As bullets from enemy fire flew around him, then Airmen 1st Class Benjamin D. Hutchins, who was assigned to the 14th Air Support Operations Squadron, 18th Air Support Operations Group, dove into the frigid waters of the Bala Murghab River in Afghanistan with just one goal in mind — saving the lives of two Soldiers from drowning.
The events that spanned two days, from Nov. 4 to 6, 2009, began when two Soldiers were swept away in a current while trying to recover an airdropped bundle that had landed in the river. While Hutchins was working to rescue the Soldiers, hostile forces began firing at them.
When U.S. forces arrived to assist and to secure the east bank of the river, Hutchins joined a patrol that came under intense enemy fire, including rocket propelled grenades, machine gun and sniper fire. He, along with three other individuals, left cover and concealment to engage the enemy and neutralize the hostile fire.
Hutchins killed one enemy who was armed with a rocket propelled grenade launcher and wounded another enemy fighter. While fighting to defend his position, he was also providing targeting and controlling information to an overhead unmanned aerial vehicle that destroyed an enemy fighting position.
The acts of gallantry executed by Hutchins during those two days, earned him the Silver Star Medal — the military’s third-highest decoration for valor in combat.
Hutchins, who is now retired, was presented the Silver Star Medal during a ceremony at the 18th ASOG headquarters at Pope Field, Nov. 4. Maj. Gen. Thomas H. Deale, Air Combat Command director of operations, officiated.
Hutchins, who was reluctant to have a big ceremony, had only one request — to have an A-10 pilot officiate, Deale said.
“When I heard that, I jumped at the opportunity. I’m the senior A-10 pilot in the U.S. Air Force still serving on active duty and I couldn’t think of a better opportunity to serve and to celebrate JTAC (joint terminal attack controller) than to be here,” said Deale, who also previously presented Hutchins with a Purple Heart. “This, I take (as a) personal honor … fulfilling on behalf of the Air Force and our nation.”
Deale said Hutchins is the 70th out of 71 Airmen who have received the Silver Star Medal since 9/11. Of those 70, 16 were JTACs like Hutchins.
Hutchins’ military career began in 2008 when he was 23 years old; he was mission certified as a JTAC in 2009.
JTACs are Airmen who specialize and have unique training to be proficient in ground combat because they’re going to be serving on the front lines. Their specialty is advising, coordinating and controlling air support for the unit they are assigned to, Deale explained.
“The JTACs, we basically certify to give the final attack clearance before an aircraft releases its bombs to ensure they’re hitting the right target and that they’re not hitting friendlies, that they’re not causing civilian casualties or excessive collateral damage,” he said. “It’s a pretty big responsibility for a 24 year old.”
Hutchins said the Airmen he worked with would have done the same things he did.
“All of this is a little much and all you guys out there do the same thing every day. When you’re overseas, when you’re in combat, you do what it takes and I know a lot of you guys have done the exact same thing,” he said.
Hutchins said he hopes his experience will inspire new Airmen to do “what has to be done,” when they see his plaque on the wall inside the 18th ASOG headquarters building.
Heather, Hutchins’ wife, said she is proud of her husband and is amazed at how humble he is.
“He never takes credit for anything,” she said. “I’m so proud of his selflessness.”
According to his Silver Star citation, “Airman Hutchins’ quick, decisive actions, tactical presence, and calm demeanor enabled friendly forces to eventually overwhelm the enemy stronghold.
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. By his gallantry and devotion to duty, Airman Hutchins has reflected great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.”
“We’re proud of you, we’re proud to have served with you, we’re proud to call you ‘brother’,” Deale said.