Under fire and drenched from head to toe in the frigid waters of Afghanistan's Bala Murghab River, former Airman 1st Class Benjamin Hutchins refused to leave the two soldiers who needed his help.

Hutchins, a tactical air control party airman, fought back and refused to give up on the two soldiers, who were being swept away by the river's current, until reinforcements arrived.

For his actions on that day in 2009, Hutchins on Friday was awarded the Silver Star, the nation's third-highest award for valor.

"It's not a medal for me," Hutchins, who is now medically retired, told Air Force Times. "It's a medal for all the other folks who are slaving away right now and doing the same stuff but not getting the recognition."

Hutchins, who was assigned to the 14th Air Support Operations Squadron at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, was honored Friday, exactly seven years after his actions in Afghanistan.

Then-Airman 1st Class Benjamin Hutchins was awarded the Silver Star for heroism in Afghanistan in 2009.

Photo Credit: Air Force

In November 2009, Hutchins was deployed to near Bala Murghab, Afghanistan, in support of the Army's 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division.

On Nov. 4, 2009, a missed aerial delivery resulted in one of the bundles landing in the Bala Murghab River. Two soldiers tried to recover the bundle but were pulled downriver by the current, according to the narrative accompanying Hutchins' award.

The airman dove into the freezing water to rescue the soldiers and began taking enemy fire from the east bank of the river.

Despite "the onslaught of enemy fire," according to the narrative, Hutchins refused to leave the soldiers in the river until more U.S. forces arrived. Hutchins then volunteered with three others to try to stop the attack from the enemy.

According to the narrative, he "moved under heavy fire and accurate rocket-propelled grenade, machine-gun and sniper fire across an open field with little to no cover or concealment."

As he moved, Hutchins was able to direct the sensors of an overhead close-air support aircraft while simultaneously providing "accurate supporting fire" with his M-4 carbine.

Hutchins killed -- at close range -- one enemy fighter armed with a rocket-propelled grenade launcher and wounded another, "all the while providing targeting and controlling information to an overhead unmanned aerial vehicle that destroyed a second enemy fighting position with a Hellfire missile," according to the narrative.

After a three-day fight, the enemy fighters broke contact and gave up the area. Hutchins is credited for his "quick, decisive actions, tactical presence and calm demeanor," and his actions in helping force the enemy to break contact and relinquish critical ground to friendly forces, according to the narrative. 

"I'm more grateful for the fact that [receiving the Silver Star] actually happened so it's able to represent my career field in the Air Force a little better," Hutchins said. "I'm hoping that this being so, so, so late will actually spawn something to help the other guys actually get some recognition."


Charlsy Panzino covers the Guard and Reserve, training, technology, operations and features for Army Times and Air Force Times. Email her at cpanzino@militarytimes.com.  

Charlsy is a Reporter and Engagement Manager for Military Times. Email her at cpanzino@militarytimes.com.

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