UNSUNG HEROES: This Airman Dove Into A River To Recover 2 Men While Under Fire
Over the course of several grueling days in Bala Murghab, Afghanistan, Airman 1st Class Benjamin Hutchins fought through hell, first to try to rescue his fellow service members, and then to take out the enemy that attacked them.
On Nov. 4, 2009, Hutchins, a tactical air control party airman attached to the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division’s 4th Brigade Combat Team, was attached to a team of soldiers on the west bank of the Bala Murghab River looking for a supply drop, according to Military.com. One of the canisters fell off target into the river, and was swept up by the swift current. To keep it out of insurgent hands, two soldiers immediately dove in after it, but were quickly swept up by the current.
To make matters worse, Taliban fighters were watching the American troops from the opposite bank, and seeing an opportunity with the two soldiers defenseless in the river, they opened fire.
Hutchins quickly ditched his body armor and helmet so he wouldn’t be weighed down and dove into the frigid water. For the next hour, he swam with enemy rounds splashing about as he dove underwater to avoid the enemy gunfire, coming up only for air.
In time, additional soldiers with the 82nd arrived to push back the Taliban attack. Tragically and despite the incredible efforts to recover them, the two men were swept along by the current and their bodies were recovered later, according to a Department of Defense press release.
Then, two days later, the Taliban began another firefight, this time with machine guns, sniper fire, and rocket-propelled grenades aimed at reclaiming the east side of the river.
As the attack began, Hutchins joined a patrol, and with three others, volunteered to leave their position of cover and concealment as they attacked the enemy.
Breaking cover and charging across an open field, Hutchins killed one Taliban fighter at close range with his M4 and wounded another, reads his award citation. As they pushed forward, he called in a danger close hellfire strike from an MQ-1 Predator drone and destroyed an enemy fighting position.
In the aftermath of the brazen counterattack, the Taliban fighters broke contact, giving up their position on the east side of the bank. Hutchins and the Army unit he was with made it through, beating back not one, but two separate attacks in three days.
On Nov. 4, 2016, Hutchins was awarded the Silver Star in recognition of his decisive action, tactical presence, and calm demeanor under fire during an award ceremony at at Pope Army Airfield in North Carolina.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the two soldiers with the 82nd Airborne Division’s 4th Brigade Combat Team were rescued from the river that day. The men in the river did not survive although their bodies were recovered. (Updated 2/9/2017; 12:04 p.m. EST)