Two U.S. Army OH-58 Kiowa Warrior helicopter pilots from 10th Combat Aviation Brigade, Fort Drum, received the Cross of Military Valor with Silver Star, one of the highest French military awards, during a ceremony Oct. 23 in Washington, D.C. Capt. Benjamin H. March and Chief Warrant Officer 3 Keenan A. Bachmeyer each earned the award for courageous actions while providing air support to French special forces in eastern Afghanistan, Dec. 28, 2010. During the operation, both pilots suffered wounds from enemy fire, but they continued to provide life-saving air support to the ground troops. From left are French Gen. Bertrand Ract-Madoux, chief of staff of the French army; March; Bachmeyer and Gen. Lloyd Austin III, vice chief of staff of the U.S. Army.

WASHINGTON - Two 10th Combat Aviation Brigade aviators received the Cross of Valor with a Silver Star, one of France's highest military awards, Oct. 23 at the residence of the ambassador of France in Washington, D.C.

Capt. Benjamin H. March, commander of D Troop, 6th Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment, Task Force Six Shooters, and Chief Warrant Officer 3 Keenan A. Bachmeyer of C Company "Bluemax," 1st Battalion, 10th Aviation Regiment, Task Force Phoenix, earned the awards for their courage and exemplary conduct during a mission Dec. 28, 2010, in eastern Afghanistan while providing air support to a contingent of the "Jehol" unit of French special forces operating just outside the capital city of Kabul.

While flying in their OH-58 Kiowa Warrior helicopter above the Alasay Valley, the two pilots took enemy fire.

"We were responding to troops in contact," March said. "Special forces were taking fire, and we were trying to identify where the fire was coming from when a bullet came through the chin bubble of the cockpit next to (Bachmeyer's) feet and up past my head and hit a panel. It hit one of the blades on the way out."

The panel shattered, and its shards hit Bachmeyer's knee and March's face, cutting them.
The pilots had flown over the area for two to three hours, providing situational awareness to the French troops by letting them know where enemy fire was coming from. According to a news release from the French Embassy, the actions of March and Bachmeyer made a significant impact on protecting the lives of the members of the "Jehol" unit.

In remarks following the award presentation, Gen. Bertrand Ract-Madoux, chief of staff of the French army, described the event as "the fruit of a mutual commitment" in Afghanistan between France and the United States. The general also expressed his satisfaction in being able to honor the U.S. pilots, "on behalf of the French soldiers whose lives were saved."

Also present was Gen. Lloyd Austin III, vice chief of staff of the U.S. Army.

"It was a big honor," March said of receiving the award. "I definitely didn't expect that level of attention. I'm very humbled by it."

Bachmeyer agreed.

"I'm very humbled, especially coming from such a high level of the French military," he said. "I'm very honored."

Information from a French Embassy news release was used in this story.

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