(Exclusive audio report at end of story)
A veteran Army helicopter pilot was honored for his service as he received the Distinguished Flying Cross during ceremonies Wednesday morning at Redstone Arsenal.
Chief Warrant Officer 4 Patrick Benson was honored for his actions while flying a Kiowa Warrior in Afghanistan in 2009.
The DFC is the nation's third highest military decoration, behind the Medal of Honor and the Distinguished Service Cross.
The awards ceremony also marked Benson's retirement from active duty after 20 years service.
According to an Army release:
On Sept. 8, 2009, CW4 Patrick Benson and his co-pilot, Chief Warrant Officer Adam Stead, were called upon to escort a Black Hawk helicopter performing a medevac mission in Afghanistan. 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 Black Hawk. Knowing that there was still an enemy presence in the area, Benson navigated the Kiowa between the infantry on the ground and the medevac in the air to protect the Black Hawk and the wounded soldiers from enemy fire.
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. The Kiowa helicopter jerked to the right and was spinning out of control. As a result of the enemy fire, Stead lost consciousness, and Benson sustain multiple gunshot wounds to his leg. Despite his own injuries, Benson regained control of the damaged helicopter and remained in position until the medevac mission was complete. He then began to navigate toward safety, saving the lives of not only his co-pilot, but also all the soldiers involved in that mission that day.
His other awards include the American Legion of Valor Award, Bronze Star, Purple Heart, and numerous others. He plans to remain in the Huntsville area after retirement with his wife and three children.
Hear Benson's emotional farewell remarks here: