US aviation units in Afghanistan awarded Germany’s highest honor
By HEATH DRUZIN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 19, 2012
MAZAR-I-SHARIF, Afghanistan — The president of Germany presented two American aviation units the country’s highest honor Wednesday, for their “heroic deeds” in support of German forces.
President Joachim Gauck visited this northern Afghan city to laud the aviators of task forces Ready and Pirate, who provide medical flights, close air support and transport flights throughout northern Afghanistan, where most of the 4,600 German troops in Afghanistan are based.
“On many occasions you put yourselves in harm’s way for one reason: to save the lives of German soldiers,” Gauck said during a ceremony at Camp Marmal.
Gauck, who also visited with German troops with his domestic partner, Daniela Schadt, and attended a ceremony at a memorial for fallen coalition soldiers, presented the American aviators with the Fahnenband, the highest German honor that can be given to a military unit. The German role in the war has been a highly contentious issue for Germans, many of whom are uncomfortable with their troops in a combat role.
Much of Task Force Ready is made up of aviators from 5th Battalion, 158th General Support Aviation Battalion, based in Katterbach, Germany, who are used to working with their German counterparts, said U.S. Army Maj. Eric Hanes, the task force’s executive officer.
“We train with German soldiers in Germany, we’ve built that relationship early, so when we’re stationed together as a coalition unit in Afghanistan, it’s seamless,” he said.
The lead unit for Task Force Pirate is the 1st Battalion, 211th Aviation Regiment, from the Utah National Guard.
Northern Afghanistan has avoided much of the bloodshed of southern and eastern Afghanistan, but some formerly quiet areas have seen major attacks recently, including a suicide attack on a mosque in the capital of Faryab province at the end of October that killed more than 40 people. There have also been a number of supply trucks targeted by insurgents in the north, which includes a vital overland route used by NATO to get supplies in and out through Tajikistan.
While the bulk of the ground forces in northern Afghanistan are German, the U.S. has been providing nearly all of the air support, but with the recent delivery of the Tiger attack helicopter to the German military, the Germans may be taking on a more active aviation role. Hanes said with American troop withdrawals expected to pick up, it will be important for other coalition nations to take on more responsibility.
“The writing is on the wall that forces are drawing down, and going forward it’s going to be more critical to partner with other nations,” he said.
German President Joachim Gauck, center, visits a memorial to coalition troops killed in northern Afghanistan Wednesday. Gauck visited Mazar-i-Sharif to meet with German troops and present a group of American aviators with a commendation for their work to protect the German military contingent.
HEATH DRUZIN/STARS AND STRIPES