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Maj. J. Eric Grunke, pictured here April 24 at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., has been named Marine Corps Aviator of the Year by the Marine Corps Aviation Association

Im sure you heard about this in the news right? What? It wasnt on your local news channel? You mean they didnt report about our heroes in WAR doing brave heroric feats? What are they reporting on then??? Read on America as you will learn how your heroes are doing the unthinkable, brave actions, that dont get even a mention on the news nontheless in America.  Read on about your hero.

Time for a CGar!

 

Maj. J. Eric Grunke had just left a late-evening briefing to grab some chow when the rumors started to circulate aboard the Kearsarge: There was a friendly jet down in Libya.

The Harrier pilot and his wingman left their plates to learn more.

Indeed, an Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle had gone down near the city of Benghazi, and the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, aboard the amphibious assault ship, was going to launch the rescue mission.



For his actions during the after-midnight rescue effort on March 22, 2011, Grunke has earned the Marine Corps Aviation Association’s Marine Corps Aviator of the Year Award.

The award honors the leatherneck who has made “the most outstanding contribution to Marine aviation” in the past year, according to a Marine news release.

There was little information on the downed pilot, Air Force Maj. Kenneth Harney, beyond his last known location. The Marines knew the F-15 was in the area to strike Libyan anti-air weapons, but they didn’t know the extent of the defenses or whether those defenses had shot down the F-15. The weapons systems officer had been protected by friendly rebel forces and rescued, but the pilot was on his own.

Grunke’s Harrier detachment, part of Marine Medium Tilt Rotor Squadron 266 (Reinforced), had been flying armed reconnaissance missions over Libya for the previous three days as part of Operation Odyssey Dawn, the international effort to fight troops loyal to Libyan President Moammar Gadhafi. So the pilots knew the area, just not the specifics of Harney’s situation.

As they were prepping their gear, checking their flight suits and getting their sidearms, Grunke told his wingman — Capt. Travis Morris, who was flying his first night of combat operations — to grab a couple extra magazines.

“His eyes, you know, go the size of dinner plates,” Grunke said. “He says, ‘Where do I put the extras?’ I said, ‘Just put it in your G-suit, let’s go.’” Upon reaching the Libyan coastline, Grunke started looking for the smoke trails of surface-to-air missiles and switched to the downed pilot’s radio frequency.

“Right away, I could hear the wind rustling by the microphone of his radio,” Grunke said. “And I hear him whispering and panting on the phone; it’s obvious he’s been running.”

Grunke, 33, earned his qualification as an airborne forward air controller before deploying, certifying him to control air resources engaged in ground support operations. He had also done a tour as a forward air controller on the ground.

“That experience is key. Not only that night, but in general as a Harrier pilot,” he said. “You know what the customer is looking for.”

In addition, Grunke and Morris, along with the rest of the expeditionary unit, had simulated a rescue mission before their deployment.

It all became very real, Grunke said, when he contacted an Air Force F-16 that had been flying overhead, strafing ground targets to protect the downed pilot. Grunke could overhear the F-16 pilot talking to Harney.

“That’s really a guy on the deck. This is no longer training and he’s fearing for his life,” he said.

Grunke remembers thinking about all the reading he’d done on combat missions over Vietnam, and how other pilots stopped their missions to help downed comrades.

“All attention is given to locating the pilot,” he said. “What I’m thinking is, ‘OK, now is my chance to live up to that —what they did.’”

Through his night-vision goggles, Grunke could see the lights of two vehicles chasing the pilot, “meandering their way through the desert,” he said.

Grunke asked the downed pilot if he needed air support. The pilot said yes.

“Just prior to me turning inbound to drop the bomb, he comes on the radio and, crying, says, ‘Tell my wife I love her,’” Grunke said. Grunke told the pilot not to worry because one of his laser-guided, 500-pound bombs would be on deck within a minute.

The tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel mission was complete when MV-22 Ospreys recovered the pilot shortly after.

Grunke said he reminds junior pilots that, when providing close-air support, they have to be the voice of reason “because the guy on deck is under significant stress and duress. We have to be the one that remains calm through all that to provide him with what he needs.”

After Harney was brought aboard the Kearsarge, Grunke spoke to him briefly.

“I didn’t really want to bother him too much,” Grunke said, because Harney was a bit shaken up. But the two have kept in informal contact via email.

“It’s certainly a special bond we’ll probably always have through that experience,” Grunke said.

Grunke is serving as an aircraft maintenance officer with Marine Attack Squadron 542 out of Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C. He will be honored in May in Washington, D.C.

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