- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 9, 2009

Spc. David R. Hutchinson became the fifth Army Reserve soldier to receive the Silver Star. His actions on May 21, 2008, in Afghanistan saved the lives of 16 fellow soldiers.

Spc. Hutchinson was new to Afghanistan the day of his heroic deed. His 420th Engineer Brigade Personal Security Detail unit arrived five days earlier. To get acclimated to their surroundings, Spc. Hutchinson’s unit patrolled areas that they would be frequenting over the coming months.

“It was supposed to be a short convoy — three hours out, and three hours back,” he said in an interview with The Washington Times. Yet 1 1/2 hours into the ride, the four-vehicle convoy came to a small mountain pass. When all four vehicles entered, Spc. Hutchinson heard gunfire erupt. Seconds later, Spc. Hutchinson, who served as an MK-19 gunner in the third truck, saw several insurgents taking a position on a ridge to his right. They immediately started firing down on the trucks with their machine guns, AK-47s, and rocket-propelled grenades.

Spc. Hutchinson was surprised. “The area we were in, we were told, had been pretty calm for the last 12 months,” he said. “We weren’t expecting anything, but we were prepared.”

The enemy fighters proved tenacious, going straight for the lead trucks in an attempt to disable them with rocket-propelled grenades that would pin down the rest of the convoy. “They were very determined,” Spc. Hutchinson said. “When they came out from where they were hiding, I wasn’t just making out muzzle flashes, I could see entire torsos. They were determined to take our convoy.”

Despite this being his first engagement, Spc. Hutchinson took charge of his gun, firing back at his attackers. When they exposed themselves in the assault on the convoy, he saw his chance, firing directly at them, with devastating results. Still, the enemy fighters held fire superiority from their concealed machine-gun nest on top of a nearby hill. Recognizing this, Spc. Hutchinson trained his gun on the nest, unleashing a hail of bullets and severely disrupting the enemy attack.

Spc. Hutchinson’s fire was so effective that the enemy fighters turned their attention solely on him, firing everything they had in his direction. However, he remained steadily at his position, unfazed. After the battle, his comrades found that his turret had been hit by more than 100 rounds, some of which even hit the inside of the turret — the bullets landed within the compartment in which he was standing. He was inches from being hit repeatedly.

“I was completely concentrated on doing my job,” he said. “I wasn’t even registering the bullet noises when they were hitting the turret. I was just so focused on destroying that machine-gun nest.”

Spc. Hutchinson unloaded an entire ammunition can on the machine-gun nest, disabling at least five enemy fighters. A rocket-propelled grenade then landed in his truck, exploded, knocked him down and seriously wounded him. He was struck by shrapnel in the right leg. Regaining his senses, Spc. Hutchinson noticed that 1st Sgt. David Gussberry had received grievous shrapnel wounds to his face and neck. Ignoring his own wounds, Spc. Hutchinson performed first aid as the convoy proceeded away from the scene of the firefight.

A helicopter equipped with medical equipment soon arrived to evacuate the wounded. Spc. Hutchinson was loaded onto a litter, and began to be moved from the area. However, he soon realized that there was only one litter for the convoy, and Sgt. Gussberry was in far worse shape than he was.

“Once I figured that out, I immediately got off the litter and told them to put the first sergeant on the litter,” he recalls. “I told the medic to just help me over to the helicopter when it landed on the ground.” This freed the litter to evacuate the first sergeant and allowed other soldiers to provide security for the medical evacuation team rather than tend to Spc. Hutchinson.

Spc. Hutchinson’s tour lasted less than one week. Shortly after being evacuated from the battlefield, he was flown out of the country, and soon returned home.

Today, he is back at his job at AT&T;, and is getting married to his longtime girlfriend, Jenny Becker, in just a few weeks. Yet despite the short duration of his tour, this citizen-soldier has become one of the U.S. Army Reserve’s greatest heroes.

• Tim Holbert is program director of the American Veterans Center in Arlington.

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