Despite serving with distinction in Afghanistan since 2009, no Marine pilot of an MV-22 Osprey had ever been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the third highest medal a member of a flight crew can receive. That changed at a ceremony last week aboard Marine Corps Air Station New River, N.C. where two U.S. Marines of Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 365 (VMM-365) became the first Marine pilots of the MV-22 Osprey to be awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. Maj. Michael Hutchings and Capt. David Haake were presented the award for their actions on a mission in Afghanistan on June 27, 2012.
“Marines taking care of Marines.”
The June 27 mission involved a landing in a hostile landing zone in order to insert a reconnaissance team. Maj. Gen. Robert Hedelund, the commanding general of the 2nd Marine Air Wing, speaking to the Jacksonville Daily News, described the actions of Hutchings and Haake as “Marines taking care of Marines.” Hutchings, who led the flight, echoed that sentiment; “I couldn’t have done anything without my Marines.”
Despite suffering damage to his Osprey’s critical flight control systems as the aircraft was shot up going into a hot landing zone, Hutchings quickly reassessed the landing plan and returned to the heavily-defended objective area to reinforce the raid force, which enabled them to successfully complete their mission.
Haake also earned the DFC for his actions under fire on the mission, including his calm directions when an Afghan soldier was shot.
With 12 bullet holes in his Osprey’s critical flight controls and fuel system, and with a severe fuel leak, he was able to maneuver the Osprey to a safe landing zone.
“Haake’s bold and heroic actions in the face of danger saved the lives of Marines and an Afghan soldier,” read the award citation.
Haake attributed his Distinguished Flying Cross to the other five Marines who were decorated with Air Medals for their heroic actions during the June 27 mission. “If it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t be standing here right now,” said Haake.
Despite the humility of both pilots, they also recognized the history and meaning of the Distinguished Flying Cross, which was established on July 2, 1926, and is awarded to those who demonstrate heroism or extraordinary achievement in an aerial flight. “I keep the pride on the inside, but deep down inside I have extreme respect for those who received the medal in the past,” Hutchings said.
The MV-22 Osprey has come a long way from its early troubles and has proven a reliable aviation asset in Afghanistan. The awarding of the first Distinguished Flying Crosses to MV-22 Osprey pilots represents another achievement in the Osprey’s development into a valuable part of the Marine Corps’ aviation portfolio.