Solider Championed by Steelers’ Al Villanueva Set to Receive Medal of Honor


Getty Pittsburgh Steelers left tackle Alejandro Villanueva.

When the Pittsburgh Steelers played their season opener on Monday September 14th, most of the team’s players wore the name of police shooting victim Antwon Rose Jr. on the back of their helmets. But not left tackle Al Villanueva, who covered up Antwon Rose Jr.’s name and honored the late Alwyn Cashe, a former Army Ranger who died in November 2005 of injuries suffered while fighting in Iraq.

A few weeks later, Villanueva told Brooke Pryor of ESPN that “the decision had to do exclusively with Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe and his pursuit for the Medal of Honor, which is something he deserves and hopefully he’ll get soon.”

Now that time may be here. On Tuesday the Washington Post reported that the Senate has unanimously passed bipartisan legislation that “clears the way” for President Trump to award the Medal of Honor to Cashe. The legislation waived the legal requirement that the Medal of Honor be awarded within five years of a service member’s acts of valor. It followed in the wake of the approval of similar legislation in the House of Representatives last week.

The Bill is on the President’s Desk

Once President Trump signs the Senate’s bill, the Department of Defense will be able to formally recommend to the President that he award SFC Cashe the Medal of Honor.

“I am so grateful the Senate passed our bill to pave the way for the President to award Alwyn Cashe the Medal of Honor,” Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D.-Fla.), who co-sponsored the bill in the House, said in a statement. “We are now very close to recognizing this unbelievably heroic soldier, who died saving his men, with our nation’s highest award for combat valor—which he earned beyond a shadow of a doubt.”

Cashe passed away in November 2005 at Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas after suffering burns over 72 percent of his body while trying to rescue other soldiers from a burning Bradley Fighting Vehicle in Iraq. Should he go on to receive the Medal of Honor, it would make him the first African-American service member who served in Iraq or Afghanistan to be so honored.

Al Villanueva: ‘The Timing was Perfect’

Villanueva hasn’t yet commented on the news, but when he spoke to the aforementioned Brooke Pryor in late September he elaborated on why he decided to pay tribute to Cashe.

“I felt that my decision to honor Sgt. First Class Alwyn Cashe was something that was very personal to me due to the fact that in the veteran community, there’s a strong push to get him a Medal of Honor, which is something that the community believes that he deserves,” he said. “I think that the timing was perfect due to the fact that it gave the lawmakers a little bit of momentum going forward.”

Villanueva, a graduate of West Point Military Academy, is a former Army Ranger himself. While in the military he did three tours of duty, serving in the Tenth Mountain Division and fighting in Kandahar Province in Afghanistan.

Villaneuva has been Pittsburgh’s starting left tackle since 2015. At Army he played on the offensive line, but also at wide receiver and tight end.

He is in the final year of the contract he signed in the summer of 2017 and is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in 2021, one of the top pending UFAs on the team.

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