Capt. William Swenson, Medal Of Honor Recipient, Seeks Return To Active Duty

Swenson Medal Of Honor

Yesterday, William D. Swenson became the 6th living American to be awarded the Congressional Medal Of Honor for actions in Iraq or Afghanistan. Now, he wants to return to work:

The former Army captain who received the Medal of Honor on Tuesday has asked to return to active duty in the Army, a rare move by an officer who has lived to wear the military’s highest award.

Two U.S. officials tell The Associated Press that William D. Swenson has submitted a formal request to the Army and officials are working with him to allow his return.

Swenson was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Obama in the White House Tuesday afternoon for risking his life to recover bodies and save fellow troops during a lengthy battle against the Taliban in Afghanistan near the Pakistan border in 2009.

The U.S. officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the request until a decision was made.

Swenson, 34, left the military in February 2011 as a captain, but he could rise to the rank of major once he rejoins. In order to successfully re-enlist, Swenson will have to pass a physical, a drug test and other routine reviews. But officials Tuesday were optimistic it would all fall into place.

Assuming he passes all the prerequisites, I hardly think his request would be denied. Interestingly, though, the article goes on to note that although there have been several cases where Enlisted Men awarded the Medal Of Honor have returned to duty, Army officials were unsure if there had ever been a case of an officer who received the medal doing the same thing. So, Swenson may be the first.

By the way, here’s an excerpt from Captain Swenson’s Medal of Honor Citation:

On that morning, more than 60 well-armed, well-positioned enemy fighters ambushed Captain Swenson’s combat team as it moved on foot into the village of Ganjgal for a meeting with village elders. As the enemy unleashed a barrage of rocket-propelled grenade, mortar and machine gun fire, Captain Swenson immediately returned fire and coordinated and directed the response of his Afghan Border Police, while simultaneously calling in suppressive artillery fire and aviation support. After the enemy effectively flanked Coalition Forces, Captain Swenson repeatedly called for smoke to cover the withdrawal of the forward elements. Surrounded on three sides by enemy forces inflicting effective and accurate fire, Captain Swenson coordinated air assets, indirect fire support and medical evacuation helicopter support to allow for the evacuation of the wounded. Captain Swenson ignored enemy radio transmissions demanding surrender and maneuvered uncovered to render medical aid to a wounded fellow soldier. Captain Swenson stopped administering aid long enough to throw a grenade at approaching enemy forces, before assisting with moving the soldier for air evacuation. With complete disregard for his own safety, Captain Swenson unhesitatingly led a team in an unarmored vehicle into the kill zone, exposing himself to enemy fire on at least two occasions, to recover the wounded and search for four missing comrades. After using aviation support to mark locations of fallen and wounded comrades, it became clear that ground recovery of the fallen was required due to heavy enemy fire on helicopter landing zones. Captain Swenson’s team returned to the kill zone another time in a Humvee. Captain Swenson voluntarily exited the vehicle, exposing himself to enemy fire, to locate and recover three fallen Marines and one fallen Navy corpsman. His exceptional leadership and stout resistance against the enemy during six hours of continuous fighting rallied his teammates and effectively disrupted the enemy’s assault. Captain William D. Swenson’s extraordinary heroism and selflessness above and beyond the call of duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, Task Force Phoenix, 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division and the United States Army.

Well done, sir.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. James Joyner says:

    Many, many officers who have earned the Medal have remained on active duty. Leaving the service and then returning, while not unheard of, is rare for officers, period. Given the rarity of the Medal of Honor, it’s not surprising that there hasn’t been a case.

  2. Ah yes, I should’ve made that distinction.

  3. I’m more interested in the reception he’ll receive…or if he’ll ever be promoted to Major based on his excoriation of the chain of command and rules of engagement. Even though I think he was right on his criticisms, I doubt his vocalness was appreciated as was likely shown by the delay in his award of the Medal.

  4. 11B40 says:


    And a doff of my well doffed cap to all the brainiacs in the Pentagone and elsewhere who got the award processed in only four years (Eastern Standard Time, no doubt). All the miracles of modern telecommunications are no reason to rush things.

  5. 11B40 says:

    @Allan Bourdius:

    Greetings, Allan Bourdius:

    As to the delay in the award, four years now seems to be something of a required schedule. Not long ago, there was another MoH award to a Sergeant that took four years to come to its fruition.

  6. RGardner says:

    At least we have an alive recipient. And at least the recognition is still going out (writing about the MOH is semantic hell, have to avoid “winner,” “earned” and “awarded.” It happens.)

    Tagging along on James’ comment above, in my Navy year group and designator (warfare group), I know of two that got out after their initial obligation then came back in with lots of backing. One was the son of a 3-star at the time (his father was later 4-star, and actually commissioned me as a 1-star, died last year if you want to figure out who) and is probably serving as an O-6 today by my quick research. Great guy. So we’re talking 1-2% with broken service as officers.

    Regardless, MOH = he gets what he wants if he meets the physical standards to rejoin. Reporters are inventing stuff, making mountains out of molehills. He is guaranteed O-6 (better than most at O-5). He’s now political. The Army Chief of Staff salutes him.(really – a 4-star salutes any MOH awardee)). Repeat, he is now political.

    Glad to see someone with his background in the officer corps. intellectual diversity. .