Operation Tribute to Freedom

OTF Soldier Story for December 13, 2010 - Chief Warrant Officer Patrick Benson

Chief Warrant Officer Patrick Benson

Current Unit: Program Executive Office Aviation
Current Position: Aviation Safety Officer
Component: Active Army
Current Location: Huntsville, Ala.
Hometown: Pittsburgh, Pa.
Years of Service: 18

As a Kiowa Warrior helicopter pilot, Chief Warrant Officer Patrick Benson’s job has always been hazardous. The Kiowa Warrior, also known as the OH-58, has the capability to conduct armed reconnaissance, security, target acquisition and designation, and defensive air combat missions, and has been used extensively in support of operations in the Middle East. During his deployment last year, Benson flew in tandem with medevac helicopters, while trying to distract the enemy on the ground to ensure the successful recovery of a wounded Soldier. By the time he deployed to Afghanistan in early 2009, he had already flown on more than 100 missions, risking his own life to provide safe evacuations for his fellow Soldiers. However, last fall, Benson’s training and skills were put to the test as he flew through the Shuryak Valley in eastern Afghanistan and began taking enemy fire.

On Sept. 8, 2009, Benson and his copilot, Chief Warrant Officer Adam Stead, were called upon to escort a Blackhawk helicopter performing a medevac mission. As his aircraft approached the site of the medevac, Benson maneuvered his Kiowa in between the ground troops and the enemy forces, drawing their fire toward his own helicopter. Once the medevac arrived at the location, they needed to hoist down an Army medic, allow him to survey two wounded Soldiers on the ground, and then hoist all three back into the Blackhawk.

While the last Soldier boarded the medevac helicopter, Benson’s Kiowa was struck in the nose by enemy fire, causing the pilot to lose control of the aircraft. As a result of the enemy fire, Stead lost consciousness, and Benson sustained multiple gunshot wounds to his leg.

“Up until I got hit, I was frustrated that I couldn’t find the bad guys. We didn’t want them to hit the Medevac; we wanted the attention on us,” he said.

With the medevac mission complete, Benson evaluated his aircraft and realized that Stead had lost consciousness. Despite his own injuries, Benson regained control of the damaged helicopter and began to navigate toward safety—knowing it was critical to get Stead medical attention.

“I looked over and saw that Adam had gotten hit, and I realized the situation was more serious than I had thought,” he said. “I had the aircraft under control, but I wasn’t sure if I should land immediately to provide medical care. Thankfully, Adam started showing some signs of life, so I continued making my way toward the nearest base.”

Only after Benson had safely landed the craft and ensured that Stead was taken care of did he seek medical attention for his own injuries. After initial surgeries and procedures in Afghanistan and Germany, he ultimately returned home to receive additional medical care.

“The support I got during my recovery was really great. I’m back to running now, and I’m almost back up to the pace I had before,” he said. “I’m proud to continue serving my country in a time of war.”

For his selfless actions that day in the Shuryak Valley, Benson was awarded the American Legion’s Valor Award, which has recognized acts of courage by military airmen since World War II. He also received the Purple Heart for his injuries.

Currently, Benson works as an aviation safety officer at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Ala., assisting in the development and testing of unmanned aerial vehicles. He lives in the area with his wife and three children. Although Benson will be eligible for retirement next year, he intends to serve his country for as long as he can.

“I always wanted to fly, but during Desert Storm I sat in my living room watching the war and felt like I was not doing my part. My brother was serving in Army Aviation and he encouraged me to join the Army and become a pilot, so I did,” he said.

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