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Helmet-Cam Video Captures MoH Action

by Brendan McGarry on October 15, 2013

The actions of the first U.S. Army officer to receive the Medal of Honor since the Vietnam War have been captured in rare helmet-cam video.

William Swenson, a former Army captain, was presented with the military’s highest award for valor Tuesday during a ceremony at the White House for his “extraordinary heroism” in a deadly, seven-hour firefight in Afghanistan in 2009. Dakota Meyer, a former Marine corporal, in 2011 received the Medal of Honor for the same battle.

On Sept. 8, 2009, Swenson, then an adviser to the Afghan border police, was leading a team of U.S. and Afghan forces into the Ganjgal valley near the Pakistan border to meet with village elders when they were ambushed by more than 60 Taliban fighters. In the ensuing firefight, five Americans, 10 Afghan army troops and an interpretor were killed.

Swenson is credited with risking his life to help a fellow soldier to a UH-60 Black Hawk medical evacuation helicopter and retrieve the bodies of fallen U.S. troops. As President Barack Obama noted during the ceremony, some of the action was caught on cameras mounted to the helmets of the helicopter crew members.

While the Medal of Honor has been awarded almost 3,500 times in history, Obama said the video “may be the first time that we can actually bear witness to a small fraction of those actions for ourselves.”

The less than five minutes of footage captures the dramatic moment when Swenson leans down to kiss the head of Sgt. 1st Class Kenneth Westbrook, who had been shot. He would die less than a month later of complications from a blood transfusion.

The video, which has been posted to YouTube, was made available courtesy of Westbrook’s widow, Charlene.

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{ 66 comments… read them below or add one }

jack October 15, 2013 at 9:03 pm

We owe this man and all our troops a debt we can never fully repay.

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Little Bill October 16, 2013 at 10:25 am

I believe your right we owe all our troops a debt that we can never repay. At least I think they never wanted it to be repaid. Just as long as WE are ready and wiling to answer the call if Freedom is ever in danger. As long as we do not hesitate and be will to lay down our live for our fellow countrymen as they did for us.

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SCOTT October 16, 2013 at 10:28 am

true. i agree

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illuminati October 17, 2013 at 6:13 pm

Get outta here. I owe him nothing. He owes me an apology for squandering my tax money to fight for Halliburton and the oil cartel. Cut the brainless pseudo-sentimental crap, will you!

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John S October 15, 2013 at 10:14 pm

Thank you for your incredible service, Captain Swenson, not only to our Country, but to your brothers in arms. God Bless.

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Sgt. Trottier October 16, 2013 at 9:12 am

I salute you with honor 03 Swenson.

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SCOTT October 16, 2013 at 9:40 am

you really do deserve this honor captain swenson. you are a true hero under fire!

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oblatt1 October 16, 2013 at 11:01 am

Unfortunately video shows that major claims about the honor were fabrications.

Hardly surprising its very common for beaten militaries to fabricate good news stories to raise moral in the fading days of a defeat.

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yogiberra111 October 16, 2013 at 11:10 am

Better to remain silent and have one's intelligence questioned than to speak up and remove all doubt.

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Benja October 17, 2013 at 4:24 pm

Disagree.

I applaud oblatt1's courage to call a spade a spade. The video shows nothing to support the claims in the article, which should be construed as an insult to people's intelligence.

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shipfixr October 16, 2013 at 5:09 pm

Just about as sorry a post as I've ever read. The article doesn't claim that what we saw was the entire action he was honored for, just a small part of it. You are a great example of all that is wrong with our country's attitudes today.

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Steve R October 16, 2013 at 6:41 pm

Oblatt, Ha Ha You poor thing, Human Debris.

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Rest Pal October 16, 2013 at 9:43 pm

the video shows nothing of value or note, and certainly doesn't support the claims in any way.

remember, the war in Afghanistan was started under FALSE PRETENSES by war criminals in the Bush administration.

the US military is in a sovereign country against international law, and has been killing innocent civilians on a daily basis.

the honors belong to those who are fighting the overwhelmingly better-armed US troops in an attempt to defend their country, despite facing far higher risks of death and torture.

this is a moral issue. Apparently most people in the US never learn.

