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Remarks by Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III at a Hall of Heroes Induction Ceremony for Three Medal of Honor Recipients (As Delivered)

Good morning, everybody. It is indeed an honor to be with you today.

Secretary Wormuth and General McConville, thank you for your moving words and for your steadfast leadership of our Army. 

Let me also recognize General Milley, and General Hokanson, and Sergeant Major Grinston. The many leaders who are here tell you what a special day this is for the United States Army.

And I know that we’ve already met the family members here today, but I don’t believe that we can ever thank them enough. 

So I want to pay tribute again, starting with the Cashe family: Tamara Cashe and daughter Alexis and Sergeant Cashe’s siblings, including Kasinal Cashe-White. 

Let me also recognize Katie Celiz and daughter Shannon, as well as Sergeant Celiz’s mother, Judy.

And we’re honored to have Terrie Plumlee and the Plumlee children, Lillian and Lincoln. And we also have Sergeant Plumlee’s proud mother here, Missy Elliot. 

You know, military families serve every bit as much as our men and women in uniform. And while we’ve talked a lot today about the courage and strength of the Medal of Honor recipients, I also want to salute the courage and the strength of the entire Cashe, Celiz, and Plumlee families. 

And let me also recognize the many service members here today who served right alongside our three recipients and the members of the Medal of Honor Society. 

Our heroes are testaments to the families and the communities who raised them, and to the allies and partners who fought alongside them, and to the Army that shaped them. 

Thank you all for being here today. 

You know, back in 1945, a couple weeks after V-E Day, President Truman awarded the Medal of Honor to Technical Sergeant Jake Lindsey, an infantry hero from World War II. And he described Sergeant Lindsey in words that could just as easily be said about the three recipients that we’re honoring today. 

As the President put it, no officer ordered the sergeant to stand alone against the enemy. No one ordered him to keep fighting, even after he was wounded. Instead, President Truman said, [quote] “Those decisions came from his own heart. They were a flash of the nobility which we like to think is a part of every American.”

And so three-quarters of a century have passed. And the face of war has changed. But in the hardest moments of their missions, on the hardest days of their lives, our men and women in uniform still make incredibly brave decisions. From the heart. 

We’re here today because of the valiant hearts of Sergeant First Class Alwyn Cashe, Sergeant First Class Christopher Celiz, and Master Sergeant Earl Plumlee. And their names belong forever in our Hall of Heroes.

Let me start with Sergeant Cashe. 

He was the baby of his family, the youngest of nine kids. Their parents taught Sergeant Cashe and his siblings the value of hard work. His father would say, “Do it like you’re putting your name on it.” Do it like you’re putting your name on it.

That’s something that Sergeant Cashe would later instill into his soldiers. When he was a drill sergeant at Fort Benning, the recruits remembered the pride that he took in everything that he did—even shining his boots. And Sergeant Cashe’s boots shined like a mirror. 

Above all, he took great pride in taking care of his soldiers. In fact, Lieutenant General Gary Brito, who is here today, remembers him walking around the barracks after midnight checking on his team. 

On one night in October of 2005, he was in a Bradley Fighting Vehicle that rolled onto an IED and burst into flames. 

Now, Sergeant Cashe managed to escape from the commander’s hatch. But his soldiers were still inside the burning vehicle. 

And in that moment, Sergeant Cashe made a choice—as President Truman would say—from his own heart. 

And he turned back—and he pulled the driver to safety. 

But more of his men were trapped. So Sergeant Cashe went back into the flaming Bradley… and removed four more soldiers. 

But yet two were still missing. And so he went back. 

Again and again and again, Sergeant Cashe pulled his men out of the flames.

Now many have noted that Sergeant Cashe is the first Black American who fought in Afghanistan and Iraq to receive the Medal of Honor, making him an important part of the history of these two wars. 

But looking back on his career, I’m struck by all the times that he put himself last. 

In the barracks, being the last to get to sleep because he was checking on his men. 

After the blast, demanding that he be the last soldier to be evacuated. 

And at the hospital, insisting that the doctors tend to him last. 

Again and again and again, Sergeant Cashe put others first.

“Do it like you are putting your name on it,” his father would say.

