Articles

Airman to get Silver Star for leading river evacuation under fire


Silver Star | Public Domain

An airman who braved enemy fire to save fellow troops during a river evacuation in Afghanistan in 2009 will receive a Silver Star for his bravery, a general said.

Airman First Class Benjamin Hutchins, a tactical air control party airman supporting the 82nd Airborne Division's 4th Brigade Combat Team, was approved for the military's third-highest valor award in April and will receive the honor during a ceremony Nov. 4 at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, an official said.

Also read: Possible Medal of Honor upgrade would be the first based on drone imagery

His heroic actions during a three-day period through Nov. 6, 2009, were recounted during a speech by Gen. Herbert "Hawk" Carlisle, the head of Air Combat Command, on Tuesday at the Air Force Association's annual Air, Space & Cyber Conference near Washington, D.C.

"This is an example of our airmen," Carlisle said.

Hutchins and a team of soldiers were on the west bank of the Bala Murghab River looking for a supply airdrop, Carlisle said. One of the canisters fell off target into the swift-moving river, and two soldiers swam out to retrieve it.

But Taliban militants on the east side of the river were watching.

The soldiers were swept out by a "strong current they weren't anticipating," Carlisle said. "Airman Hutchins jumps into the river after [them] … but the Taliban start[ed] shooting at the last man in the water."

Hutchins, swimming around the frigid waters for roughly an hour, evaded Taliban fire by skimming the surface "with [only] his nose and mouth" while diving back down to find the troops.

Additional soldiers with the 82nd Airborne soon came to the aid of all three men. But the Taliban began another firefight -- with machine guns, sniper fire and rocket-propelled grenades -- on the east bank the following day.

"They come out, and start running across an open field and take on the Taliban. They take out the rocket propeller, the machine gun. There's still dealing with the snipers, but Hutchins, being a TACP, gets on the radio … calls in a [strike] from an MQ-1 Predator in a danger-close situation, but … it takes out the Taliban," Carlisle said.

The award's narrative, written by the airman's former supervisor, Master Sgt. Donald Gansberger, describes the action in even more detail.

"Airman Hutchins moved under heavy and accurate rocket propelled grenade, machine gun and sniper fire across an open field with little to no cover or concealment," it states. "While continuing to move forward, he managed to direct the sensors of overhead close air support while simultaneously providing accurate supporting fire with his M-4 rifle."

"He killed one enemy armed with a rocket propelled grenade launcher, at close range, before the enemy could fire and wounded an additional enemy fighter all while providing targeting and controlling information to an overhead unmanned aerial vehicle that destroyed a second enemy fighting position with a Hellfire missile," the document states.

"Airman Hutchins' quick, decisive actions, tactical presence and calm demeanor enabled friendly forces to eventually overwhelm the enemy stronghold," it states. "His actions forced the enemy fighters to break contact and relinquish critical ground to friendly forces which enabled the safety of the recovery efforts for the two missing Soldiers."

In an ironic twist, Carlisle said, "they did eventually get their container back."

The Air Force previously said Hutchins had been submitted for the Bronze Star Medal with Valor. However, the service later clarified Hutchins had instead been submitted for two Bronze Star medals for his actions, which instead were combined into one Silver Star award.

Hutchins medically retired from the Air Force in 2014 with injuries sustained as a result of enemy attack during a separate deployment in 2012, Air Combat Command told Military.com.

The Defense Department is reviewing more than 1,100 post-9/11 valor citations to determine if they warrant a higher award such as the Medal of Honor, officials announced in January.

In 2014, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered a review of all decorations and awards programs "to ensure that after 13 years of combat the awards system appropriately recognizes the service, sacrifices and action of our service members," officials told USA Today at the time.

The latest review is due to Defense Secretary Ashton Carter by Sept. 30, 2017.

Military Life

7 things grunts think about on watch in fighting holes

If nothing else has made you question your choice to join the infantry before, digging a fighting hole definitely will. It's always miserable, it's extremely time consuming, and there's always a giant rock waiting for you once you're halfway down. But, once you get that hole dug, it's smooth sailing. Now, all you have to do is deal with the sleep deprivation and crummy weather.

Keep reading... Show less
Articles

How R. Lee Ermey's Hollywood break is an inspiration to us all

While there have been many outstanding actors and celebrities who have raised their right hand, there has never been a veteran who could finger point his way to the top of Hollywood stardom quite like the late great Gunnery Sergeant R. Lee Ermey.

Keep reading... Show less
History

That time US troops found 200 tons of stolen Nazi gold

In the closing months of World War II, the defeated Nazi Army scrambled to hide the hundreds of tons of gold they had despicably stripped from various nations during their occupation. As they hurriedly stashed their ill-gotten gains, they were unaware that the Allies were drawing near.

Keep reading... Show less
Lists

10 military spouses you should unfriend on Facebook immediately

Often, there comes a point when people decide to give their Facebook friends list an overhaul.

They completely change their social landscape online by avoiding accepting friend requests from certain types of people, and they give their current friends list a good, hard scrub.

Everyone has their reasons. Maybe they're doing it for security purposes, or because a handful of people's posts drive them crazy or they want to keep a more professional profile. Military spouses in particular might do so because they want to focus on positive, stress-free relationships – that is, the ones that bring wine, wear sweat pants, and check judgment at the door.

Keep reading... Show less
GEAR & TECH

This JASSM variant could replace the Harpoon

For a long time, the AGM-84/RGM-84 Harpoon missile has been the primary anti-ship weapon of the United States military. Over the years, with improvements, it's successfully held the line. But, as is perpetually the case, time and technological advances have forced the U.S. Military to look for a missile with even more reach and punch.

Keep reading... Show less
Entertainment

7 Marvel Cinematic Universe movies to watch before 'Infinity War'

Not planning a two-day Marvel Cinematic Universe marathon right before seeing "Avengers: Infinity War?"

Nobody has time for that.

To accommodate fans who want to freshen up their knowledge, we collected a list of the most essential MCU movies to watch right before you see "Infinity War," which is scheduled for release April 27, 2018.

Keep reading... Show less
Military Life

7 drill sergeant sayings that really mean, "you're screwed"

Every recruit needs to make it through Basic Training before they earn the right to be called Soldiers. Drill sergeants have just two goals: to break the civilian out of their platoon and to give recruits a crash course in military lifestyle.

Keep reading... Show less

Strange reports in Saudi Arabia spark rumors of a coup attempt

Twitter and news outlets came alive with spotty, unconfirmed news reports of an incident in Saudi Arabia that some sources were describing as a possible "coup attempt." There has been no official verification of significant or organized action in the region and no reports have surfaced as of 00:30 Riyadh time on the BBC World News, but the volume of Twitter reports and private messages received by this reporter seem to indicate an incident of some significance.

Keep reading... Show less