CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- Three five-man helicopter crews from the Aviation Combat Element, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), and the 15th MEU (SOC), can stand a little taller and stick their chests out a bit further knowing their actions in Afghanistan did not go unnoticed.
For the first time in ten years, the Vertical Flight Society presented thirty Marines with the 2002 Frederick L. Feinberg Award, June 12, at the Montreal Convention Center, Montreal, Canada, for their heroic performance in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Half of the leathernecks awarded came from the 26th MEU (SOC).
This annual award is given in memory of Feinberg who had exceptional achievements in flight rescues, flight safety and test development of new aircraft. Although these airborne Marines were not testing a new aircraft, they did, however, make their way into Marine Corps history.
"The Marines participated in the execution of the longest amphibious airfield seizure in the history of the Marine Corps," said Julie Meehan, director of membership for the American Helicopter Society. These Marines participated in the Camp Rhino insertion and remained in country for two and a half months. During that time, they managed to acquire 70 to 80 combat flight hours, consisting of daily flight planning and execution.
"I am honored to receive this award," said Captain Alison J. Thompson, a CH-53E 'Super Stallion' helicopter pilot and instructor in weapons and tactics from the 26th MEU (SOC). "We were just fortunate enough to be at the right place, at the right time to make a difference."
All the Marines on all six flight crews will receive an engraved plaque from the Vertical Flight Society. The last Marine Corps unit to receive this award was Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 461, Marine Corps Air Station New River, North Carolina, in 1992.
Through this award, the Marines who flew this dangerous mission and the many other such missions that followed in Afghanistan can be proud to know that they upheld the standards set for them by the first Marine Corps pilot, 1st Lt. Alfred A. Cunningham, who began his aviation training 90 years ago.