flesh. Today we add his name to the elite vanguard of American warriors who, generation after generation, have strengthened and inspired our Nation with their unwavering bravery and service.
His legacy lives on in the lives he saved, the teammates he mentored, and the memories he made with his beloved wife Katie, and especially—and their precious daughter Shannon. Thank you for sharing your dad with our country, Shannon. We'll never forget the debt that we owe you and your whole family.
August 28, 2013: Then-Staff Sergeant Earl Plumlee was snapping a quick photo with members of his unit at Forward Operation Base Ghazni in Afghanistan. Then insurgents, it turned out, detonated a 400-pound car bomb that blew open a 60-foot-wide breach in the perimeter wall.
Staff Sergeant Plumlee and members of his special operations team immediately hopped in the nearby truck and raced toward the blast to defend the base. When they arrived, they encountered insurgents coming through the wall, all wearing explosive vests. Our troops started taking rocket fire, recoilless rifle fire, and small arms fire.
While the driver of their truck maneuvered into the line of enemy fire to shield injured members of their team outside the vehicle, the staff sergeant exited the vehicle and used his own body to shield the driver. He left whatever cover the truck provided him and began to engage the invaders.
Outnumbered, with no regard for his own safety, at times armed with only a pistol, Staff Sergeant Plumlee attacked the insurgent forces, taking them on one by one. And time and again, bullets flew by, sometimes only inches away. And time and again, Staff Sergeant Plumlee closed with the enemy. And multiple occasions during the fight, the insurgents detonated their vests right in front of him—Plumlee—at one point hurling him into a wall and injuring his back.
When a fellow soldier was severely wounded, Plumlee immediately ran to the soldier's position, carried him to safety, and administered tactical combat casualty care before returning to the fight.
Ultimately, Staff Sergeant Plumlee was able to organize three Polish soldiers to mount an effective defense of the base, clear the area, and regain a security posture.
His heroic actions and the battlefield leadership gained the recognition of some of our highest military commanders, including a man who knows a little bit about battles, our Chairman of our Joint Chiefs, General Milley, and General McConville, who are here today—who are here today to honor him as well. They saw extraordinary bravery of what then-Staff Sergeant Plumlee, did and they understood the worst outcome he prevented from taking place. They understood what would have happened had he not done what he did.
Now Master Sergeant Plumlee has the—this recognition has been too long in coming, delayed for you and your family as well. And no one—no one—will ever forget how you sprang into action when our—when the enemy attacked our base.
And I'm grateful for your continued service and dedication to the country. And that goes for your wife Terrie and your children Lillian and Lincoln as well. Because it's not just the person who wears the uniform who serves, it's the whole family who serves: the sleepless nights, the missed holidays, the empty chairs, the celebrations, and the way you give back to your community.
The English poet John Milton once wrote, "They also serve who only stand and wait." They also serve who only stand and wait. While today we honor three outstanding soldiers whose actions embodied the highest ideals of selfless service, we also remember the high price our military members and their families are willing to pay on behalf of our Nation. We remember the strength and the sacrifices of these military families, caregivers, and survivors.
And we remember and renew our sacred obligation to those who serve this Nation in uniform. As a nation, we have many obligations to our children, the elderly, those in need, but we have only one truly sacred obligation—sacred obligation—and that's to properly prepare and equip those troops we send into harm's way, care for them and their families both while they're deployed and when they return. That commitment never expires. And as Commander in Chief, I promise it's a commitment that we will keep.
So God bless you all, and may God protect the troops who are out there right now.
And now it's my great honor to ask for the citations to be read and award the Medal of Honor to Sergeant First Class Alwyn Chase [Cashe],* Sergeant First Class Christopher Celiz, and Master Sergeant Earl Plumlee.
[At this point, Lt. Col. William T. Kerrigan, USMC, Marine Corps Aide to the President, read the citations, and the President presented the medals, assisted by Maj. William M. Yang, USA, Army Aide to the President. Following the presentation of the medals, Maj. Gen. Thomas L. Solhjem, USA, Army Chief of Chaplains, said a prayer.]
NOTE: The President spoke at 2:09 p.m. in the East Room at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to SEAC Ramón "C.Z." Colón-López, USAF, Senior Enlisted Adviser to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Douglas C. Emhoff, husband of Vice President Kamala D. Harris; Rep. Stephanie N. Murphy; Tamara Cashe, wife, Alexis and Lajada Cashe, daughters, Andrew Cashe, son, and Kasinal Cashe White, sister, of Sgt. Cashe; Capt. Ben Krzeczowski, USA, pilot in command of the U.S. Army Air Ambulance (MEDEVAC) helicopter crew that assisted Sgt. Celiz's team; and Army Chief of Staff Gen. James C. McConville, USA.
* White House correction.
Joseph R. Biden, Remarks on Presenting the Medal of Honor to Master Sergeant Earl D. Plumlee and Posthumously to Sergeant First Class Alwyn C. Cashe and Sergeant First Class Christopher A. Celiz Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/353837