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Maj. Christopher A. Denver was honored as the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing Aviator of the Year Award recipient last month at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, Okinawa, Japan. The Alfred A. Cunningham Award (Marine Aviator of the Year) first recognizes the top aviator in each MAW, and then identifies an overall winner from those finalists. The Marine Corps Aviation Association announced Capt. Hugh E. Anderson, assigned to Marine All Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 533, Marine Aircraft Group 31, 2nd MAW, as the winner of the Marine Corps wide Aviator of the Year. Denver, from San Antonio, Texas, is the executive officer of Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 265, MAG 36, 1st MAW. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Bernadette Wildes)

Photo by Cpl. Steven Tran

San Antonio Marine wins 1st MAW Alfred A. Cunningham Aviator of the Year Award

12 May 2017 | Lance Cpl. Christian Lopez III Marine Expeditionary Force

At an early age, Maj. Christopher A. Denver fell in love with flying. Even before stepping into a cockpit for the first time at age 11, Denver’s fascination with aircraft grew as he progressed from building model airplanes to full-size aircraft with his grandfather.

“I remember watching him cutting the smallest pieces and putting it all together, making it all fit,” said Denver, a native of San Antonio, Texas. “It was amazing when it became a finished product.”

Like the aircraft he and his grandfather built, Denver’s journey as an aviator is the composite of many small parts. Unique life experiences awakened Denver’s childhood memories, setting forth a path he’s followed to earn recognition as the Alfred A. Cunningham Marine Aviator of the Year for 1st Marine Aircraft Wing.

During college, Denver attended class with friends who were Marine reservists, ready to deploy to Iraq after 9/11.

“They went off to war while I stayed at school,” said Denver. “About that time, I realized I wanted to do something different.”

When Denver responded to the call to serve, his service preference was influenced by his grandfather, who fought as a Marine Corps machine gunner in the Pacific during World War II. His grandfather stormed the beaches on Iwo Jima, where a war correspondent captured an image of Marines triumphantly raising a U.S. flag on Mt. Suribachi. The documented valor of the Marines there became a symbol of victory in the Pacific and part of Marine Corps legend.

“If I’m going to join, I’m going to join the Marine Corps,” said Denver, “and I’m going to do what I can to try to get into aviation.”

Denver stayed in college until he left for Officer Candidate School in 2003. After graduating The Basic School, he headed for flight school.

Today, Denver is earning praise for his performance while serving as an MV-22B pilot and the aircraft maintenance officer of Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 265, 1st MAW, III Marine Expeditionary Force. Lt. Col. Bryan Swenson, the commander of VMM-265, said he looked at Denver’s overall leadership record when nominating him as Marine Aviator of the Year.

“You look for leadership qualities, someone who has really made a difference to the squadron and, in my opinion, to the fleet in general,” said Swenson, a native of Kansas City, Missouri. “He is an impeccable aviator. He is a weapons and tactics instructor. He is the guy you go to for the toughest flights, who heads out there on the darkest nights and goes ahead and trains the youngest pilots.”

Although he didn’t win Marine Aviator of the Year for the Marine Corps, he was among the final three Marines – one from each MAW—considered for the award. He was formally recognized as the 1st MAW Marine Aviator of the Year during a ceremony at MCAS Futenma, Okinawa, May 8.

Emulating his grandfather’s attention to detail and dedication to hard work, Denver said he sets out to ensure that jobs are done right, every day, no matter what.

“No matter what you achieve, you move on to the next goal in your life,” said Denver. “You can always become better and make the people around you better. I think that’s ultimately what this squadron does really well.”