On Thursday, December 16, 2021, Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe will posthumously receive the Medal of Honor in recognition of his actions in Iraq in 2005. After his Bradley combat vehicle struck an IED and caught fire, Cashe, relatively unharmed in the initial explosion , returned to the vehicle several times to rescue his six soldiers who were on fire. In the process, he suffered severe burns over much of his body and died three weeks later.
Alwyn Cashe will be the first African American to receive the Medal of Honor for actions in Iraq or Afghanistan. The presentation follows a long campaign by Cashe’s former commanders and comrades in arms to have the Silver Star he initially received promoted to the Medal of Honor.
I had the privilege of serving as a battalion surgeon for Cashe’s unit – 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division – during his yearlong tour and I was part of the medical team that provided combat casualty care to Cashe and other wounded soldiers. From what I witnessed, Sgt. 1st Class Cashe’s actions that evening were not only an incredible example of courage and selflessness in deliberately sacrificing his own life to save those of his soldiers, but also the ultimate expression of how he ensured leadership from non-commissioned officers to soldiers during this tour and throughout his military career.
Speaking with other Soldiers who knew and served with Sgt. 1st Class Cashe immediately after the incident and for the next 16 years, I have yet to hear a single person express surprise at what Cashe did that evening, which cost him his life: it was very much in keeping with the way he led his platoon and looked after his soldiers.
At the time of the attack, we had been on our tour for nine months at a base near Samara, Iraq. For most of the soldiers in the unit, including Cashe and I, this was our second tour of Iraq with 1-15 Infantry after participating in the initial invasion in 2003. Our first tour, although not without losses, had been largely triumphant as we were helping lead the push from Kuwait to Baghdad, defeating Saddam Hussein and his forces.
Our second tour, however, was more difficult. This time our base was located in the Sunni Triangle, with the surrounding population generally hostile to US forces. Vehicles leaving the base were frequently attacked, and during the year the battalion lost 12 soldiers and injured more than 100. Terrific leadership was needed to inspire soldiers to risk their lives day in and day out to accomplish their mission despite frequent enemy attacks.
I certainly haven’t worked so closely with Sgt. 1st Class Cashe daily as soldiers in his platoon or company, but as the battalion surgeon I had regular interactions with him at our small forward operating base during the tour and I been able to learn more about him and see him in action quite frequently.
As a platoon sergeant, Cashe was one of the key leaders who provided purpose, direction and motivation to 1 to 15 infantry. A former drill sergeant, he was admittedly tough in times of need and always upheld standards, but he did so while caring for the soldiers and always treating them with respect and dignity.
My first meaningful interaction with Cashe on this tour was very early on when his vehicle was struck by an IED, and he and some of his soldiers sustained minor injuries. As the medics and I treated Cashe and his soldiers, I saw with my own eyes how he personally looked after his troops to ensure they received top notch care.
Later on the tour, when one of his soldiers was shot in the back and escaped with only a large scratch from his bulletproof vest, Cashe frequently accompanied him for his dressing changes. daily and helped him regain his health. In all my dealings with him, Sgt. 1st Class Cashe was down to earth, friendly and very concerned about the welfare of his soldiers.
I also got to see Sgt. 1st Class Cashe in action when I accompanied his platoon to the local town to provide medical care to village elders on several occasions. As the âdaddy of the platoon,â Cashe served as a father figure to the young infantry in his platoon. Along with his platoon leader and other non-commissioned officers, he helped create a sense of purpose and of belonging to the team.
Motivating a platoon of young infantry from diverse backgrounds to quit and risk their daily lives during a year-long tour was a significant leadership challenge, but Cashe was able to make the most of it. party of its soldiers and encourage their tenacity by treating them like family. He and his platoon leader have built a cohesive team of brothers who trust each other.
Bookstore shelves are crammed with leadership books written by well-paid business executives, coaches and generals, but there are far too few NCOs and other front-line leaders. Sgt. 1st Class Cashe, like many successful NCOs, taught leadership primarily through his actions rather than long speeches or the written word.
Like other outstanding military leaders at all levels, Cashe insisted on enduring the same hardships and facing the same risks as his soldiers, still leading from the front lines.
Sgt. 1st Class Cashe, together with his platoon and squad leaders, effectively built a cohesive team that worked together to accomplish their assigned mission. Cashe knew the strengths and weaknesses of all of his team members and the intimate details of their lives.
On October 17, 2005, Cashe was in the gunner hatch of the lead Bradley Fighting Vehicle on a route clearance mission during a sandstorm when his vehicle struck an IED, igniting the vehicle’s fuel cell and causing its fire. Drenched in fuel and receiving small arms fire from the enemy, Cashe first helped the driver, whose uniform was on fire, put out the flames. Six soldiers were trapped in the troop compartment as fire engulfed the vehicle and they caught fire.
In complete disregard of his own safety, Cashe returned repeatedly and deliberately to remove each of his soldiers from the rear of the burning, smoke-filled vehicle and extinguished their burning uniforms. In the process, flames engulfed Cashe’s fuel-soaked uniform, causing second and third degree burns to 72 percent of his body. On his last trip to the troop compartment, Cashe rescued the sergeant. Michael Robertson, the platoon medic.
When Master Sgt. Samuel Clark, a medic, and I arrived at the scene with the rapid reaction force, Cashe’s vehicle was on fire and 25mm shells inside were cooking, creating a very chaotic scene. As we began to treat the wounded and move them to the wounded collection point, I saw Cashe – despite his injuries and severe pain – standing and moving from one wounded soldier to another to watch them and comfort them.
As we finally prepared all the patients for the medevac flight to the Combat Support Hospital, Cashe remained alert and continued to inspire his soldiers to stay strong. He insisted that we treat the other nine wounded soldiers before we dealt with him and asked us to load the other wounded soldiers onto the ambulance helicopters in front of him, despite his serious injuries.
Tragically, over the next few weeks, three of the rescued soldiers died of their injuries. Sgt. Cashe 1st Class endured as long as he could, but eventually had to undergo a right leg amputation and develop multiple organ failure. He died of his injuries on November 8, 2005.
Sgt. 1st Class Cashe displayed incredible courage and selflessness in sacrificing his own life to save his soldiers, then doing all he could to motivate, comfort and inspire them despite his own injuries. From what I personally witnessed and what I learned from others who served alongside him, his actions on that terrible night were very much in keeping with the way he lived his life and led. his troops.
Cashe’s sacrifice of his own life to save his troops was a display of humanity at its best, but I don’t think anyone who served alongside him would ever have doubted that he would do absolutely whatever was necessary to save ” his boys “.
Very few of us possess the extreme selflessness and courage of Alwyn Cashe. But we can all learn from his style of leadership – always caring and sincere about our soldiers or subordinates, treating them as if they were family, sharing hardships side by side and, in the words of the subordinate creed. army officers. , putting their needs before ours.
After nearly two decades of war and with an often inflexible pace of operations, the military has at times struggled in recent years to ensure that its leaders are still fully committed to health, safety, and well-being. and the struggles of their soldiers. As Army leaders continue to face multiple difficult challenges, striving to emulate Sgt. 1st Class Cashe’s selfless, soldier-centered approach is a great place to start.
Col. Mike Tarpey is an active duty Army Medical Corps officer currently as the Commander of the Army Aeromedical Research Laboratory.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the United States Army, Department of Defense, or United States government.
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