04 June 2010

Kiowa Pilot Receives American Legion Valor Award

SERVING AGAIN— Although not piloting a Kiowa, Chief Warrant Officer 4 Patrick Benson is once again serving his country after recovering from wounds he sustained when his helicopter was attacked during a battle in Afghanistan. Benson is serving as the safety security officer for the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Project Office, Program Executive Office for Aviation. Photo and story by Kari Hawkins.

You're going to want to read the entire story about CWO4 Patrick Benson and the day back in September 2009 when, with his unconscious pilot at his side and seriously wounded himself, Benson few his Kiowa helicopter out of a danger zone after successfully defending the MEDEVAC helicopter it was assigned to escort.

Benson and then-Chief Warrant Officer 2 Adam Stead were deployed with the 7th Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, working with Medevac units from the California, Wyoming and Nevada National Guards. They were assigned to Operation Enduring Freedom and part of Task Force Pale Horse in support of the Regional Command East, Afghanistan.

The Kiowas provided reconnaissance and security for lift assets (Chinooks) and MEDEVACs (Black Hawks). On that day, after completing one security mission, they were re-tasked to another.

“Two Soldiers were hurt and they were going to have to be hoist lifted out.”

In such a procedure, a Black Hawk hovers at about 75 to 100 feet above the ground to drop a one-man hoist to, first, provide a medic to aid and assist the wounded Soldiers, and then to bring each Soldier up into the helicopter.

“The Black Hawk is very exposed during something like this,” Benson said. “There was a lot of radio traffic indicating the enemy was in the area. I was scouting and trying to find what the infantry was telling me about. We were trying to find the enemy before they found us because we wanted to position ourselves between where the enemy was and the Medevac.”

The Medevac picked up one Soldier, repositioned itself and then picked up the second Soldier. About the time the Medevac started to hoist up the medic, Benson’s Kiowa was shot at.

“There was a lot of radio chatter. We were really intent on finding the bad guys,” Benson said, as he and his pilot worked to position themselves to protect the Medevac helicopter.

“There was a loud noise and a concussion. Adam Stead was in the right seat at the controls. I realized I had been hit in the leg. There was a hole in the belly of the aircraft at my feet. Then I saw Adam was unconscious. Our aircraft started to pitch up and turn right. I grabbed the controls and recovered the aircraft. And I descended out of the valley.”

Knowing Stead was still alive, although badly injured, Benson decided to land at the first friendly location – Combat Outpost Able Main in Konar, Afghanistan.

Like I say, you're going to want to read the whole thing.

On May 16, 2010 Benson received his American Legion Valor Award during the 59th annual Valor Award Military Ball hosted by the Aviators’ Post No. 743 of the American Legion, the only post exclusively for military flying officers. Since World War II, the Valor Award has been presented annually to recognize military aviators who performed a feat of courage or bravery during the prior year.

But, as usual with these guys, Benson maintains what he did was nothing special.

“There are a billion stories like this every day,” he said, referring to the Sept. 8 mission. “Every day, there are Americans out there doing this same stuff. There are so many servicemembers doing great things in battle. We are doing what we’re trained to do. Every single day, another American is doing something like what we were doing that day.”

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