2 Marines first Osprey pilots awarded Distinguished Flying Crosses
By STAFF AND WIRE REPORTS Published: June 28, 2013
Osprey pilots Maj. Michael Hutchings and Capt. David Haake were flying ground and reconnaissance Marines into a heavily defended area in Afghanistan on June 27, 2012, when they came under fire.
It was their reaction to that gunfire — and their ability to maneuver their aircraft despite major damage and other adversity — that saved the lives of Marines and a wounded Afghan solider, and made them the first Osprey pilots to earn the Distinguished Flying Cross.
“This was selfless devotion to the mission,” said Maj. Gen. Robert Hedelund, commanding general of 2nd Marine Air Wing. “The bottom line is that it’s about Marines taking care of Marines.”
Hutchings led his section in flying a reconnaissance raid force into an enemy area, according to his award citation. When he was flying in the second wave of the force, his Osprey was hit by rocket-propelled grenades and medium machine-gun fire, causing extensive damage to critical flight control systems, the citation reads.
Yet Hutchings was able to land and unload the remaining recon Marines and fly his crew safely back to their base at Camp Bastion. Once back, according to the citation, Hutchings “quickly reassessed the extraction plan” and returned to the site of the battle to bring the recon Marines home.
Haake also flew Marines into the firefight, according to his award citation.
During the operation, an Afghan soldier was shot and seriously injured inside the aircraft. Haake dropped off the rest of the ground troops and assessed the damage to his Osprey from the 12 medium machine-gun hits it received — including major issues with the control system and a massive fuel leak — and then flew to safety at a nearby base, his citation reads.
Hutchings said he was honored to receive the award, but was only doing his job. He wasn’t worried about the landing initially, he said, but was more concerned with getting the aircraft out of the landing zone.
“I couldn’t have done anything without my Marines,” he said. “Getting the award feels great. I keep the pride on the inside. But deep down inside I have extreme respect for those who received the medal in the past.”
The Distinguished Flying Cross is the third highest medal that a member of a flight crew can receive.
Haake said he was humbled by the award.
“I’d like to dedicate the award to my men. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be standing here right now.”
Haake said his objective was just to get his men back safely.
“It took a collaborative effort to accomplish that,” he said.
Sgt. Shane Moreland, one of the Marines in the flight crew, said they went in knowing there was a “heavy enemy threat.”
“I was struck firing back at the muzzle flashes,” Moreland said. “We go into our jobs every day ... keep our heads on a swivel ... and respond to whatever arises.
“It was a pretty interesting day. I probably wouldn’t want to go through it again.”
Moreland, Capt. Joel Vandenende, Capt. David Austin, Sgt. John Leist and Sgt. Matthew Belleci were awarded Air Medals for their actions during the firefight.