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Mark October 17, 2013 at 10:58 am

Taliban (Aphganistan) protected Osama and Al-Qaeda. War justified. Let go of the Kool-Aid.

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Rest Pal October 17, 2013 at 1:03 pm

That's one of the false pretenses I was talking about. In fact, it's one largely made up by the media and the sheeple. The US government has yet to make any definitive charge against Osama bin Laden. The FBI has declined to make the claim. What's your source? Fox? CNN?

For the sake of argument, even if certain groups in Afghanistan had protected members of al-Qaeda (a US government creation), it's well within the country's sovereign right to so. To say otherwise is equivalent to justify a Chinese invasion of the US because the US government has protected rebels in China.

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Benja October 17, 2013 at 4:30 pm

Well said. The war over there has been a mafia operation in nature.

oblatt1 October 17, 2013 at 1:29 am

Has all the makings of another Pat Tiller scandle.

Tactical disaster and the need to cover up incompetence combined with improbable stories that don't check out when other evidence such as this video or interview with Afghans on the ground appears.

Threw a grenade which didn't explode so killed a taliban soldier with a rock – yea sounds probable.

We are losing the war because our military would rather tell nice stories then face the truth.

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Benja October 17, 2013 at 4:26 pm

Well said oblatt1. I think you are right.

We've seen too many bogus claims from the military, like the op to murder Laden.

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Kenneth October 17, 2013 at 10:38 am

CASVACS try to land when under least amount of enemy fire possible.

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DeltaTurrett October 17, 2013 at 12:00 pm
DeltaTurrett October 17, 2013 at 12:01 pm
Bman October 16, 2013 at 11:38 am

Who needs a marker panel when you have the UCP uniform to guide them right to you? Oblatt, obviously have never served in a hair raising incident because you would know even the best cameras or combat photographers only capture small pieces of the action. This merely shows the CASEVAC and not the work they did to get to the wounded folks or to get them to the pick up zone.

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shipfixr October 16, 2013 at 5:11 pm

Well said, his comments were particularly inane given that the article states that what we say was just a small part of the Captains actions.

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LtKitty October 16, 2013 at 11:39 am

It's heroes like Captain Swenson and other soldiers, marines, sailors, etc. who remind me to man the F*** up when I get angsty about the tiniest of discomforts in my life. Truly we have incredible people on this planet.

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blight_ October 16, 2013 at 1:59 pm

I guess the superior officers who screwed him lost. First, for trying to disappear his paperwork, and now that the MoH Swenson earned is now on-the-record.

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hibeam October 16, 2013 at 3:33 pm

The only videos I want to see are drones whacking bearded lunatics from the safety of Las Vegas. Why are we still there?

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Rest Pal October 16, 2013 at 9:35 pm

what about non-bearded lunatics or religious fanatics? you know, those playing with others' money and lives in the comfort of their offices or hotel rooms in the US, Israel, Saudi Arabia etc?

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SGT Sanders October 16, 2013 at 8:41 pm

@oblatt I’m sure I speak for the CPT Swenson and all of the other service members here when I say “you’re welcome”. If you can’t muster up enough respect to recognize his noble efforts, at least you can be thankful for your right to be able to post and say whatever narrow minded trash is running through your skull.

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Rest Pal October 16, 2013 at 9:52 pm

No, speak for yourself. You can't speak for others, especially people like Pat Tillman and Bradley Manning, who had the courage to speak out against the deception by the dirty US politicians that had started the illegal war and sent thousands of soldiers to their graves, doing nothing more than killing innocent civilians and creating chaos so that the big oil companies and defense contractors could make hundreds of billions of the clueless US taxpayers.

