Air Force JTAC awarded Silver Star for heroic actions in Afghanistan

Maj. Gen. Thomas Deale, the Air Combat Command director of operations, presents retired Staff Sgt. Benjamin Hutchins, a former 18th Air Support Operations Group joint terminal attack controller, with a Silver Star during a ceremony, Nov. 4, 2016, at Pope Army Airfield, N.C. Hutchins received the medal for his heroic actions during a 2009 deployment while assigned to the 504th Expeditionary Air Support Operations Group in Bala Murghab, Afghanistan. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman Miranda A. Loera)

Maj. Gen. Thomas Deale, the director of operations of Air Combat Command, presented retired Staff Sgt. Benjamin Hutchins, a former 18th Air Support Operations Group joint terminal attack controller, with the Silver Star during a ceremony Nov. 4 at Pope Army Airfield, North Carolina.

Hutchins distinguished himself by gallantry in connection with military operations against an enemy of the United States during a deployment to Afghanistan in 2009.

“Ben joins a line of Americans that date back to World War I who are recognized with high honor in service and combat,” Deale said.

While deployed to Bala Murghab, Afghanistan, Hutchins attempted to save two Soldiers who were swept away in the Bala Murghab River. The Soldiers were attempting to recover a bundle from a missed aerial delivery. Hutchins, despite enemy forces firing at him, dove into the water searching for the Soldiers until American forces arrived to fend off the enemy and aid the recovery attempt.

“You would think that we would be somber or even sad,” Hutchins said. “That wasn’t the case at all. Once you lose somebody, you get motivated. It’s the only way to fix it, you can’t get too caught up in the emotions or the same thing could happen to you.”

The next day, Hutchins and three others volunteered to leave cover and engage the enemy in order to counteract the aggressive firing. He and the three other individuals moved under heavy rocket propelled grenade, machine gun and sniper fire across an open field with little to no cover or concealment.

Hutchins managed to direct sensors of air support while continuing to fire with his M-4 rifle. He killed one enemy armed with a rocket propelled grenade launcher before the enemy could fire and wounded an additional enemy fighter, all while providing targeting and controlling information to an overhead remotely piloted aircraft that destroyed a second enemy fighting position with an AGM-114 Hellfire missile.

“We destroyed an entire stronghold of an entire city, and no other friendly forces were lost after that,” Hutchins said.

Hutchins said he was humbled and honored to receive the award.

“The work that I did those days gets done every day by individuals that don’t receive this recognition,” he said. “I am just representing for them. I just hope it can inspire those Airmen under me and set that example.”

Master Sgt. Donald Gansberger, the Air Combat Command plans, programs, and requirements NCO for tactical air control party, was Hutchins’ first supervisor, and was also on the same deployment.

“During the deployment he showed so much bravery,” Gansberger said. “Those two events that were two days apart were extremely heroic to me. He stepped up and saved the entire team that day.”

The Silver Star is a United States military individual decoration and is the third highest award for bravery, heroism or meritorious service. The medal is awarded to members of any branch in the military and represents heroic achievement of service.

Editor’s note: During another deployment in 2012, Hutchins was injured by an improvised explosive device and was medically retired as a staff sergeant in 2014.

By Airman Miranda A. Loera, 4th Fighter Wing Public Affairs


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