MARINE CORPS AIR STATION NEW RIVER, N.C. --
Marines of Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 266 Reinforced received the Air Medal with combat distinguishing device Jan. 7, 2013, for their actions in rescuing a downed Air Force pilot during Operation Odyssey Dawn March 22, 2011. Capt. Erik Kolle, pilot of the MV-22B Osprey that flew the mission, Staff Sgt. David Potter and Sgt. Daniel Howington, crew chiefs aboard the aircraft, were awarded the medal in a ceremony outside the squadron’s hanger.
The squadron, reinforcing the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, was supporting Operation Odyssey Dawn, the armed suppression of the Libyan government’s air defenses and ground forces during March 2011. The elements of the MEU operating in the Mediterranean were embarked aboard the USS Kearsarge, a Navy amphibious assault ship. AV-8B Harrier strike fighters from the squadron undertook armed strikes against ground targets, helping to take the heat off of the Libyan rebel movement that eventually seized control of the country after the death of Muammar Gaddafi. The MEU, specifically VMM-266 and a company from 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines was acting as a quick reaction force for coalition forces in the event of a downed aircraft.
This role came to the forefront when an Air Force F-15E strike fighter was downed in the vicinity of Benghazi, a hotspot of the conflict. The pilot and weapons officer both ejected without issue at high altitude, but became separated from each other in the ensuing landing. The weapons officer found refuge with rebel forces, and was returned unharmed. The pilot landed in hostile territory, evading pursuit as the MEU scrambled a recovery team.
Two MV-22Bs and two CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters launched on mission, carrying Marines from 1/2 and the 26th MEU’s reconnaissance platoon. Capt. Kolle’s aircraft was the one to touch down, recovering the pilot within 90 seconds and immediately taking off again, returning the pilot to the USS Kearsarge.
The Marines said the squadron as a whole deserved the recognition. Kolle stated that it could have been any pilot in the squadron flying that mission; his presence there was simply a nature of their rotation.
VMM-266 will reiterate its role as the aviation combat element for the 26th MEU in their upcoming deployment. Slated to deploy in early 2013, the squadron will doubtless fly the world once more with the skill and effectiveness in mission accomplishment that it has come to be known for.