And Sergeant Cashe did. Throughout his time in uniform. And in his stunning final act of duty, valor, and love. 

Thirteen years later, in a different theater, Sergeant First Class Christopher was nearing the end of his fifth deployment with his Ranger battalion. And in another split-second decision, he stepped directly into the line of fire to save his teammates.

Now, from a young age, Sergeant Celiz felt compelled to serve his country. He joined JROTC in high school and spent weekends competing at drill meets. 

Sergeant Celiz was a proud Ranger, and we all know that “Rangers lead the way.” 

Sergeant Celiz loved teaching Rangers, and mentoring them, and bonding with them over dinners or on outings in the wilderness. 

In return, his fellow Rangers called him “a national treasure,” the “hardest worker in the battalion,” and “a top-notch dude.”

And they remember him for always putting himself at the decisive point on the battlefield. 

That’s just what he did on that July day in 2018 in Afghanistan. 

When his Rangers came under Taliban attack, Sergeant Celiz dodged bullets so that he could get to a heavy-weapons system. That gave his team time to find a safe place for evacuation. 

And when his weapons weren’t enough to hold off the enemy, Sergeant Celiz used his own body as a shield to protect his team. 

And as the evacuation helicopter was lifting off, enemy fire found Sergeant Celiz. And he knew that he was wounded. But in one of his last acts, he waved for the aircraft to depart without him. 

Mrs. Celiz, we’re honored to have you with us. 

I’m told that when you got that terrible phone call about your husband more than three years ago, you said that you raced through a range of emotions—but surprise was not one of them. 

Because Sergeant Celiz always led the way—especially when it meant leading his team out of harm’s way. 

And today, we salute the extraordinary courage of this extraordinary Ranger.

Now, we’re honored to have our third Medal of Honor recipient here with us: Master Sergeant Plumlee. 

In 2013, at Forward Operating Base Ghazni in Afghanistan, Sergeant Plumlee had just taken a photo with his team when the ground beneath them shook.

And in the flash of that massive blast, Sergeant Plumlee jumped into action.

The base’s walls were breached. But he was determined to protect it. 

So he just kept moving. 

Over and over, he advanced on the insurgents, firing whatever weapon that he could get his hands on—a rifle, a pistol, a grenade.

Over and over, he put his life on the line, taking any cover that he could find—first an electrical box, and then a plastic water tank. 

Over and over, he came face to face with the enemy—just some seven meters away. 

Now, Sergeant Plumlee is a humble guy. And he’s never wanted to be singled out for his heroism. 

He’s quick to remind people that it’s not about him. It’s about the team. 

And that’s why, out of everything that happened that day, out of all those individual acts of bravery and skill, Sergeant Plumlee has said that what he’s most proud of is linking back up with his team during the battle. 

From there, they got organized and pulled off what he later called [quote] an “aggressive, synced-up stack, moving into the chaos.”

Sergeant Plumlee, I know that you never set out to add your name to the Hall of Heroes. 

But take it from your battle buddies who are here today. 

Take it from your commanders who have told your story. 

And take it from me.

Over and over, you have more than earned your place here.  

Now, there’s a common thread among the stories of these men, and so many other Medal of Honor recipients. 

In their acts of bravery and heroism, there was no time. No time to blink. No time to breathe. And certainly no time to think about being brave.

And yet they were brave. Brave beyond all expectation. 

Because they felt something deeper. In those moments—in those flashes of nobility—they knew that they were part of a team. And they acted out of a profound sense of loyalty and love. And they felt it more than the fear… more than the pain… and more than the desire for their own safety.

You know, their medal citations tell their stories. But those citations can’t possibly capture the chaos. The thunder. The confusion. And the courage that rose above it all. 

Ladies and gentlemen, we have the strongest military that the world has ever known. But it’s not because of our advanced weapons. It’s not because of our helicopters or our tanks. It’s because of the ideals that we fight for. And it’s because we have the best team in the world. 

And Sergeant First Class Cashe, Sergeant First Class Celiz, and Master Sergeant Plumlee are the best of the best. 

With decisions—and with bravery—that came from the heart. 

God bless our Medal of Honor recipients, their families, and all who love them. Thank you very much.