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William_C1 October 18, 2013 at 4:25 am

You speak for yourself fool. Bradley Manning was a scumbag. A coward and a traitor who by rights should have hanged. Pat Tillman's claim to fame was football and then being at the center of a cover-up to make his death look "better" which while wrong was blown way out of proportion by the media.

A rant including the usual BS about "big oil", "defense contractors" and "innocent civilians", you obviously know nothing about he real world. Get out of here.

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oblatt1 October 18, 2013 at 1:55 pm

Wow how is any of that relevant. Sure you didnt post t o the wrong blog again William

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SGT Sanders October 16, 2013 at 8:41 pm
SGT Sanders October 16, 2013 at 8:42 pm

@oblatt I’m sure I speak for the CPT Swenson and all of the other service members here when I say “you’re welcome”. If you can’t muster up enough respect to recognize his noble efforts, at least you can be thankful for your right to be able to post and say whatever narrow minded trash is running through your skull.

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oblatt1 October 17, 2013 at 1:37 am

But of course you don't speak for "CPT Swenson and all of the other service members here" – your just trying to bathe in reflected glory.

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SOCOM REJECT October 17, 2013 at 6:17 am
SOCOM REJECT October 17, 2013 at 6:18 am
SOCOM REJECT October 17, 2013 at 6:18 am
oblatt1 October 17, 2013 at 2:17 pm

Since when do we reward hard luck stories ? Americas used to be about winners now it rewards losers.

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Jonathan Willard October 16, 2013 at 8:46 pm
Jonathan Willard October 16, 2013 at 8:47 pm
stash October 16, 2013 at 10:52 pm

As a Vietnam combat veteran who knows well the ugliness of war, I thank God that I was never in a situation by sheer happenstance that I never had the challenge that this Army captain did, but believe that I would have acted in the same manner. Please note that real heroes do not brag, and cowards always whine. I have a good friend who is a MoH awardee who received his recognition just a few years ago–from an action in Vietnam–I never knew what he had done for 25 years before his MoH was awarded. What does that tell you about real heroes? My Army buddy lives modestly and quietly and still does not talk about his MoH. If asked, though, he too would say that he was just doing his job! My final observation is that most Americans would or could be heroes given the circumstances, and the whiners still will know who they are.

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oblatt1 October 17, 2013 at 1:35 am

That is very old school these days you write a book – or get one written for you – less effort – and cash in.

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Karl Dunkleberger October 18, 2013 at 7:49 am

Bull crap, real heros some times brag, and sometimes are sullen, those who paint wih the same brush and same stroke dont know more than one hero!

Ive known thousands from 8 wars!

and some Bragg alot. mostly in front of others wo have a silly story about "their time"

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oblatt1 October 20, 2013 at 8:13 am

"Ive known thousands from 8 wars! "

Sound slike you have the same low definition of a hero the army has.

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Mike A. October 17, 2013 at 3:14 am

I agree with oblatt, however not taking away from Capt. Swenson story. There's a lot
Of our guys that would do anything for that MOH award. The perfect example is
Dakota Meyer claims then he writes 4 books. His story telling deferred from Swenson
In the same battle.

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Charlie Carter October 17, 2013 at 4:46 am
J Nolan October 17, 2013 at 6:10 am

Hooah Sir, Never leave a fallen commrad

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Karl Dunkleberger October 18, 2013 at 7:50 am

Never leave a fallen commrad is a silly idea we never saw in the american civil war!

its good for moral, but a easy weapon for the enemy to use against us!

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Rest Pal October 18, 2013 at 4:35 pm

J Nolan, he's not in any sort of danger. The video shows no sign of gun fight. If this were Vietnam, he would have to choose between a "fallen commrad" and those inside the helicopter, including himself.

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Mary Ann Teachey October 17, 2013 at 1:34 pm

We need more soldiers like you! Great job!

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oblatt1 October 17, 2013 at 2:20 pm

Everytime there is a debacle we sprinkle round MoHs to make everyone feel good and raise moral. We have the most pumped most confident losing army in history.

