President Obama will award the Medal of Honor this autumn to a soldier who died in Afghanistan in 2006. He will be the sixth soldier given the award since 9/11, raising questions as to why so few veterans of the current wars have received the military's highest honor.
No official account of what Monti did to warrant the medal has been released, but in a video on YouTube, Monti's father says his son was killed while trying to save fellow soldiers, twice running into enemy fire on purpose.
The announcement points to the apparent reluctance of the Pentagon to anoint today's heroes with the Medal of Honor.
The Vietnam War produced 246 Medal of Honor recipients during the 16 years of the conflict. Monti will be only the second service member to receive the Medal of Honor for actions in Afghanistan. Four service members have been awarded the Medal of Honor for actions in Iraq. A total of 1.9 million service members have deployed since 2001.
"Given the tremendous sacrifices of our troops, it is surprising that there were only six," says Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, an advocacy group in New York.
Each of the six were awarded posthumously. Of the 246 awarded for Vietnam, 154 were posthumous.
Rep. Duncan Hunter (R) of California, a recent veteran of the Iraq war, has asked the Pentagon to examine whether acts of valor that have traditionally merited the Medal of Honor are now being rewarded with other medals, or if the criteria for the Medal of Honor have been "raised to favor actions that only result in death," according to a statement on the congressman's website.
An earlier inquiry with the Pentagon by Mr. Hunter's office yielded a telling response: The Pentagon intimated that the new modes of warfare, which place more emphasis on technological advancements, has resulted in fewer opportunities for acts of uncommon valor. Indeed, more than seven years of two wars have resulted in about 5,000 casualties – far fewer than the nearly 60,000 during the Vietnam war.
But few believe the insurgencies today are a safer, more antiseptic form of warfare.
"We're still moving house to house, street to street, and that aspect of warfare has not changed," says Joe Kasper, a spokesman for Hunter.
Mr. Obama will present the Medal of Honor to Monti's family in September. According to a video on YouTube, in which Monti's father explains his son's gallantry, Monti was killed while trying to save fellow soldiers during a firefight, twice running into enemy fire on purpose.
Mr. Rieckhoff says the award is important recognition for Monti, whom he called an "amazingly accomplished soldier."
But it is also bigger than that, he adds. "This can help bring the country's attention back, and it personalizes it in a way that the war is seldom personalized," he says, noting that the week in which Michael Jackson died several service members were killed in the two wars and the news received scant attention.
Rieckhoff holds hope that the Obama administration will review the various military awards of the past eight years and consider elevating some heroic deeds to the level of the Medal of Honor. Some awards take years to review. Theodore Roosevelt received a Medal of Honor in 2001 for actions in the Battle of San Juan Heights in Cuba, which took place in 1898.