MARINE CORPS AIR STATION YUMA, Ariz. -- Receiving a Marine Corps Aviation Association award represents an aviation Marine's commitment to their unit and willingness to go above and beyond the call of duty in order to accomplish their mission.
For three Marines who deployed to Afghanistan in 2009 with Yuma's Marine Wing Support Squadron 371 who where instrumental in a large historic project, this couldn't be truer.
The squadron's expeditionary airfield platoon officer in charge, services chief and noncommissioned officer in charge, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Nathan Young, Master Sgt. Steven Lemke and Sgt. Ryan Fuss, all received individual MCAA awards for their service to the aviation community.
The Marines received the Earle Hattaway Aviation Ground Officer of the Year Award, the Jack W. Demmond Aviation Ground Marine of the Year Award and the James E. Nicholson NCO Leadership Award, respectively.
"Marines win based on their overall accomplishments," said Lt. Col. Tim Hogan, deputy head of the aviation manpower and support branch at Headquarters Marine Corps. "They compete at the group, unit and Marine Corps level in order to win. That means they went up against all the Marines in the whole aviation field."
Each of the winning MWSS-371 Marines played a large part in the construction of a 2.2-million-square-foot aluminum matting airfield at Camp Bastion, the largest airfield ever constructed of aluminum matting in a combat zone, as well as other projects.
"I had my guys running all over Afghanistan getting stuff done," said Young, who coordinated and planned the many projects the squadron accomplished. "I'm not going to lie, Lemke and Fuss had a huge role in getting things done."
Even after learning of their awards, the Marines were still surprised they won.
"I was really excited and amazed," said Lemke, a Lake Geneva, Wis., native. "I have never received anything like this in my life. So, to say the least, I felt a sense of pride."
"It was a little out of left field," said Fuss, who grew up in Pontiac, Ill. "I thought we did a great job while on deployment, but I never thought it would be enough to win anything."
"It was great to win the award, but all the things we did came from the sweat and blood of the Marines," said Young, who is originally from Bethany, Okla. "I can't give enough props to my NCOs."
While Fuss and Young are from MWSS-371, Lemke was a last minute addition from MWSS-374, based in Twentynine Palms, Calif.
"We were short on staff NCOs so we looked around for someone who could do the job," said Young. "We were really lucky to get him. Without him I would be bald or at least graying from all the stress. He was my right hand man with 18 years of experience. We collaborated a lot on the different projects that were going on over there."
"I was asked to go, so I said 'hell yes,'" said Lemke, who returned to MWSS-374 after the deployment.
While Lemke came with 18 years of experience, the relatively inexperienced Fuss surprised the command while on deployment.
"He was kind of green when we got there," said Young. "He stepped up to the plate. I was confident to be able to send him out on site surveys and know he would come back successful."
Fuss said he spent around three months collectively doing site surveys, which called for him to spend days or even weeks away from a forward operating base checking potential sites for new projects.
The Marines also attributed their success to the training they did here in Yuma.
The rematting of Auxiliary Airfield 2 in March 2009 also helped the Sandsharks prepare for the deployment, said Young.
"We're one of the busier support units in the Corps," said Young. "We get called to help all the time."
Early last year, the Sandsharks also replaced 500,000 square feet of matting at Twentynine Palms.
In addition to the Marines winning their individual awards, the squadron as a whole won the James E. Hatch Marine Wing Support Squadron of the Year Award.