Face of Defense: Soldier Earns Medal for Saving German’s Life

WASHINGTON, Dec. 19, 2011 — Army Staff Sgt. Peter Wok­en was unique­ly hon­ored recent­ly for prov­ing that, in com­bat, it does­n’t mat­ter what lan­guages your allies speak, every sol­dier who fights along­side you is like a broth­er.

Ger­man Ambas­sador Peter Ammon pre­sent­ed U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Peter Wok­en with the Ger­man Medal of Hon­or for Gal­lantry in Action, which is sim­i­lar to the Amer­i­can Sil­ver Star, dur­ing a cer­e­mo­ny at the ambassador’s home in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., Dec. 8, 2011. U.S. Army pho­to by C. Todd Lopez
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U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Peter Wok­en and Ger­man army Cpl. Tim Fock­en embrace fol­low­ing a cer­e­mo­ny, at the home of the Ger­man ambas­sador in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., Dec. 8, 2011. Dur­ing the event, Wok­en was award­ed the Ger­man Medal of Hon­or for Gal­lantry in Action for sav­ing Focken’s like in Afghanistan. U.S. Army pho­to by C. Todd Lopez
Click to enlarge

The Ger­man gov­ern­ment high­light­ed that real­i­ty of war Dec. 8 when Ger­man Ambas­sador to the Unit­ed States Peter Ammon pre­sent­ed Wok­en with the Ger­man Medal of Hon­or for Gal­lantry in Action — an award sim­i­lar to the Amer­i­can Sil­ver Star. 

Address­ing the non­com­mis­sioned officer’s wife and two sons who attend­ed the cer­e­mo­ny, Ammon told the fam­i­ly an entire nation is thank­ful for Woken’s actions in Afghanistan which saved the life of Ger­man Cpl. Tim Focken.

“The Ger­man gov­ern­ment and the Ger­man peo­ple are deeply grate­ful for your hus­band and your father,” Ammon said.

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 U.S. sol­diers involved in sav­ing Focken’s life also received the medal, though it was pre­sent­ed to them in the­ater by Ger­man Defense Min­is­ter 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 lan­guages and nationalities.

“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.”

To an infantry­man, uni­form, lan­guage and nation­al­i­ty make no dif­fer­ence if you’re fight­ing on the same side, Fock­en said.

“We’ve had a lot of bat­tles, and we’ve fought side-by-side with 10th Moun­tain,” he said. “There was nev­er a dis­cus­sion of 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.”

Fock­en was shot Oct. 7, 2010 when his Ger­man ground patrol at Qala-ye Zai, Afghanistan, came under ene­my fire. 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 are called upon to do as many as 10 times a day. Wok­en said he has per­formed so many res­cues that he’s lost count.

“I had stopped count­ing at 357,” he said. “At that point, it was becom­ing kind of redun­dant to even count.”

Wok­en, a Taco­ma, Wash., native, 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, until they got the call to do a res­cue. Then, he said, “We went from basi­cal­ly zero to 100 in a mat­ter of minutes.”

“We 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.”

The crew decid­ed quick­ly to land again to pick up the injured Ger­man sol­dier; per­son­al risk is not part of the equa­tion, he said, when you are try­ing to save somebody’s life.

“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.”

The Black Hawk stayed on the ground for less than a minute before Fock­en, who had been lead­ing a team of three sol­diers on the ground, was on board, Wok­en said.

“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 [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 a 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.”

He was 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.

“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,” Wok­en said. “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. “It’s a great thing to say ‘thank you’ per­son­al­ly to Sergeant Wok­en and to his crew that saved me,” he said.

Ammon said the award cer­e­mo­ny was about more than just a medal. He said it was about an endur­ing friend­ship between two allied nations. “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.” 

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

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