A senior enlisted SEAL will be the first sailor in a decade to receive the Medal of Honor, for a mission to rescue an American civilian hostage in Afghanistan in 2012, according to a Tuesday release from the White House.
President Obama will present Senior Chief Special Warfare Operator (SEAL) Edward Byers with the nation's highest award for valor in a Feb. 29 ceremony at the White House, the release said.
Byers' actions were so clearly beyond expectation, even for a Navy SEAL, that the Navy had no hesitation in nominating him for the Medal of Honor, according to a defense official familiar with his case, but not authorized to speak publicly about it, told USA Today.
"There's no margin of doubt or possibility of error in awarding this honor," the defense official said. "His actions were so conspicuous in terms of bravery and self-sacrifice that they clearly distinguished him to be worthy of the award, including risk of his own life."
Despite the public announcement and ceremony, the White House is keeping tight-lipped about the details of the rescue. His citation, according to the release, only states "his courageous actions while serving as part of a team that rescued an American civilian being held hostage in Afghanistan, December 8-9, 2012."
Much about the mission — and Byers' role in it — remains secret. While the White House usually gives a much more detailed account of what a service member has done to be awarded the Medal of Honor, Byers commendation cites only "his courageous actions while serving as part of a team that rescued an American civilian being held hostage in Afghanistan, December 8-9, 2012."
At that time, Dr. Dilip Joseph, the medical director for the faith-based nonprofit Morningstar Development, was entering his fifth day of captivity by ransom-seeking Taliban fighters in the mountains east of Kabul, according to the USA Today report.
Sometime after midnight on Dec. 9, Joseph heard shots outside the shack where he was being held, he recounted in a 2014 book, "Kidnapped by the Taliban: A Story of Terror, Hope, and Rescue by SEAL Team Six."
"Is Dilip Joseph here?" shouted one of the heavily armed men, wearing night-vision goggles and speaking English. When Joseph identified himself, one of the SEALs — Joseph doesn't know for sure — immediately laid down on top of him to protect him from the fighting, asking about his welfare. Amid the gunfire, the SEAL calmly asked if he had been fed, if he could walk, and if he had been mistreated.
Five Taliban fighters were killed, according to USA Today. One Navy SEAL — the first one in the door, who the others called Nic — had been shot in the forehead.
As they waited for a helicopter 12 minutes out, the SEALs protected Joseph by "sandwiching" him between two team members.
Gen. Martin Dempsey, then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, "strongly recommended" Byers for the Medal of Honor in December 2014, according to a memo obtained by USA TODAY under the Freedom of Information Act.
The ceremony was delayed in part by Byers' recent deployment, according to a senior Defense official who was not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.
A 1905 executive order by President Teddy Roosevelt requires that Medal of Honor recipients come to Washington to receive the medal from the president.
Byers will be the 11th living service member to receive the medal for actions in Afghanistan and the third sailor to earn the distinction since Sept. 11, 2001.
SEAL Team 3's Master-at-Arms 2nd Class (SEAL) Michael Monsoor was posthumously awarded the medal in 2006 for actions in Iraq. A year earlier Lt. Michael Murphy was posthumously recognized for his role in Operation Red Wings, the battle detailed in retired Hospital Corpsman 1st Class (SEAL) Marcus Luttrell's memoir "Lone Survivor."
Byers, 36, is a native of Toledo, Ohio. He joined the Navy in Sept. 1998 and served as a hospital corpsman before attending Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training in 2002.
His awards and decorations include five Bronze Stars with combat "V" device, two Purple Hearts, a Joint Service Commendation with "V," three Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medals — one with "V"— and two Combat Action Ribbons.
USA Today reporters Gregory Korte and Tom Vanden Brook contributed to this report.