A fallen US Army sergeant is poised to become the first Black service member to be awarded the Medal of Honor for actions in Iraq or Afghanistan.
President Donald Trump on Friday signed legislation that waives the five-year limit for awarding the military's highest medal for valor in combat to Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn C. Cashe.
Cashe, 35, was on patrol on October 17, 2005, in Samarra, Iraq, when a roadside bomb detonated near the Bradley fighting vehicle he was in. The blast ruptured the vehicle's fuel cell, setting the vehicle on fire and covering Cashe in gasoline. Only slightly injured, he crawled out of the gunner's hatch.
Six soldiers were still inside the vehicle, which was engulfed in flames. Even though his uniform was soaked in fuel, Cashe helped rescue the soldiers from the vehicle and remove the body of an Iraqi translator killed by the explosion.
In doing so, Cashe suffered second and third-degree burns over 70% of his body. The Florida native died from his injuries on November 8, 2005, at a military hospital in San Antonio, Texas.
Three other soldiers — Staff Sgt. George Alexander Jr., 34, of Killeen Texas; Sgt. Michael Robertson, 28, of Houston; and Spc. Darren Howe, 21, of Beatrice, Nebraska — also died of burns suffered in the explosion, according to the Defense Department.
The bipartisan measure to waive the five-year limit was sponsored by Florida Democratic Rep. Stephanie Murphy, who represents Cashe's home district, and Republican Reps. Michael Waltz of Florida and Dan Crenshaw of Texas.
"The story of Alwyn's heroism has inspired so many people and I cannot wait for the day that his family will receive the nation's highest award for combat valor on his behalf," Murphy said in a statement.
"America can never fully repay the ultimate debt paid by our heroes like Alwyn Cashe -- but what we can do is honor them for their sacrifices. This is a monumental accomplishment for Alwyn's family, who have waited 15 years for this moment," Waltz said in the statement.
The president has the sole authority to award the Medal of Honor, but the move has had support from the Pentagon.
In August, then-Secretary of Defense Mark Esper sent a letter to the lawmakers saying that Cashe's actions "merit the award of the Medal of Honor." In the letter, he said he would recommend the honor once the time limit was lifted.