Silver Star or no, injured vet athlete is "amazing," says wife

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Sherry Magallanes knows her husband Gil is a hero, whether he has a Silver Star or not.

In the weeks after Sept. 11, 2001, Gil was on an 11-member Special Forces team that shepherded an obscure Afghan politician named Hamid Karzai from Pakistan into southern Afghanistan and fomented an uprising against the Taliban.

The team, Operational Detatchment Alpha 574, was taken out of Afghanistan after a 2,000-pound bomb was dropped on their position in a friendly fire incident. Three of his teammates were killed, and the rest–including Gil–were badly injured. The definitive account of their mission is a book called, “The Only Thing Worth Dying For.”

A horrific brain injury left Gil with impaired cognitive function and reading at a first grade level, in spite of his college degree, according to his wife, Sherry. He gets seizures and migraines, and he has no peripheral vision.

Though his kidneys were badly damaged, vigorous exercise and a special diet have staved off the need for dialysis and an inevitable kidney transplant. He retains 28 percent of his kidney functioning and is hovering at Stage 4 chronic kidney failure.

“The doctors say whatever you’re doing, keep doing it,” Sherry said.

What he’s doing includes riding a tandem bike in a 260-mile event in California called the Million Dollar Challenge, organized by the Challenged Athletes Foundation. He also participated in an Iron Man race in 2010, one of his goals before he was wounded.

When he bumped into his battle buddy Ronnie Raikes after a workout earlier this week, Raikes told him that the Bronze Stars they recieved for their actions in Afghanistan might have been upgraded to the Silver Star. (Army Times story here.)

“He said, ‘No, they were downgraded to bronze,'” Sherry said.

And Gil was right. Their commander had applied for Silver Stars for him, Raikes and Michael McElhiney, but they were each awarded the Bronze Star in 2002.

But it’s a complicated story. The short version is that a database recently uncovered online contained 518 records of the Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross and Silver Star recipients for actions since the global war on terror began in 2001.

The Army had provided the data in the file to a defense contractor which builds the service’s “Galley of Heroes” kiosk at the Association of the U.S. Army convention.

Doug Sterner, who curates the Military Times “Hall of Valor” and discovered the database online while conducting research, said it contains nine possible Silver Stars that do not appear on the DoD’s own public database.

Gil Magallanes, Michael McElhiney and Raikes appear on the first list, but not the DoD list.

Which list is right? Were some soldiers awarded Silver Stars and never told?

Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., a member of the House armed services committee, has asked the secretary of the Army to take a closer look at nine possible Silver Stars to make sure they were awarded to their recipients.

Sherry said she explained it to her husband.

“He was like, ‘Well, what’s that going to change,'” Sherry said. “I said, ‘Well, you did an amazing job, you made history. You took the current president into Afghanistan.’ But he already knows he’s amazing.”

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  1. Incredible story of heroism and sacrifice rivaled only by the incredible disappointment that will be felt should it turn out that, unbeknownst to them, they did in fact receive our nations 3rd highest award for valor.

    From what I learned about the mission it seems to me they are deserving of the Silver Star Medal. Especially considering the risk and sacrifice they gave in support of two countries.

    I would also like to thank Mr. Sterner for bringing this to light. I believe his diligence for accurately recording America’s history will ensure appropriate recognition and honors are bestowed upon these men. Including the US State Department reaching out to President Karzai and the Afghani government for consideration of a well-deserved foreign award.

    Regardless, if this situation turns out to be an administrative blunder, which occurred at the time of the awarding of their medals or post-issuance upgrade I firmly believe now that it has come to the attention of the public the Pentagon will be sure to right any wrongs that have occurred. I just hope that one day I have the honor of shaking these men’s hands and thanking their families for their sacrifice.

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