Ken Harbaugh tells the stories of service members who have distinguished themselves through an act of valor. These stories feature recipients from the Civil War to present day, including a few who were originally overlooked for the medal.
MSG Plumlee’s Medal of Honor story is straight out of a movie. When enemies with suicide vests attacked his base in Afghanistan, Plumlee was out gunned and outmanned. He fought multiple insurgents with little ammo, and miraculously emerged from the fight with relatively minor injuries despite being under heavy fire.
Welcome to the Medal of Honor podcast, brought to you in partnership with the National Medal of Honor Museum. I’m Ken Harbaugh. In each episode, we’ll learn about a different service member who has distinguished him or herself through an act of valor.
Earl Plumlee was born on April 6th, 1980 in Clinton, Oklahoma. During his junior year of high school, he joined the Oklahoma National guard and served as a rocket artilleryman. He then joined the Marine Corps after graduating high school.
By the time he was deployed to Afghanistan in 2013, Plumlee already had a stellar military career. He was named Marine Corps Recon Team Leader of the year and served in Japan, Bahrain, the Philippines, and Iraq before deciding to switch to the Army, where he underwent extensive training to become a Green Beret.
On August 28th, 2013, Forward Operating Base Ghazni in Afghanistan was attacked by a group of Taliban insurgents. Wearing suicide vests and disguised in Afghan National Army uniforms, they blew a 60ft hole in the perimeter wall of the base.
Staff Sergeant Plumlee and five other soldiers mounted their vehicles and raced towards the explosion. As they approached the enemy, Plumlee’s driver positioned their vehicle directly in the line of fire in order to protect two wounded comrades. Plumlee instinctively used his body to shield the driver, but his rifle jammed, leaving him only with his pistol. Knowing he was exposed, out-gunned, and out-manned, he advanced and engaged multiple insurgents to close the distance. He miraculously avoided enemy rocket, small arms, and recoilless rifle fire, and took cover. From there, he threw a grenade at an enemy he had just wounded with his pistol. Seeing the grenade, the wounded Taliban soldier quickly opened fire, tearing through the empty plastic water tank that concealed Plumlee. Running out of pistol ammo, Plumlee hastily worked on un-jamming his rifle, but before the enemy could land a shot, Plumlee’s grenade exploded, killing the enemy instantly.
Immediately after, Plumlee felt dirt spray the back of his neck. He turned around and realized that an enemy sniper had missed his head by only inches. With his rifle finally un-jammed, Plumlee spotted the enemy sniper and shot his suicide vest from about 100 meters away, causing it to explode.
Plumlee turned back around and saw the enemy falling back, so he advanced. He followed in pursuit down a small lane and engaged them with his rifle at close range. The moment he needed to reload, a suicide bomber screamed and sprinted towards him. Plumlee quickly reloaded and fired multiple times at the charging enemy until the suicide vest exploded, sending Plumlee flying backwards. Another insurgent closed in, and fired at Plumlee as he laid on the ground, barely missing. Plumlee collected himself and quickly fired his rifle, killing the enemy. He stood back up and continued firing at the enemy until he needed to reload again. He took this as an opportunity to temporarily withdraw, regroup with his nearby allies, and reload.
Plumlee and one other soldier attacked together, engaging the insurgents again. As Plumlee’s ally stepped over a neutralized enemy, the enemy’s suicide vest caught fire, sending up a pillar of flame that began detonating the other vests in the area. Plumlee and his comrade quickly took cover, and the enemy began throwing more grenades to add to the chaos. One hit Plumlee in the throat and got lodged between him and the wall. As Plumlee was getting rid of it, a second one ricocheted off a wall and hit him in the back of the knee. With help from his ally, Plumlee kicked it out of harm's way, and they decided their position was too vulnerable. As they retreated, something exploded behind them, knocking them both over. They scrambled to their feet and ducked behind a corner where they found their commanding officer, a Navy SEAL, and two other soldiers.
At this point, Plumlee only had two rounds remaining, but he was determined to provide cover to his allies. The group banded together, and not seeing any initial threats, cautiously advanced. Suddenly an enemy insurgent sat up from a pile of bodies and screamed, bouncing two grenades at them and detonating his suicide vest. The group scattered, but Plumlee only had the time to turn away from the blasts. Amazingly, he was only hit with a few pieces of shrapnel and remained standing. Then, Plumlee heard rifle fire from the rear, and saw his fellow soldier engaging a flanking insurgent. Plumlee fired his last two rounds, and as the enemy fell to the ground, his vest exploded, sending Plumlee’s ally flying. Now completely out of ammunition, Plumlee rushed to his side and dragged him to a safer location where he administered aid. While he tended to his ally, Plumlee saw a friendly civilian nearby. Knowing they were incredibly vulnerable, he asked the civilian if he could hold his rifle. The civilian agreed, and posed as a guard, acting as another set of eyes and ears for Plumlee. His ally’s injuries were severe, so Plumlee knew he had to get him to the nearby hospital on base. Plumlee, the civilian, and another nearby friendly soldier found an ATV, and through the chaos, drove their wounded ally to the hospital. Less than two minutes passed from when he was wounded to when they reached the hospital, but his injuries were too severe, and he died after arriving.
Needing a weapon and ammo to get back into the fight, Plumlee pieced a few broken rifles together to make a working one. He loaded up on ammo and grenades, but before he could move out, his commander saw him, and ordered him to hold back.
The entire gunfight lasted only nine minutes, and the Taliban soldiers were eventually defeated. Despite being under constant fire, Plumlee escaped with relatively few injuries. He had two herniated discs in his lower back, two in his thorax, and one in his neck, as well as a left arm wound. An officer even did a sweep on him to check for injuries, and afterwards said “Why the fuck are you not hit!?”.
On December 16th, 2021, Master Sergeant Earl Plumlee was awarded the Medal of Honor for his extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty.
The Medal of Honor podcast is a production of Evergreen Podcasts.
Nathan Corson is our executive producer and mixing engineer, Declan Rohrs is our associate producer, scriptwriter, and recording engineer, and I’m Ken Harbaugh.
We are proud to support the National Medal of Honor Museum. To learn more, and to support their mission, go to mohmuseum.org. Thanks for listening.