WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Dec. 9, 2011) -- In combat, it
doesn't make a difference what language your allies speak... every
Soldier who fights alongside you is like a brother, said a German
who was saved by Americans in Afghanistan.
German Cpl. Tim Focken and Staff Sgt. Peter Woken meet following a ceremony, Dec. 8, 2011, at the home of the German ambassador in Washington, D.C. During the event, Woken was awarded the German Medal of Honor for Gallantry in Action, which is similar to the American Silver Star, for saving Focken's like in Afghanistan.
Photo by C. Todd Lopez
The German government highlighted that reality of war, Dec. 8, when
Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany Peter Ammon presented
Staff Sgt. Peter Woken with the German Medal of Honor for Gallantry
in Action -- an award similar to the American Silver Star.
Woken's actions were instrumental in saving the life of German Cpl.
Tim Focken, Ammon said. Addressing Woken's wife and two sons who
attended the ceremony, he told the family an entire nation is
thankful for the actions of the noncommissioned officer.
German government and the German people are deeply grateful for your
husband and your father," Ammon said. "He will be the first American
to receive the German Medal of Honor for Gallantry in Action here in
the U.S. You can be proud."
Ammon pinned the medal on Woken's
uniform. The sergeant, now part of the Warrior Transition
Unit at Fort Hood, Texas, is the first American to receive the medal
on American soil. Seven other American Soldiers involved in saving
Focken's life also received the medal, though it was presented to
them in theater by German Minister of Defense Thomas de Maizi�re.
Woken had said that he views the recognition as
confirmation of what Soldiers know about their comrades --
that soldiering together unites servicemen across language
"Even though Germany is honoring me
this way, I think what they are conveying is that we are all
brothers," Woken said. "This type of award generally doesn't
go to Americans. It will go to Germans on German soil. We
feel the same way. They are fighting the same enemy that we
are, and we are all brothers."
Focken said the same
-- to an infantryman, uniform, language and nationality make
no difference if you're fighting on the same side.
"We've had a lot of battles, and we've fought side-by-side
with 10th Mountain," he said. "There was never a discussion
on who is there to help who and to save who. It's basically
like brothers, and if anybody needed help, nationality
doesn't matter. You're there to help."
On Oct. 7,
2010, a German ground patrol at Qala-ye Zai, Afghanistan,
came under enemy fire -- Focken was shot in the conflict.
After receiving immediate medical assistance from German
Army medics, Focken boarded an American Black Hawk
helicopter, where flight medic Woken tended to the injured
Soldier's wounds during travel to a military hospital.
The action in Afghanistan that earned him the award was
typical of what combat medics like Woken are called upon to
do as many as 10 times a day. The Soldier said he'd
performed so many rescues that he's lost count.
had stopped counting at 357," Woken said. "At that point it
was becoming kind of redundant to even count."
Originally from Tacoma, Wash., Woken said teams like his are
on call for 48 hours at a time with 24 hours of down time
between. On that day in Afghanistan, his team was waiting in
a "relaxed state," he said, to conserve energy until they
got the call to do a rescue. Then, he said, "we went from
basically zero to 100 in a matter of minutes."
were flying about as fast as we could go to the scene," he
said. "We were told there were troops in contact. Once we
got there we overflew the scene one time. Normally we will
do a high recon and then a low recon. And we only did one
low recon and we landed. I guess our pilot chose to not do a
full landing. We took off due to safety reasons."
Woken said the crew onboard the aircraft decided quickly to
land again to pick up the injured German Soldier -- personal
risk is not part of the equation when you are trying to save
somebody's life, he said.
"A flight medic shouldn't
feel like they are taking a risk whatsoever," Woken said.
"You have to think that God has your back, and you have the
back of the Soldier on the ground."
Woken said the
Black Hawk stayed on the ground for less than a minute
before Focken was onboard. Focken had been on the ground
leading a team of three Soldiers when he got injured.
"Our job was to go into the town, Qala-ye Zai, to do
recon," Focken said. "We got there early so our company
commander could do HUMINT (human intelligence gathering) and
recon. My three Soldiers and I were on the compound roof
securing the perimeter. About a half hour after we got into
Qala-ye Zai, heavy fighting broke out, with the Taliban
insurgents firing. After about one and half hours of intense
fighting, a sharpshooter picked me off the roof."
Focken was hit in the left shoulder.
"I was talking
to one of my guys when I got shot," he said. "It felt like a
bolt of electricity going through my arm."
able to maintain order among his Soldiers even after he was
shot, and his Soldiers applied aid to try to stop his
bleeding. Once on the ground, a German medic tended to his
wound, and then he was able to get to the helicopter.
"His attitude was probably one of the best I've seen out
of any injured Soldier," Woken said. "He was still in top
physical condition. He was able to jump into the helicopter
even though it was three and a half feet off the ground. He
was able to speak with me and explain how he was feeling.
And at the end of the mission he walked off the helicopter."
Both Woken and Focken were present at the ceremony --
brought together for the event by the German government. The
two had not been in contact with each other since Focken
departed Woken's Black Hawk in Afghanistan in 2010.
"I get to meet the only person I've ever MEDEVACed from any
theater," Woken said of the opportunity. "Normally I'll get
my patient, I'll take care of them on the aircraft, then
they walk away. I never hear or see from them again. This
morning I got to meet Corporal Tim Focken and start a
relationship. It provides a lot of closure for me."
For Focken, he got a chance to say "thank you" to one of the
American Soldiers that helped save his life.
great thing to say thank you personally to Sergeant Woken
and to his crew that saved me," he said.
the award ceremony was about more than just a medal. He said
it was about an enduring friendship between two allied
"Today is more than just paying tribute to
the bravery of one courageous serviceman who saved a fellow
Soldier," Ammon said. "Today we also celebrate the lasting
vitality of our alliance in challenging times -- an alliance
that has roots going back to the American revolution of
1776, and an alliance that will remain a cornerstone of our
security well into the 21st century."
By Army C. Todd Lopez
Army News Service
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