Skip to main content
Two U.S. Helicopter Pilots Honored For Combat Valor in Afghanistan

Two U.S. Helicopter Pilots Honored For Combat Valor in Afghanistan

Published on October 23, 2012
Despite Wounds, Flight Duo Maintained Air Support to Save French Lives.

Residence of France - October 23 2012.

See more photos of this ceremony on Flickr

On October 23, 2012, Officers March and Bachmeyer received citations for their "courage and exemplary conduct" at the Residence of the Ambassador of France in Washington, D.C. Their award, the Cross of Military Valor With a Silver Star, ranks among France’s highest forms of recognition for foreign combat service.

The ceremony was presided by General Bertrand Ract-Madoux, Chief of Staff of the French Army. The office is the French land military’s highest position of leadership.

General Bertrand Ract-Madoux - Captain Benjamin March - Chief Warrant Officer 3 Keenan Bachmeyer - Gen. Lloyd Austin III

When Captain Benjamin March and Chief Warrant Officer 3 (CW3) Keenan Bachmeyer flew from Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan on December 28, 2010, neither anticipated the life-and-death test awaiting them.

The two helicopter pilots were providing air support to a contingent of the "Jehol" unit of French special forces, on the ground outside of Kabul, the capital. French and U.S. forces were working there in cooperation within the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), the NATO mission active in Afghanistan since 2003.

During a sortie above the Alasay Valley, the two men, flying together in a Kiowa Warrior aircraft, took fire from an enemy sharpshooter. Captain March, incapacitated, relayed control of the aircraft to CW3 Bachmeyer, who was hit as well.

Despite severe pain, a wounded partner and situational duress, the co-pilot assured air coverage for the French special forces on the ground, effectively protecting the lives of the Jehol unit members vulnerable to insurgents’ guns.

Confronted not only by hostile engagement but a rapidly diminishing fuel supply, Mr. Bachmeyer successfully maintained coverage before steering the helicopter to the Morales Frazier Forward Operating Base. There the pilots received fuel and medical attention before returning to their mission and Bagram Airbase.

In remarks following the decoration, Gen. Ract-Madoux described the event as "the fruit of a mutual commitment" in Afghanistan between France and the United States, within the ISAF structure. 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."

CW3 Bachmeyer considered his recognition "an honor." Capt. March, in similar humility, was "just doing his job," he said, in an interview with the Embassy of France.

Also present was Gen. Lloyd Austin III, Vice Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army.

Capt. March and CW3 Bachmeyer will re-deploy to the same region in Afghanistan in the spring of 2013, in what makes a third tour of duty for each officer.

See more photos of this ceremony on Flickr

      top of the page