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Air Medal awarded to VMM-266 Marines for the rescue of downed pilot

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Three Marines with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 266, were awarded the Air Medals with combat distinguishing devices, Jan. 7.

The awards were given for actions while serving with 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, Expeditionary Strike Group Five in support of joint task force Odyssey Dawn.

According to the award citation, when they found out about the tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel mission to rescue a downed pilot, Capt. Erik Kolle, the MV-22B pilot with VMM-266, and Staff Sgt. David Potter and Sgt. Daniel Howington, from Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 266 with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit prepared the aircraft and launched into an dangerous environment from the USS Kearsarge with a 30-man recovery team to recover the pilot in the shortest amount of time possible.

Communicating with other airborne units, the pilots ensured their aircraft navigated to the downed pilot who was, himself, focused on not getting captured. After receiving the coordinates of the downed pilot, the crew retrieved the downed pilot safely to the USS Kearsarge. The MV-22B Osprey was essential for the recovery of the downed pilot, said Lt. Col. Chris Boniface, the commanding officer of VMM-266.

“Remember, this guy was evading capture at the time and we thought he was going to be captured at any moment," said Boniface. "So the speed that the MV-22B can move at was extremely critical. The helicopters from another unit would have taken twice as long and there's a good chance he probably would have been captured.""There were some other helicopter in the Mediterranean at the time, but because of the distances involved they either wouldn't have had enough gas or would have taken several hours long to get there,” said Kolle.

After recovering the downed pilot, the Marines safely returned to the USS Kearsarge according to the award citation. The recovery of the downed pilot took less than 90 minutes.

“I'm proud, but any of our flight crews or any Marine flight crews are capable of doing what we accomplished,” Kolle said. We just happened to be the Marines on the flight schedule. "It's more a validation of how we train in the Marine Corps and with the MV-22B."

Article by Lance Cpl. Cameron Payne, Marine Corps Air Station New River