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By Alexandra Jaffe and Aamer Madhani | Associated press

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden presented the Medal of Honor, the country’s highest military honor for bravery in combat, on Thursday to three soldiers who fought in Afghanistan and Iraq. Two were recognized posthumously.

“Our hearts overflow with gratitude today as we honor unprecedented courage, commitment to duty and much-needed and unquestionable gallantry,” Biden said at a ceremony at the White House.

The honored people were:

“Master sergeant. Earl Plumlee, a special forces soldier who fought Taliban insurgents after an attack in Afghanistan in 2013.

-Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Celiz, 32, an Army Ranger who died after standing between Taliban fighters and a US helicopter evacuating wounded in 2018 in Afghanistan.

-Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe, 35, died of burns sustained while saving fellow soldiers from a burning vehicle in Iraq in 2005.

Kate Celiz and Tamara Cashe accepted the medals on behalf of their families.

“As honored as you are, it must be difficult to be here today,” Biden told Cashe’s family.

Cashe is the first black serviceman to receive the Medal of Honor for military actions from Vietnam, according to the White House.

He was on patrol in Iraq in October 2005 when the Bradley Fighting Vehicle he was commanding was attacked with small arms and a roadside bomb. Cashe repeatedly returned to the burning vehicle and pulled six soldiers out of the wreckage. Despite his burns, Cashe refused to board the medical evacuation helicopter until the other soldiers were evacuated first.

Cashe, who grew up in Oviedo, Florida, died of burns in a Texas hospital the following month. Three of the soldiers he removed from the burning vehicle also died.

Celiz was leading an operation to clear an area of ​​enemy forces in Afghanistan in 2018 when his team was attacked. He used his body to protect his unit from enemy fire as a victim was loaded aboard a medical evacuation helicopter. Celiz stayed behind to cover the plane.

As the helicopter took off, Celiz positioned himself to protect the cockpit. He was hit by enemy fire. Despite his injuries, he motioned for the plane to leave rather than stay to load it at the risk of further casualties.

Celiz was originally from South Carolina and enlisted in the military in 2006.

Plumlee was serving at a base in Afghanistan when it was attacked, with insurgents blowing up a 60-foot breach in the perimeter wall.

Ten insurgents in Afghan National Army uniforms and suicide vests poured in. Plumlee and five other soldiers moved towards the explosion to ward off the attack.

Armed with a single pistol, Plumlee killed two insurgents and engaged several more at close range, despite heavy enemy fire and his own injuries. At one point, Plumlee ran to an injured soldier, transported him to safety, and provided first aid.

Plumlee currently serves with the 1st Special Forces Group at Fort Lewis, Washington.

Associated Press editor Darlene Superville contributed to this report.