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The soldier: Henry Lukacs from Zweibruecken

Master Sergeant Henry Lukács was awarded an Honor Cross for bravery in Afghanistan. As a paratrooper, he's learnt how to keep a level head in a crisis.

Henry the paratrooper

28-year-old Henry Lukacs is an army man through and through

Henry Lukács has parachuted out of a plane at least 370 times in his life – sometimes even from aircraft flying at altitudes of 10 kilometers. With mild understatement, he admits such jumps are 'demanding' – at that height, the temperature can be as low as minus 60 degrees Celsius, and as a paratrooper, he would be wearing equipment weighing some 60 kilos. This is particularly cumbersome on impact, Henry explains.

"You need to have someone there with you to help you get up," he says. But up in the air, when the loading ramp opens onto freezing emptiness, the weight on their backs is the last thing on the soldiers' minds.

HenryLukacs, chancellor Angela Merkel, former defence minister Jung

Henry received the Honor Cross for Bravery from chancellor Merkel

Henry Lukács was one of four soldiers awarded the first Honor Crosses for Bravery by Chancellor Angela Merkel in July 2009. The 28-year-old professional soldier received the award for the courage he showed while on duty in Afghanistan in 2008.

"On October 20 we were taking part in major operation," he recalls. "During the course of this operation, a suicide attack on a German military base occurred. We immediately went to help and organized the rescue operation."

That was many months ago, Henry Lukács still goes quiet when he remembers those terrible events. "I associate Afghanistan with nothing but suffering and pain," he says. "I lost two good friends there."

Henry would like to see the German public show greater support or at least understanding for the German mission in the Hindu Kush. He fervently believes that the presence of German troops is important, and points to progress made in the reconstruction effort. He thinks it's a shame that the German media only report on Afghanistan when German soldiers have been attacked or killed.

A tightly knit team

Master Sergeant Henry Lukács also feels he has a role to play as a teacher. He believes he has valuable experience gained in the field to share with younger soldiers, which can help them cope with dangerous deployments. He certainly has the right background: the walls of his home are decorated with various certificates, and as a serviceman, he's on mission in Germany or abroad almost every week.

Lukács rejects the idea that a paratrooper with the Special Operations Division is an élite soldier.

"Someone else comes up with these definitions," he shrugs. "Our training is very intense, which does set us apart from other troops. But I'm basically just thankful that I'm in a position to do something that not everyone can do."

soldiers standing together in a forest

Standing together - a practiced team

But even master sergeants have to deal with routines. When Henry Lukács isn't on mission, he spends the week in the barracks with the other servicemen in his paratrooper battalion in Zweibruecken. The soldiers all share a room with three others, but as a sergeant, he gets his own, albeit small room. He still enjoys spending time with the other soldiers.

"We're a practiced team," he says. "It's rare to find such a great working atmosphere." He says that the battalion relies on mutual support and trust. Not only do the soldiers have to share cramped living quarters with one another, they also need to depend on one other when the going gets tough.

Henry doesn't get much time to himself, but every weekend he goes to Cologne. Although he was born in Jena in eastern Germany, he says Cologne has become his adopted home. Not least because it's where his girlfriend lives. They met when she literally fell at his feet: she's also a keen parachutist.

The couple are planning to settle down and start a family, but not before his girlfriend has finished her law studies. When Henry leaves the army, he can imagine moving away from Germany – to Cuba, perhaps, where the couple just spent a holiday.

"I love cigars," laughs Henry. "If I've got a good Cuban cigar, I can really relax and think. That's my idea of perfect happiness."

Author: Mikhail Bushuev (jp)
Editor: Rina Goldenberg

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