International Security Assistance Force Chief of Staff German Army Lt. Gen. Bruno Kasdorf, presented the German Gold Cross of Honor medals to the medical evacuation helicopter pilots and crew from the 5th Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment, Katterbach, Germany.
The German Gold Cross is equivalent to the U.S. Medal of honor, only four other German Soldiers have ever been awarded it. The medal is for outstanding deeds at the risk of one's life.
The aircrew rescued eleven German Soldiers who had come under attack by insurgents during a dismounted patrol outside the Chahar Dara district, southwest of Kunduz, April 2.
"It is an honor for me to day to hand over these badges to the U.S. servicemembers, who risked their lives to bring their German wounded comrades to safety," Kasdorf said.
On that day, the German Soldiers had been on a foot patrol searching for IEDs when insurgents attacked them with small arms fire and rocket propelled grenades.
The volume of fire was so intense that the American MedEvac helicopters couldn't land on their first attempt.
"I was the responsible person on the ground for getting the helicopters to the landing zone," German Paratrooper Master Sgt. Patrick Bonneik, joint terminal attack controller, said. "My biggest concern was that they would leave us. You could see the sparks coming off the helo [from small arms fire]."
The helicopters made a successful second attempt to land. They continued their rescue mission under fire as they evacuated the dying and wounded German troops back to the PRT Kunuz base.
Rocket propelled grenades passed under one of the helicopters by 10 yards, added the bearded Bonneik.
"Our doctors said, if the helicopters wouldn't have landed three more would be dead," Bonneik said. "They're amazing Soldiers. On that day, those guys showed - [guts]. They just did what they would've done for an American unit. It was extremely brave."
"My thought was just for the wounded Soldiers," after the ceremony a tearful U.S. Army Sgt. Steven Shumaker, crew chief, 5th Bn., 158th Av. Regmt., said. "My own safety wasn't a concern. Our goal was to get those guys out or die trying."
Three of the Germans rescued later died from their wounds. The other eight survived.
After the ceremony concluded the German Soldiers and Americans lined up and faced each other like at the end of a tightly contested sports match.
They shook hands with each other and then each and everyone gave the other a hug, a deep heartfelt embrace. One could sense that these Soldiers had shared a life changing moment in time.
"We didn't know each other before," Bonneik said, "but now we're like brothers."