By Mike Mount
The accidental posting of personal information online about top Army combat award recipients has created confusion over whether some soldiers were ever told that they had earned Silver Stars for heroism.
At issue is the discovery last week of a document inadvertently published on the Web by a contractor that listed hundreds of valor award recipients beginning in 2001.
The list includes the names and Social Security numbers of Medal of Honor and the Distinguished Service Cross recipients from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The list also includes the names of hundreds of Silver Star recipients from the same conflicts, but does not note their Social Security information.
Never intended for public view, the database contained nine names of Silver Star recipients not included on the Department of Defense's official list of soldiers who received that award – the third highest for valor, according to a combat award historian who discovered the apparent error.
Historian Doug Sterner, who has been researching U.S. military valor awards for almost 15 years, was doing online research last week when he stumbled upon the database and noticed discrepancies when comparing lists.
One of the men on the list Sterner found was retired Army Special Forces Master Sgt. Ronnie Raikes.
In the early days of the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, Raikes and his team were tasked with bringing Hamid Karzai into Afghanistan from Pakistan. The mission was to build a fighting force of Afghan rebels, led by Karzai, who would help the United States fight the Taliban.
Karzai is now president of Afghanistan.
Raikes and his team fought the Taliban on a march toward Kandahar but were caught in a friendly fire bomb strike, that killed one. Raikes and several other members of his team were wounded, he told Security Clearance.
Raikes said he received the Bronze Star for actions against the Taliban in 2001. He said he and eight other members of his unit, Operational Detachment – Alpha 574, were recommended for the Silver Star. But they were later told by superiors the award was downgraded to a Bronze Star.
When asked by Security Clearance how he felt that he may have been awarded the Silver Star but never told, Raikes said, "It hurt a little bit."
"I gave 25 years to the Army ... and for the actions we did in a short time and to be a contributing factor in Kandahar falling but just falling short of getting there is pretty significant," Raikes said.
"People now get them (Silver Stars) for sitting behind a desk in an office in Afghanistan," he said.
The Army Times, which initially reported the story, informed Raikes that he was on a list of Silver Star recipients.
When Security Clearance asked him how he felt about that news, Raikes seemed not to flinch, "This means the military stepped up and took care of its people and it is well deserved," he said.
Raikes seemed a bit unsure of how the Army could possibly mix things up.
"I met President (George W.) Bush, I was invited to sit and watch him at his first State of the Union address and sat next to Mr. Karzai," he said.
Raikes has heard nothing from the Army on the status of his award and said he will ask contacts for information.
Raikes said two other members of his team who were killed in fighting prior to the friendly fire incident did receive the Silver Star.
Sgt. 1st Class Daniel H. Petithory and Master Sgt. Jefferson D. Davis are on the website recently created by the Pentagon to allow the public to search award records.
Sterner said he tracked down two others on the list of nine and discovered they had received their medals, but were still not officially recognized on the Defense Department website.
He said he cannot find enough information to find answers about the other six names on his list.
Sterner is critical of the Army's lack of accountability in properly recording the names of major valor awards.
"Why give an award if the person does not know it and the Army does not keep track of it," Sterner said.
The Army Times initially reported on the posting of the list. Its parent company employs Sterner.
In a letter to Secretary of the Army John McHugh on Wednesday, Congressman Duncan Hunter (R-California) – a veteran of both the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and a member of the House Armed Services Committee – voiced his concern and demanded a review.
"It is the obligation of the Army to maintain an awards process that is devoid of lapses in communication, transparency and most importantly, ensuring America's military heroes are honored with the combat decorations they deserve," Hunter said.
"I'm also concerned that this issue could be representative of a larger problem and I would encourage the Army to undertake a review of its awards process," Hunter said.
Army officials said an investigation of how the publication of the Social Security numbers online occurred has begun.
"We take this matter very seriously," according to Army spokesman Col. Jonathan Withington, who said the service took "immediate corrective action" once the soldiers' information was discovered on the Web. "The contractor was notified immediately and removed the unofficial file."
Withington said the Army was notifying "affected persons to make them aware of the circumstances" in accordance with military policy.
It is unclear how long the database was online.
The Army contractor at the center of the controversy, Brightline Interactive of Alexandria, Virginia, did not respond to questions from CNN.