Capt. William Swenson, an Afghanistan War vet awarded with the Medal of Honor Tuesday, has openly said he struggles with combat stress. President Obama lauded his courage on and off the battlefield.
Capt. William Swenson on Tuesday became the first Army officer since the Vietnam War to be awarded the Medal of Honor in a White House ceremony attended by his fellow troops and the families of the soldiers who were killed as they fought alongside him.
It was one of the toughest battles of the war in Afghanistan, seven hours of continuous fighting, as Swenson and his fellow troops were surrounded on three sides with bullets, mortars, and rocket-propelled grenades raining down on them.
Swenson continuously placed his life in danger as he moved to rescue his fellow American soldiers and endeavored to bring the injured to safety.
He helped to carry Sgt. 1st Class Kenneth Westbrook, who had been shot in the neck, the length of more than two football fields under fire in order to get him evacuated.
Video taken from the helmet cameras of US military rescue pilots, which has since gone viral, shows Swenson kissing Westbrook on the head before the helicopter lifts off.
That “remarkable piece of video” takes those who watch it “to the front lines that our troops face every single day,” President Obama said in the White House ceremony Tuesday afternoon.
He called the kiss on the head that Swenson gave to Westbrook “a simple act of compassion and loyalty to a brother-in-arms.”
He continues to call Westbrook’s widow regularly to check in on her and her three boys.
Prior to that battle, Swenson had served one tour in Iraq and was on his second tour in Afghanistan.
He grew up in Seattle, the son of college professors and surrounded not by GI Joe action figures, but by educational games, Mr. Obama noted.
Since he retired from the Army, Swenson has made no secret of the fact that he has struggled with combat stress. He is currently unemployed, though he has applied to go back to the military on active-duty status, and says he often likes to escape to the mountains where he can find solitude.