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VMM-161 Leadership Award

Photo by Cpl. Levi Voss

A Leader Among Leaders: 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing Pilot Receives Award

7 Nov 2022 | 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing

It is rarely quiet in hangar 7 on Marine Corps Air Station Miramar’s flightline. Usually, the hum of tools reverberates throughout the hangar as maintenance Marines perform routine work on the numerous MV-22B Ospreys housed there. However, all of that ceased on the afternoon of November 1, 2022, as the Marines of Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 161, Marine Aircraft Group 16, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, gathered in formation. Among the Marines were three individuals standing distinctly in civilian attire, one woman and two toddlers. They all gathered to watch their leader, fellow pilot, father and husband be recognized for outstanding commitment to duty and unwavering leadership.

U.S. Marine Capt. Kyle Westman received the Marine Corps Association (MCA) Leadership Award for I Marine Expeditionary Force as well as an Air Medal for outstanding dedication to duty and, specifically, the success of a difficult casualty evacuation (CASEVAC) that led to saving an individual’s life.

On November 13, 2021, Capt. Westman’s CASEVAC alert aircrew learned of an urgent casualty suffering from a heart attack aboard a merchant vessel 500 miles off the Kenyan coast. His flight launched a recovery effort from Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti to fly more than 1,000 nautical miles to the vessel. He masterfully positioned his aircraft between numerous vertical obstacles on the ship to facilitate Air Force medical personnel rappelling aboard the ship to care for the patient, before making the return flight.

This action was the first of its kind for an MV-22B, both for the distance covered and the insertion of Air Force medical personnel via rappel to a non-standard civilian merchant vessel. The rescue demonstrated the MV-22B's capabilities to hastily cover vast distances and execute these maneuvers with precision, and safely return, which stresses the importance of why only an MV-22B could have accomplished this mission.

“[Westman] has single-handedly changed the culture and expectations of company grade officers in the ready room, I can’t think of a more deserving Marine than Capt. Westman for this award,” said Maj. Christopher Huff, executive officer of VMM-161. He adds, “His ability to balance billet duties, flight instructor duties, and deployment coordination is not only instrumental to the squadron’s success to deploy on short notice, but also serves as a reminder to all the company grade officers on what they are capable of accomplishing, and what a young officer is capable of producing.”

In August 2021, Westman helped coordinate a deployment with only 53 days’ notice. Arriving to Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti in September 2021 as the Officer in Charge for the VMM-161 advanced echelon for the East Africa Aviation Combat Element (EA-ACE), Westman was tasked with activating the first EA-ACE for the Marine Corps. Westman worked tirelessly to successfully coordinate across two continents and Combatant Commands to transfer six MV-22B’s and numerous aircraft ground support equipment, oversee the assignment of quarters, development of workspaces, and acquisition of hangar spaces, as well as establish squadron command relationships with higher command elements.

Westman is a prime example of how 3rd MAW remains trained, ready, relevant and responsive to emergent requirements across the globe.

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