MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. - Five Marines were awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for their heroism while assigned to the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit during its 2012 deployment at a ceremony aboard Camp Lejeune, N.C., June 3, 2013.
The Marines were awarded for the actions they performed immediately after one of 24th MEU's aircraft crashed while participating in Exercise African Lion 12, a bilateral training event in Morocco, April 11, 2012.
Without regard for their own safety the Marines put their own lives in danger as the first responders to enter the downed aircraft and administer aid and attempt to rescue the crew. During the mishap, two Marines sustained severe injuries while two others were mortally wounded.
The Marines awarded included: • Gunnery Sgt. Joseph A. Alvarez, platoon commander, Bravo Company, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment • Sgt. Daniel J. Beers, motor transport non-commissioned officer-in-charge, Combat Logistics Battalion 24 • Sgt. Christopher J. Ewain, assistant assault amphibious section leader, Alpha Co., BLT 1/2 • Cpl. Michael Z. Pearson, assistant assault amphibious section leader, Alpha Co., BLT 1/2 • Cpl. Steve T. Hanson, team leader, Bravo Co., BLT 1/2 A sixth Marine, Sgt. Merritt C. Huntley, a mortar section leader with Alpha Co., BLT 1/2, was not present during the ceremony due to training commitments but will be awarded the medal at a later date. The billets listed were the ones held by each Marine during the deployment. "These Marines acted with courage, skill and precision that saved lives," said Col. Frank Donovan, the former commanding officer of 24th MEU who commanded the unit during the deployment, and who presented the awards during the ceremony.
"There was no hesitation with these five Marines," explained Donovan. "Debris still falling, engine still turning, fuel pouring out, these Marines broke into the side of the cabin wanting to recover a fellow Marine. Why did they do it? They did it for a fellow Marine. That's what it's all about." From the citations: Gunnery Sgt. Alvarez Recognizing Marines were in danger, Gunnery Sgt. Alvarez, a native of Orange County, Calif., ran to the crash and was the first responder on scene. Debris and fragments continued to fall, the cockpit was crushed into the ground, the fuselage was erect in the air and spilling fuel, and the engine was still turning. Amidst this scene, he entered the aircraft, saw the visibly injured pilots and crawled into the crushed cockpit to help extract them. Without the aid of tools, he helped tear through metal and straps to free the pilot. After removing the pilot and helping to carry him from the scene, he returned to recover the copilot in a similar manner. Once both Marines were free from the wreckage, Gunnery Sgt. Alvarez helped administer aid, guided other Marines in the rescue efforts, and reassured the wounded pilots as they awaited medical extraction. Sgt. Beers Amidst the scene, Sgt. Beers, a native of Easton, Pa., heard a crew chief trapped inside the hull. He searched for an entry, found and tore through a six-inch hole to enter the unstable aircraft. He climbed approximately 20 feet up the fuselage to the tail to get to the injured crew chief who was suspended upside down by his gunner's belt and being chocked by his helmet. Sgt. Beers removed the Marines' helmet, and with the help of two other Marines, cut the gunner's belt and handed the Marine off to others outside of the aircraft. Sgt. Ewain Amidst the scene, Sgt. Ewain, a native of Lake Como, Pa., helped move the extracted pilot away from the scene. He then returned, entered the aircraft and crawled into the crushed cockpit to help retrieve the copilot. Without the aid of tools, he helped fully extract the copilots. He then helped try to remove the deceased crew chief. Sgt. Huntley Amidst the scene, Sgt. Huntley heard a crew chief trapped inside the hull. He searched for entry, found and tore through a six-inch hole to enter the unstable aircraft. He climbed approximately 20 feet up the fuselage to the tail to get to the injured crew chief who had been suspended upside down by his gunner's belt. Sgt. Huntley supported the crew chief's legs while another Marine cut him from the belt. He helped hand the Marine off to others outside of the aircraft and then remained within to search for other wounded and for serialized gear. Cpl. Pearson Amidst the scene, Cpl. Pearson, a native of Pleasanton, Calif., helped tear through metal and straps to free the Marine. Another Marine handed him an axe, which was used as he helped cut through debris to free the copilot's trapped leg. Once able to, Corporal Pearson helped fully extract the copilot. He then helped remove the deceased crew chief. Cpl. Hanson Amidst the scene, Cpl. Hanson, a native of Florence, Colo., heard a crew chief trapped inside the hull. He searched for an entry, found and tore through a six-inch hole to enter the unstable aircraft. He climbed approximately 20 feet up the fuselage to the tail to get to the injured crew chief who had been suspended upside down by his gunner's belt. Cpl. Hanson supported the crew chief's upper body while another Marine cut him from the belt. He helped hand the Marine off to others outside of the aircraft and then joined them to help administer aid to him and the pilots. The Navy and Marine Corps Medal is the highest non-combatant medal awarded by the Department of the Navy to members of the U. S. Navy and U. S. Marine Corps. The medal may be awarded to servicemembers who distinguish themselves by heroism not involving actual conflict with an enemy, while serving in any capacity with the Navy or Marine Corps. Typically, it is awarded for actions involving the risk of one's own life.