March 31, 2022

Van Hollen Announces Army Recognition of Maryland Veteran Ronald Dolecki with POW Medal

Recognition follows Van Hollen legislative action to secure medal

Today, U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) announced the U.S. Army’s recognition of Specialist (SPC) Ronald Dolecki, a veteran residing in Huntingtown, Maryland, with a Prisoner of War (POW) Medal honoring his military service in Ethiopia. While on a mapping mission in Ethiopia in 1965, Dolecki was captured by armed, uniformed members of the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF). He suffered under brutal conditions while in captivity but eventually escaped and saved the lives of two other individuals. However, Dolecki had been denied the POW Medal for more than a decade because the Army failed to comply with a law passed by Congress in 2013. Upon learning of this issue, Senator Van Hollen took legislative action – including writing to the Secretary of the Army and passing report language accompanying the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to help ensure the accurate application of the law in order to secure Dolecki’s medal. The approval follows many years of advocacy from Dolecki, Dr. Dwight Mears, and the Senator to secure the honor.

“The Army has finally recognized what we’ve long known: that Ron Dolecki is a hero whose bravery in the face of his captivity saved lives. For years, alongside SPC Dolecki, we have fought for this recognition – which was bogged down by an error in the application of the law. While this is long overdue, no amount of time can take away from the incredible service and courage displayed by SPC Dolecki that this Prisoner of War Medal reflects, and I was proud to assist in securing this recognition,” Sen. Van Hollen said.

Additionally, the Army posthumously awarded a medal to Jack Kalmbach, Mr. Dolecki’s pilot, who was held captive alongside him. Kalmbach passed away in 2015. 

“I’m glad the Army also awarded a POW medal to my helicopter pilot and dear friend, Jack Kalmbach, who has already passed away. I only wish we could have received our medals together while he was still alive,” Dolecki said.

Senator Van Hollen had written twice to the Secretary of the Army – once in 2020 and again in 2022 – urging them to award the POW Medal to Dolecki. Prior to this year, the Army had rejected the requests from the Senator and Dolecki. As part of the fiscal year 2022 NDAA that the Senator helped enact in December, he included language directing the U.S. Army to correct its misapplication of the law regarding the issuance of the medal, clearing the way forDolecki’s recognition.