For Medal of Honor recipient, award is a long time coming

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(CNN) — Four years after a brutal battle in Afghanistan in which he was “outnumbered, outgunned, and taking casualties,” former U.S. Army Captain William Swenson received the Medal of Honor on Tuesday.

In a ceremony at the White House, Swenson was honored for his actions in the 2009 Battle of Ganjgal Valley in the Kunar Province of Afghanistan, which claimed the lives of five Americans. Swenson is credited with risking his life to recover the bodies of his fellow soldiers.

The road to this honor has not been easy for Swenson, whose nomination was “lost” for a time, prompting questions from lawmakers and an eventual internal Pentagon investigation.

Swenson spoke out after the 2009 battle, criticizing his leadership for failing to provide him with adequate air support after multiple radio requests. The Army later backed up his claims.

“What happened thatday was a result of clouded judgment” Swenson told CNN’s Barbara Starr in a recent interview. “It was a result of clouded judgment on behalf of people who did later receive letters of reprimand.”

The nomination statement, once found, was nothing short of glowing for Swenson, saying the soldier “braved intense enemy fire, and willfully put his life in danger against the enemy’s main effort, multiple times inservice of his fallen and wounded comrades, his unit, his country, and his endangered Afghan partners”.

Part of Swenson’s rescue efforts were caught on tape by a rescue pilot’s helmet camera. In the heat of battle, with bullets flying and dust blocking any clear vision of the surrounding situation, Swenson is seen helping Sgt 1st Class Kenneth Westbrook, who had been shot in the throat, back to a helicopter.

After placing him in the chopper, Swenson bent down to kiss his forehead before running back to the battle to retrieve other fallen Americans and Afghan fighters.

“I was just trying to keep his spirits up. I wanted him to know it was going to be OK. And I wanted him to know that he had done his job, but it was time for him to go”, Swenson said.

Westbrook died a few weeks later.

In a press release from the Army, Swenson said receiving the award would be “a monumental event for me, for my family and for my teammates . . . This day also means a lot to those I served with.”

By Leslie Bentz