Chesarek ’96 Honored With UK’s Distinguished Flying Cross
Marine Maj. William Chesarek Jr. ’96 appeared before Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace March 21 to receive the United Kingdom’s Distinguished Flying Cross. Chesarek is the first American since World War II to receive this rare honor. He was recognized for heroic action and bravery during combat operations in Iraq in June 2006.
A U.S. Marine helicopter pilot serving as an exchange officer with the Royal Air Force, Chesarek was flying the RAF’s Lynx helicopter during a search operation near Amarah, Iraq, when the ground troops came under attack by insurgents. Although his helicopter came under fire, he continued to fly low over the area to disperse the crowd. Chesarek then made the unconventional move, considered an “implied mission,” to conduct a medical evacuation with the Lynx to help a British soldier with a life-threatening injury.
“I had been in a couple of situations with troops in contact before,” Chesarek told reporters. “I had a good idea of the kind of potential danger involved, but now I was listening to the individual commander on the ground: someone was injured; what can we do?”
At the ceremony at Buckingham Palace, Chesarek was recognized and credited for “having a pivotal role in ensuring the rapid evacuation of (a) badly injured soldier and the safe extraction of the Company.”
Chesarek said he accepted the award with honor and in memory of members of his squadron who were killed in action one month prior to this event. He also acknowledged his crew as essential contributors to the awarded actions. “My greatest sense of achievement that day is in knowing the ground troops all made it home.”
Chesarek earned his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Rensselaer, where he was active in Zeta Psi fraternity, and was commissioned via the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps in 1996. He attended flight school in Pensacola, Fla., and Corpus Christi, Texas. He and his wife, Christine, a U.S. Navy nurse, served simultaneously in Operation Iraqi Freedom. They have a 2-year-old son, William.