Kandahar Air Field, Afghanistan -- For years, Capt. Jimmy Brown trained for the day he would receive his baptism under fire in the cockpit of his AH-1W Super Cobra attack helicopter.
Yet when he first heard the distinctive ping and crack of incoming fire it wasn't flying over a battlefield in a heavily-armed helicopter, but down in the trenches with the infantrymen of 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion on the scorched battlefields of southern Iraq.
It was because of Brown's Iraq service that Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 266 (Reinforced), the aviation combat element of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), recently gathered in front of the air terminal of Kandahar Air Field, Afghanistan to see one of their own awarded for combat valor.
In front of his fellow pilots, maintenance crews, and ground support personnel, the 32-year-old San Jose, Calif. Native received the Bronze Star with Combat Distinguishing Device (more commonly known as the 'Combat V') for his wartime service as a forward air controller (FAC) with 2nd LAR.
During the war, as 2nd LAR pushed north toward into Iraq as part of part of Regimental Combat Team 2, Brown was responsible for coordinating and controlling more than 200 fixed and rotary wing air strikes against the enemy.
According to the award citation, Brown repeatedly exposed himself to direct enemy fire to properly bring close air support onto target, and during one 12-hour battle during the key fight for An Nasiryiah, he personally controlled more than 50 air strikes onto enemy forces.
Brown credits his service in OIF with giving him a unique perspective on supporting the grunts now that he's back in the cockpit. Since arriving in Afghanistan in mid-April, Brown has logged in more than 130 hours flying close air support, escort, and reconnaissance missions.
"I've been on the ground with the infantry and now know the ground scheme," he said. "I have a better picture of what's going on, the size of maneuver units, what they can and can't see from the ground, and all that helps me deliver support more effectively."
As for serving in two wars in as many years, Brown is mindful of the effect it has own his wife and three children.
"It's hard on the family, but Marines join to deploy and that's what we have to do."
When pressed to speak about the award, Brown is humble, and redirects the question toward his fellow pilots and ground crew's sole purpose in Afghanistan.
"Our only job is to support the troops on the ground," said Brown, a San Jose, Calif. native. "Everything we do is for that 19-year-old lance corporal on the ground with an M-16 making sure the enemy doesn't mess with our Marines."
In addition to HMM-266 (Rein) and BLT 1/6, the MEU consists of its Command Element and MSSG-22.
For more information on the 22nd MEU (SOC)'s role in Operation ENDURING FREEDOM, visit the unit's web site at http://www.22meu.usmc.mil.