CAMP LEATHERNECK, Helmand Province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan — A Marine with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 169, nicknamed the Vipers, recently received one of the highest honors of a Marine aviator for acts of heroism during Operating Iraqi Freedom.
Maj. Richard D. Joyce, an AH-1W Cobra pilot with the Vipers of Marine Aircraft Group 40, Marine Expeditionary Brigade Afghanistan, received the Distinguished Flying Cross with combat distinguishing device here July 29 from his previous commanding officer, Army Col. Clayton M. Hutmacher, the commanding officer of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne). Joyce earned the honors for his efforts in supporting a special operations mission during OIF March 2, 2007.
During the operation, Joyce provided fire support for a ground force pinned down by enemy fire. His actions allowed the troops to break contact and move to an extraction point.
"He remained in contact after his wingman's aircraft was damaged by hostile fire and conducted numerous close engagements against multiple vehicle mounted air defense artillery systems," according to the award citation signed by Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. James Conway.
Prior to being assigned to the 160th, Joyce participated in a rigorous selection process that began with detailed screening by Headquarters Marine Corps followed by another assessment from the Army. Once selected, Joyce became a pilot with Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne), making him one of only five Marine pilots to serve in that command since 1993.
"It was a great opportunity and eye-opening experience," said Joyce. "The most important thing is that not a single ground troop got hurt and secondly, not a single pilot got hurt. Everybody went home safely, and the bad guys paid the price in the end. That is success to me."
Joyce was glad to see his previous commanding officer when Hutmacher stepped on deck and acknowledged him for his hard work that particular day.
"I know any other pilot would have done the same exact thing in the given situation because this is what we train for," Joyce explained.
"He very well deserved the award," said Lt. Col. Thomas Dolan, the Vipers commanding officer. "His courage, discipline, will to stay in the fight and refusal to give up on fellow comrades proves it."
Joyce, a native of Milton, Fla., aspired to be a Marine Corps aviator at a young age, following in his father's footsteps as a Cobra pilot. His father served as an instructor at a flight school aboard Naval Air Station Whiting Field, Fla., just outside of Milton.
He pursued his aspirations by joining the Marine Corps in 1995 after graduating from Florida State University with a bachelor's degree in criminology. He completed flight school in 1998 and served with HMLA-369, MAG-39, out of Okinawa, Japan, before serving in the unique billet with the 160th.
Joyce has since moved on from his days flying in support of Army troops, returning to a Marine squadron. In a new environment, given a new situation and facing a new enemy, he said there is no other place he would prefer to be than here supporting Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan.
"Our marquee mission is to provide close air support, transport supplies, and provide a presence that intimidates the enemy," said Joyce. "Once they (insurgents) hear the rotors, they tend to scatter, and if we can provide that sense of security and relief for the ground guys to get a minute to relax, then that is success."