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Marines rewarded for extraordinary airlift

CAMP BASTION, AFGHANISTAN - When Cpl. Michael K. Nelson (son of Sunnyside's Kenny Nelson) woke early on the morning of March 20 to his gunnery sergeant yelling, he wasn't sure what to expect.

"Gunny came and woke me up, he said, 'We have to go'," said Nelson, a helicopter mechanic with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 461. "He said we had to go recover an Army CH-47."

After flying more than 250 miles through the night, Nelson and seven of his fellow Marines with HMH-461 arrived at a remote forward operating base in eastern Afghanistan known for enemy activity to retrieve a downed Chinook with their CH-53E Super Stallion.

Three days later, on March 23, Brig. Gen. Glenn M. Walters, the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward) commanding general, and Sgt. Maj. Henry A. Prutch, the 2nd MAW (Fwd.) sergeant major, recognized the eight HMH-461 Marines for their accomplishment.

"This mission had no room for error," said Walters. "With the mountainous terrain, extreme operating altitude, conditions and enemy threat, the crew made the absolute right decisions at the right time."

Maj. Isaac G. Lee and Capt. Justin G. Smith, both CH-53E helicopter pilots; Gunnery Sgt. Robert R. Torres, a CH-53E avionics technician; and Staff Sgt. Shawn P. Mitchell, a CH-53E crew chief, were each awarded the Air Medal.

Sgt. Samuel S. Derenne and Sgt. Jeremy C. Cover, both airframe mechanics, and Sgt. Jose A. Moya Jr., and Cpl. Michael K. Nelson, helicopter mechanics, were awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal. Lee, a native of Lubbock, Texas, led the immediate planning and response for the recovery of the downed helicopter.

"My crew and I were in the lead aircraft," said Lee. "It's good to be out here and not only supporting the Marines on the ground but our sister services and coalition forces."

We train to do this on a regular basis, but the actual lifting of an aircraft is quite unique, it's something we don't do very often," said Torres a native of Fort Worth, Texas.

"To me this medal signifies the collective effort of a squadron, team work and mission accomplishment," said Smith, a native of Hickory, N.C. "A lot of planning and preparation went into conducting a mission of this magnitude and all of the Marines with HMH-461 were required for this mission to be successful."

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