WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump presented the nation’s highest military honor on Wednesday to a Green Beret who helped save four critically wounded comrades and prevented the lead element of a special operations force from being overrun in Afghanistan.
The Medal of Honor was presented to Master Sgt. Matthew O. Williams of Texas, who still serves in the Army.
The events leading to the honor occurred in April 2008 during a mountainside firefight that lasted several hours as Williams’ team and about 100 Afghan commandos were attacked by insurgents waiting above them.
Trump recounted how Williams led the commandos across a fast-moving and icy river and engaged the enemy. When his team sergeant was wounded by a sniper, Williams exposed himself to enemy fire to come to his aid. He helped evacuate the sergeant and then climbed back up the mountain to evacuate others, again exposing himself to enemy fire as he helped carry and load others on to evacuation helicopters.
“Matt’s incredible heroism helped ensure that not a single American soldier died in the battle of Shok Valley,” Trump said.
Trump said the enemy had the high ground, superior numbers and the element of surprise.
“Everything they were not supposed to have, they had,” Trump said. “But they had one major disadvantage. They were facing the toughest, strongest and best trained soldiers anywhere in the world.”
The honor is an upgrade of the Silver Star that Williams initially received for his actions that day. He is the second member of his detachment to receive the Medal of Honor for that operation. Former Staff Sgt. Ronald Shurer II received it a year ago.
Trump has embraced efforts to honor service members and show his support for the military. But Wednesday’s ceremony also comes as he and some Republican allies have sought to cast doubts about the loyalty of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who works on the National Security Council and testified in the House impeachment inquiry about a July phone call between Trump and Ukraine’s president.
Vindman said he did not think it was proper for the president to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen and worried about the implications for the U.S. government’s support of Ukraine. Trump has dismissed Vindman, a 20-year Army officer, as a “Never Trumper.”
The ceremony in the White House East Room included lawmakers from Williams’ home state of Texas, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and many of the nation’s top military leaders.
Williams said he was “humbled by the whole experience” and thanked his fellow soldiers.
“As a team we trusted one another, we fought hard together, we believed in one another, and that’s really why we were all able to come home,” Williams said.