ANSBACH, Germany — It was the worst battle for German forces since World War II: eight German soldiers were severely injured in an ambush by an estimated 200 Taliban forces on April 2, outside the city of Kunduz in northern, Afghanistan.
Three of the men later died of their wounds. But the death toll could have been higher if not for a group of U.S. soldiers who were part of an Army medical evacuation unit in the area.
Eight of those soldiers — from the 5th Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment — were recognized for their efforts at a ceremony Monday in Katterbach, Germany. One man, Chief Warrant Officer 3 Jason LaCrosse, received a Silver Star for his bravery. Seven others were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
The ambush took place when the Taliban opened fire on the German soldiers as they were on a mission to clear a roadside bomb in the Chahar Darah district southwest of Kunduz. The fighting raged for hours, and LaCrosse and his men were called on to evacuate the wounded.
It was Master Sgt. Patrick Bonneik, a German joint terminal attack controller, who called for help. He was worried that the landing zone was too hot for the U.S. medevac crew, he recalled after Monday’s medal ceremony.
The first time the rescue helicopters came in for a landing, the area came under intense enemy fire.
“I thought [the pilot] was going to fly away,” said Bonneik. “But he did land in the hot landing zone with bullets ricocheting off the helicopter.
“By flying in, he saved at least three more comrades.”
On the second landing, the pilots were given the option of an alternate landing zone that was farther from the wounded but under less enemy fire: The pilots didn’t want to waste any time, though.
“As I told him that I have an alternative landing zone for you,” said Bonneik, remembering his conversation with the U.S. pilots. “He said, ‘You know what buddy that first landing zone was cold enough for me.’ ”
The pilot was talking to LaCrosse.
“Allied troops on the ground are injured, and if we don’t get them to a hospital they are going to die,” LaCrosse said of his reason for landing, “and I am not going to allow that to happen.”
LaCrosse was awarded a Silver Star — the U.S. military’s third-highest medal for combat heroism — for his actions.
His fellow unit members honored during the ceremony were Capt. Robert McDonough, Chief Warrant Officer 3 Nelson Visaya, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jason Brown, Staff Sgt. Travis Brown, Sgt. Steven Shumaker and Sgt. Antonio Gattis. All were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, which is given to servicemembers who distinguish themselves by heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight.
An eighth soldier, Spc. Matthew Baker, who was also awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, was not present at the ceremony.
Four others — Chief Warrant Officer 2 Sean Johnson, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Eric Wells, Sgt. William Ebel and Spc. Todd Marchese — also received the Distinguished Flying Cross during a ceremony last month for the same battle.
Earlier this year, the men, along with Spc. Matthew Baker and Spc. Gregory Martinez, were awarded the German Gold Cross by the German government. The award is Germany’s highest for valor, and it was the first time foreign troops were so honored.