NCOs motivate soldiers to action, inspire them and move them forward, usually by personal example. Whether in combat or training, their leadership is essential. They are the main source of motivation and discipline in our army. They turn the cogs of America’s way of warfare.
Famous names include Alvin York (WWI), Audie Murphy (WWII), Basil Plumley (WWII, Korean War and Vietnam War; also played by Sam Elliott in the movie “We Were Soldiers”) as examples of exceptional non-commissioned officer leadership. And there may be lesser lights in the old army NCO ranks, including a certain sergeant (E5) nicknamed “Presley.”
Then there is the sergeant. First Class (SFC) Alwyn Crendall Cashe, an NCO in a league of his own. I had the opportunity to attend his Medal of Honor Hall of Valor induction ceremony in April at the National Museum of the Infantry at Fort Benning. Unfortunately, SFC Cashe did not participate as he is no longer with us, having given his life in Iraq in 2005. But you better believe his surviving dependents – his wife and children – were there! The Army G-1 (think HR chief) was also present. He presided over the induction ceremony. When the military sends the G-1, a three-star general, to an event like this, they send a message. Yes, this is a big problem. More on that later.
Again, Alwyn Cashe was no ordinary NCO pushing soldiers forward and making things happen. His Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle, or IFV, struck an IED near Samarra, Iraq on October 17, 2005, and the vehicle was on fire. The flames consumed his young soldiers. So what did he do? He entered after them! With his uniform on fire and dodging enemy bullets, SFC Cashe returned again and again to the burning vehicle to get his “guys” out. He repeatedly refused medical help. He wouldn’t stop until each of them was out of harm’s way. Eventually he retrieved the 6 soldiers and an Iraqi interpreter from the vehicle.
Suffering from second and third degree burns to almost 72% of his body, SFC Cashe will not recover. Finally, on November 8, 2005, he succumbed to his injuries at Brooke Army Medical Center (BAMC) at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas. Doctors were unable to save him despite the best efforts of Army Trauma Medicine and BAMC’s world renowned burn clinic.
Who was the Army G-1 presiding over SFC Cashe’s induction into the National Infantry Museum’s Hall of Valor? Why it was none other than Lieutenant General (LTG) Gary Brito. LTG Brito was the Battalion Commander of SFC Cashe during that fateful deployment to Iraq in 2005. For many years he relentlessly pursued the Medal of Honor for this outstanding NCO. Brito originally nominated Cashe for a lesser award, the Silver Star. However, once he learned more about this American’s extraordinary heroism and the severity of his injuries, Brito pushed for a Medal of Honor upgrade. As a result, SFC Cashe won the award and commemoration at Fort Benning’s Hall of Valor for his bravery at significant risk to his own life.
Additionally, he modeled the US Army‘s NCO Creed as well as any NCO before him.
And so it’s Memorial Day 2022 that I take my hat off to the NCOs of the United States Army, especially those selfless Americans like Alwyn Cashe. They have dedicated their professional lives to setting a good example for their soldiers. They led from the front and saved the lives of their soldiers in some cases.
Everyone gave it, and some, like SFC Alwyn Crendall Cashe, gave it their all.
While the United States Army is far from perfect as an organization, great NCOs like Alwyn Cashe continue to inspire young men and women while leading their efforts. They motivate them to be all they can be so that we remain the best professional fighting force in the world.
We must never forget.
“All soldiers are entitled to exceptional leadership; I will provide that leadership. I know my soldiers and will always put their needs above mine.
–From US Army NCO Creed.
U.S. Army Col. Tom Weikert is currently assigned to the Maneuver Center of Excellence at Ft. Benning. With over 35 years in uniform, he has deployed four times in support of Operations Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom and Inherent Resolve.
The opinions expressed here are his own and not those of the United States military.