While controversies rage about the causes of the Orlando terrorist attack, a new one is brewing about its aftermath. One of the 49 innocent Americans who were murdered by Omar Mateen, a US citizen of Afghan heritage who claimed affiliation with the Islamist terror group known as ISIS, was an Army Reservist named Antonio Brown. Captain Brown was off duty and at the club in his capacity as a private citizen, far from declared combat zones, when the attack occurred. Nonetheless, some people think he should be posthumously awarded the Purple Heart.
I think they’re right.
Precedent, regulation, and (I believe) a realistic sense of the world are on the side of those who think the Purple Heart it merited. To begin with, it is useful to take a look at the Army’s official criteria for awarding the Purple Heart medal:
The Purple Heart (PH) was established by General George Washington at Newburgh, New York, on 7 August 1782, during the Revolutionary War. It was reestablished by the President of the United States per War Department General Orders 3, 1932 and is currently awarded pursuant to Executive Order 11016, 25 April 1962; Executive Order 12464, 23 February 1984; Public Law 98-525, 19 October 1984 amended by Public Law 100–48, 1 June 1987; Public Law 103-160, 30 November 1993; Public Law 104-106, 10 February 1996; and Public Law 105-85, 18 November 1997. The PH is awarded in the name of the President of the United States and per 10 USC 1131, effective 19 May 1998, is limited to members of the Armed Forces of the United States who, while serving under component authority in any capacity with one of the U.S. Armed Services after 5 April 1917, has been wounded, was killed, or who has died or may hereafter die of wounds received under any of the following—
- In any action against an enemy of the United States.
- In any action with an opposing armed force of a foreign country in which the Armed Forces of the United States are or have been engaged.
- While serving with friendly foreign forces engaged in an armed conflict against an opposing armed force in which the United States is not a belligerent party.
- As the result of an act of any such enemy of opposing Armed Forces.
- As the result of an act of any hostile foreign force.
- After 28 March 1973, as the result of an international terrorist attack against the United States or a foreign nation friendly to the United States, recognized as such an attack by the Secretary of Army, or jointly by the Secretaries of the separate armed services concerned if persons from more than one service are wounded in the attack.
- After 28 March 1973, as the result of military operations while serving outside the territory of the United States as part of a peacekeeping force.
- Servicemembers who are killed or wounded in action by friendly fire. In accordance with 10 USC 1129 for award of the PH, the Secretary of the Army will treat a member of the Armed Forces as a member who is killed or wounded in action as the result of an act of an enemy of the United States.”
In the above criteria, I highlighted the parts I think are most applicable. We know that the Orlando attack was terrorism. We know the perpetrator claimed fealty to ISIS. ISIS accepted credit for the attack. ISIS is at war with the US.
We know that CPT Brown was a commissioned officer at the time he was murdered in an act of terrorism by an individual who claimed affiliation with a terrorist group with which the US is currently engaged in hostilities. Seems pretty open and shut to me.
There is also precedence on the side of CPT Brown’s supporters: those individuals killed and wounded in the 2009 Fort Hood terrorist attack carried out by MAJ Nidal Hassan were (eventually) awarded the Purple Heart once the election was over and it was safe for administration officials to call it “terrorism” instead of “workplace violence.” Military members killed and injured in the 9/11 attacks were awarded the Purple Heart, as were the victims of the recruiting station shootings.
Some people will say the award is not merited because it happened off duty, that it happened inside America, and that it wasn’t part of a declared war. I understand that logic, but I think it’s completely wrong. CPT Brown was in the military. An individual claiming to be part of an organization at war with the US killed him. That alone merits the award.
For my part, I hope the State Department and the Obama Administration do the right thing and recognize the Orlando attack for what it is: radical Islamic-inspired terrorism. Then I hope the Pentagon does the right thing and posthumously awards CPT Brown the Purple Heart.