By Larry Shaughnessy
A nagging mystery of the Afghanistan war was why one Marine and one soldier were awarded Medals of Honor for their role in the same battle, but the honor was conferred nearly two years apart.
Turns out part of the reason is that Gen. David Petraeus, who once served as the commander of U.S. Forces in Afghanistan, didn't think the soldier, Army Capt. William Swenson, deserved the nation's highest award for valor.
Swenson three times exposed himself to overwhelming enemy fire to try to rescue wounded U.S. and Afghan troops during the Battle of Ganjgal in eastern Afghanistan in 2009.
Two years later, Marine Sgt. Dakota Meyer was decorated with a Medal of Honor for similar actions in the same battle. Swenson was also recommended for the medal but his case became lost in the military bureaucracy.
Prompted by Rep. Duncan Hunter's inquiries, the Pentagon inspector general began looking into the matter.
This week, the IG wrote to Hunter investigators found that "former Commander, USFOR-A, recommended downgrading the MOH to a Distinguished Service Cross, which was in his discretion to do."
The IG letter did not say why Petraeus, who is not named but who was the Afghanistan commander during the time in question, believed Swenson shouldn't receive the medal.
Complicating the case was much of the paperwork connected to Swenson's valor recommendation was missing for a long period of time. The IG didn't blame Petraeus for that.
But Hunter wants more answers.
"It is extraordinarily disconcerting that the facts surrounding Swenson's Medal of Honor nomination, specific to how it was handled and subsequently lost, still cannot be resolved," he wrote the Defense Department.
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 in service of his fallen and wounded comrades, his unit, his country, and his endangered Afghan partners."
Swenson finally was invited to the White House in October where President Barack Obama draped the iconic blue ribbon with the gold star shaped medal around his neck.
Swenson asked the Army to allow him to return to active duty.