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guest October 17, 2013 at 2:43 pm

Why don’t you try doing what these heroes are doing

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William_C1 October 18, 2013 at 4:26 am

Oblat is an America hating coward posting from a basement somewhere in some 3rd world hellhole, he doesn't have the balls.

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Justin October 17, 2013 at 11:52 pm
Justin October 17, 2013 at 11:53 pm
Justin October 17, 2013 at 11:54 pm

As much as I hate to say it, the video appears to contradict the narrative given in the MOH citation. The citation describes a scene of intense enemy fire, movement under intense direct enemy fire, and “hot” LZ’s. It goes as far as to describe Swenson rendering aid while moving the casualty to the helo under fire, stopping to throw a grenade, and then continuing to help evacuate the casualty under fire. The video shows him standing in the open, rifle tucked under his arm, with a signal panel. Everyone in the background is milling about, nobody is shooting… much less throwing grenades… and there appears to be a general lack of active combat occurring.

I understand that the video only shows five minutes. But those five minutes don’t appear to be showing what the MOH citation says is supposed to be occurring during that time frame. This whole situation seemed a little weird from the start with both of the MOH recipients more or less campaigning for the medals from the start. I don’t doubt the bravery of the individuals involved, but things just don’t seem to add up here. Weren’t there also some conflicting statements from witnesses as well?

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Justin October 17, 2013 at 11:55 pm
twright2 October 18, 2013 at 8:23 am

Although I am sure the Capt deserves the MoH and I am proud of his actions in battle, this video does nothing nor does it add and credence to him deserving an award. His heroic actions were not captured by this particular video.

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oblatt1 October 18, 2013 at 2:01 pm

The video contradicts the citation, but its not meant to be factual its a propaganda exercise. And if the reflected glory stops one returned hero from offing himself because he feels he is a failure and has let his country down it would be worth it.

Right now how many returned afghan veterans are pretending to be Capt Swenson, so they can get through another night ?

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Keith October 18, 2013 at 2:34 pm

what about the other men who helped Swenson I see other men doing more than Swenson …. its not meant to take away from Swenson but why arent the others honored as well

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keith October 18, 2013 at 2:50 pm

I have viewed this video many times ,,, I just dont see what is so honorable ( meaning more than what any person would do ) the situation at the time does not seem that threatening since he is standing with Red material on him and not trying to defend himself from any threat . I know this is a short video and does not show much of what lead up to this time ,,, but this video does not seem to validate any HONORABLE action except to help fellow soldiers into the Help. My Dad 3ID WW!! landed on Anzio beachhead then involved in Operation Dragoon invasion of southern France stepped on an anti personal mine surviving vicious attacks GREAT MAN no medals and doesnt want one …… just saying

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Justin October 18, 2013 at 3:59 pm
Justin October 18, 2013 at 3:59 pm

The MOH citation describes the casevac as a highly dangerous event carried out under enemy fire, and that CPT. Swenson did all sorts of heroics during this event. This is a video of the event, and it shows nothing dangerous (other than being in Afghanistan of course) or heroic happening. Why aren’t more people questioning this??

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Rest Pal October 18, 2013 at 4:11 pm

I'll bet that 90% of those who echoed the BS claims in the article didn't even watch the video.

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blight_ October 18, 2013 at 5:18 pm

I guess I have to post this again.
http://www.army.mil/medalofhonor/swenson/narrativ

After what seemed like hours under effective and suppressive enemy fire, the combined force arrived at SBF-A and began immediate medical evacuation, or MedEvac, procedures. Soon after, a UH-60 helicopter arrived at the landing zone, located outside of small arms and RPG fire, and Swenson loaded Westbrook who was immediately taken to the forward support hospital at FOB Wright. The valiant effort by Swenson and the members of the TAC to maneuver under accurate and unmitigated enemy fire, moving Westbrook as well as ambulatory and non-ambulatory Afghan casualties, no doubt saved the lives of Westbrook and several others.

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Justin October 19, 2013 at 1:11 am

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