By Debbie Stevenson

Killeen Daily Herald

The Armys top general stopped in Taji, Iraq, on Sunday to award some of the militarys highest honors to four pilots from the 1st Cavalry Divisions aviation brigade.

Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, the Armys chief of staff, presented the awards, which included a Silver Star, three Distinguished Flying Crosses and a Bronze Star for valor.

Chief Warrant Officer-3 Steven Wells was awarded the Silver Star after holding a hostile crowd at bay from his Kiowa helicopter until members of the divisions 1st Brigade could rescue two pilots from another downed Kiowa. The helicopter had crashed Aug. 8 after being hit by a rocket-propelled grenade during heavy fighting in Sadr City.

It went down in a 2.2 million-person city where you have no friends, said Col. Jim McConville in an interview Friday with the Killeen Daily Herald from the brigades base a few miles to Baghdads north.

Wells co-pilot, Chief Warrant Officer-2 Jamie Stepan, 31, of Killeen was shooting his rifle out of the door to keep the crowd at bay until the 1st Brigades tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles made it to the scene to rescue the pilots and retrieve the aircraft.

Schoomaker presented Stepan with the Distinguished Flying Cross during Sundays ceremony. Wells, a resident of Lampasas, and Stepan are members of the brigades Echo Troop, 1st Squadron, 7th Aviation Regiment.

Also receiving Distinguished Flying Crosses on Sunday were Chief Warrant Officers-2 Justin Taylor of Lodi, Calif., and Jason Ray of Riverdale, Ga.

Taylor is a member of Charlie Company, 1st Squadron, 227th Aviation Regiment. Ray flies with Bravo Company, 1st Squadron, 25th Aviation Regiment.

Taylor ferried two injured Kiowa helicopter pilots and his Apache helicopter gunship co-pilot about 15 miles to an Army combat support hospital on Oct. 16. The co-pilot, Capt. Ryan Welch, 29, and the lesser of the two injured Kiowa pilots had to be strapped to the two-seater helicopters fenders, McConville said.

The daring rescue began when two Kiowa helicopters collided just south of Baghdads airport. Capt. Chris Johnson, 29, of Excelsior Springs, Mo., and Chief Warrant Officer-3 William Brennan, 37, of Bethlehem, Conn., who were on board the second Kiowa, were killed in the crash. Injured in the second helicopter were Chief Warrant Officer-2 Chad Beck of Killeen and Chief Warrant Officer-2 Greg Crowe of Florence, Ky.

Cpl. Patrick Eldred of Vancouver, Wash., received the Bronze Star for valor from Schoomaker for his actions in Iraq with Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 162nd Infantry Regiment.

Army Commendations for valor were awarded to Pfc. Richard Cholemeyer of Springfield, Ill., with Alpha Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment; Pfc. Thomas Avery of Jackson, Miss., with Delta Battery, 4th Battalion, 5th Air Defense Artillery Regiment; Spc. John Lee of McNeil, Ark., with Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion, 153rd Infantry Regiment; and Spc. Charles Lewis, Spc. Jack Schucardt and Spc. Joyce Stout, all with Bravo Company, 27th Maintenance Support Battalion.

Schoomaker also signed re-enlistment documents before the ceremony during his visit.

Soldiers re-enlisting included Sgt. David Hood of Randall, Wash.; Spc. Anthony Page of Hinckley, Ohio; Staff Sgt. Alonzo Rivera of Isabela, Puerto Rico; Staff Sgt. John Snyder of Harker Heights; Sgt. Jeremiah Hudson of Lakewood, Colo.; Sgt. Larry Dunaway of Knoxville, Tenn.; Staff Sgt. Matthew Wohlever of Derby, Kan.; Staff Sgt. Michael Sherman of Hawaiian Gardens, Calif.; Sgt. Albresie Williams of Tylertown, Mich.; Spc. Robert Matthews of Vidor; Sgt. Allen Collins of Houston; and Staff Sgt. Charles Hall of Sheffield, Ala.

Contact Debbie Stevenson at

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