Two Marine Osprey pilots became the first of their kind to be awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
“This was selfless devotion to the mission,” said Maj. Gen. Robert Hedelund, the commanding general of the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing. “...The bottom line is that it’s about Marines taking care of Marines.”
Maj. Michael Hutchings and Capt. David Haake were decorated with the Distinguished Flying Cross on Wednesday, becoming the first Marine MV-22 Osprey pilots to ever receive the award. The Distinguished Flying Cross is the third highest medal a member of a flight crew can receive. Family, friends and fellow service members gathered to show support for the Marines. Five Marines were also awarded Air Medals for their heroic acts in Afghanistan.
“This is one of the few things that go on in a general’s day that are truly fun,” Hedelund said during the ceremony. “It’s a great honor. From a Marine Corps’ perspective, this is what it’s all about.”
The general and all seven newly decorated Marines agreed that the success of the June 27, 2012, near-fatal mission in Afghanistan was a team effort.
“Receiving the award is definitely gratifying,” said Hutchings who added that he was only doing his job during the June firefight. “I couldn’t have done anything without my Marines.”
Landing in the extremely hostile environment, he wasn’t initially worried about the landing. He was more concerned with getting the aircraft out of the landing zone. He was more interested in doing his job than he was about getting an award, he said.
“Getting the award feels great,” Hutchings said. “I keep the pride on the inside. But deep down inside I have extreme respect for those who received the medal in the past.”
For Haake, he still wonders why he got such an award.
“It’s humbling for me to receive an award like this,” Haake said. “I’d like to dedicate the award to my men. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be standing here right now.”
The mission of the air wing is to support the troops on the ground, said Haake.
“I wanted really just to get my men back to safety,” Haake said. “It took a collaborative effort to accomplish that.”
One of the Marines who was part of that collaboration is Sgt. Shane Moreland.
“We went in knowing there was a heavy enemy threat,” Moreland said. “I was stuck firing back at the muzzle flashes. ...We go into our jobs everyday ... keep our hearts on a swivel ... and respond to whatever arises.
“It was a pretty interesting day. I probably wouldn’t want to go through it again.”
The following Marines were decorated with Air Medals for heroic actions during the June 27, firefight: Capt. Joel. A. Vandenende, Capt. David R. Austin, Sgt. John M. Leist, Sgt. Shane M. Moreland and Sgt. Matthew E. Belleci.