France bestows high honors on Green Berets
July 26, 2011
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, July 26, 2011) -- On Monday, five National Guard and one active-duty Special Forces Soldier took the limelight here to receive a French award roughly equivalent to the Silver Star.
The six were honored with the "Croix de la Valeur Militaire" during a private ceremony at the French Ambassador's Residence. The event was attended by senior leaders including Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey and Maj. Gen. Timothy Kadavy, deputy director of the Army National Guard.
"I am deeply honored to ... pay tribute to six most outstanding American Soldiers from the United States Army and the Army National Guard who distinguished themselves while fighting the Taliban and Al Qaeda elements in Afghanistan," said French Ambassador François Delattre.
Among those honored were Maj. Richard Nessel of the 10th Special Forces Group.
"Your courage honors you as well as your country; your exemplary service deserves to be commended," Delattre told the major.
Also honored were Army National Guardsmen, including Capt. Thomas Harper, Master Sgt. David Nuemer, Sgt. 1st Class Ryan Ahern, Staff Sgt. Casey Roberts and Sgt. Ryan Meister.
"You demonstrated the highest military qualities and sense of duty," Delattre said. "You distinguished yourselves. Your outstanding conduct alongside French forces ... your remarkable bravery in the face of danger in the combat zone, and your superb combatant qualities deserve to be commended."
"Through their outstanding bravery and engagement in combat, they fought at the risk of their own lives to assist French Soldiers, their brothers in arms, who experienced a barrage of fire from the enemy."
The five National Guard Soldiers supported a French regiment executing a mission in and around the Uzbeen Valley in Afghanistan in 2009. Nessel was recognized for similarly heroic action in the same region a year earlier.
"They were trying to get at the French operating in the valley," said Harper. "We prevented that from happening, allowing them to conduct their mission."
Created in 1956 by the French government to reward extraordinary deeds of bravery carried out as part of security and law enforcement operations, the Croix de la Valeur Militaire -- or French Cross of Military Valor -- is one of the most respected decorations in the French military, Delattre said.
"It's a huge honor for all of us," said Harper. "They're completely overwhelmed. We don't normally look for this kind of recognition; I don't think they've ever even been to one of my military school graduations."
The recognition of the Guard members reflects the Guard's contributions to the total force, Dempsey said.
"The last three award ceremonies I've been to, happen to have been National Guard Soldiers," he said. "We're really one Army. It's a signal that, as we go forward in a new fiscal environment, we have to maintain faith with all three components of our Army -- active, Guard and Reserve."
The National Guard has Special Forces in 18 states. While they train and deploy just as active duty Soldiers, Guard members must also balance civilian lives and careers. There are five active duty Special Forces Groups and two in the National Guard.
"It says a lot about our units and our dedication to duty and the training that we've undergone, as well as the maturity of our Soldiers," Harper said.
Harper's teammate, Ahren, had similar thoughts.
"It's a great honor," said Ahern, a laser physicist in his civilian career who has spent four of the last 10 years deployed or recovering from combat-related injuries.
Ahern's parents, wife and daughter accompanied him. "They see the newspaper stories," he said. "They hear abstract descriptions of what you've done. But they don't really see it firsthand, nor do they see recognition, so this is a really good opportunity."
The Soldiers received their awards, met with senior leaders and shared a moment with their families.
"We had kind of a tough fight those last few days in Afghanistan," Harper said. "We were just happy to be alive. We really didn't expect this kind of honor. It's pretty overwhelming."
(Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill writes for the National Guard Bureau)