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Yuma Pilot Earns Bronze Star Medal
by USMC Lance Cpl. Sean Dennison - February 2, 2012

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YUMA, Ariz. (1/30/2011) -- Capt. Daniel Fiust, a Marine Attack Squadron 513 AV-8B pilot and a native of San Carlos, Calif., was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for his tactical ingenuity while serving as the air officer for 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, in Afghanistan from Jan. 1, 2011, to Sept. 1, 2011.

Capt. Daniel Fiust, a Marine Attack Squadron 513 AV-8B Harrier pilot and a native of San Carlos, Calif., receives the Bronze Star Medal from Lt. Col. Samuel Smith, the VMA-513 commanding officer, at the squadron hangar at MCAS Yuma, Jan. 16, 2012. Fiust received the award for the tactical ingenuity he displayed while serving as the the air officer and a forward air controller for 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment. Photo by USMC Lance Cpl. Sean Dennison
Capt. Daniel Fiust, a Marine Attack Squadron 513 AV-8B Harrier pilot and a native of San Carlos, Calif., receives the Bronze Star Medal from Lt. Col. Samuel Smith, the VMA-513 commanding officer, at the squadron hangar at MCAS Yuma, Jan. 16, 2012. Fiust received the award for the tactical ingenuity he displayed while serving as the the air officer and a forward air controller for 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment. Photo by USMC Lance Cpl. Sean Dennison
  "I just feel like I was doing my job," said Fiust. "The battalion had a lot of amazing Marines that did a lot more important stuff than I did. They were in a lot more dangerous situations than I was."

A battalion air officer acts as a liaison for aviation squadrons supporting ground Marines, directing and dispersing air assets across the battalion's area of operations. The air officer is the senior forward air controller in a battalion. His responsibilities range anywhere from air strikes to airborne medical evacuations.

Fiust supervised the battalion's forward air controllers and enlisted joint terminal attack controllers, who patrol with their squads and protect them by calling in air strikes. On a daily basis, Fiust heard the pilots of both rotary- and fixed-wing assets, including his own squadron.

"The main close air support we got was from 513 and Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 267," said Fiust. "It
was great to get fire support from the Nightmares."

Being the single air officer in the Upper Hereshk and Sangin Valleys, areas with notably high enemy activity, Fiust had his hands full throughout the deployment, though that didn't hamper his talent for improvisation.

One key example of Fiust's coordination skills showed when a company of infantrymen expended all machinegun ammunition attempting to defeat their still-firing adversaries. Fiust made the call of resupplying the company with attack helicopters, which resulted in their victory.

Another example highlighting the importance of an air officer is when Fiust, after processing surveillance information, made a call that resulted in the destruction of an enemy sniper team with a history of aggressing installations and patrols.

Fiust, for his part, regards his responsibilities more crucial than his victories.

"Training the tactical air control party in the battalion is probably the most important thing in preparing battalion joint terminal attack controllers and other forward air controllers for combat," he said of the men who patrol with their squads and protect them by calling in air strikes.

Soon enough, the F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter will be fulfilling its role of close air support, but the only thing changing in the game is the platform used.

"We still have Marine pilots," Fiust said. "They're still going to have the same attitude toward supporting the Marines on the ground."

After being on the ground for so long, the bronze star recipient has one thing on his mind.

"Right now I'm just focusing on getting back into flying and getting proficient again at being an attack pilot," Fiust said.

By USMC Lance Cpl. Sean Dennison
Marine Corps Air Station Yuma
Provided through DVIDS
Copyright 2012

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