LTC Robert K. Beale ’02, the 2022 recipient of the Alexander R. Nininger Award for Valor at Arms, joked early in his acceptance remarks at the Nininger Award Ceremony in the Mess Hall on October 20, 2022 that he sat through similar events 20 years ago when he was a cadet in C-2. “Being on this side of the podium, I hope I don’t join that elite club of speakers who put the Corps of Cadets to sleep,” he jested, to which the cadets gave a thunderous applause. Beale devoted his speech to the Army Warrior Ethos, especially emphasizing the “I will never quit” and the “I will never leave a fallen comrade” values. Given the circumstances for which Beale received the 17th annual Nininger Award, there was never any danger of cadets catching some rack, as they knew that Beale was someone who lived these values and thus took some of his other early words—“try to internalize the message and apply it to your future service to the nation”—to heart.
On September 14, 2011, then CPT Beale was serving as a pilot and air mission commander (AMC) for the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne) (“Night Stalkers”) in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. As his unit of five MH-47G Chinooks were flying back to Kandahar after executing an emergency resupply, their second mission that night, they heard a 9-line MEDEVAC request over an open channel. As the AMC, Beale did a quick calculation and, despite it being close to dawn and daylight being a risk factor to the safety of his helicopter assault force, he requested approval from his task force commander to assist. In doing so, Beale demonstrated one of the 160th’s mottos, “Night Stalkers Don’t Quit!” as well as one of the values of the Army Warrior Ethos.
The casualty was a Navy EOD tech who had been wounded by an IED. Beale and his crew first attempted a hoist operation. With RPGs whizzing past the front of his Chinook (“They looked like flaming Nerf footballs,” he remarked in an earlier interview), Beale’s team hoisted their medic down to “package the casualty.” The medic determined that there was no way to hoist the wounded service member up safely, so Beale and his co-pilot needed to find a place to land (“I will never leave a fallen comrade”). Once on the ground, Beale’s helicopter started receiving heavy fire. A second Chinook provided overhead support, and Beale himself had to pull security, aiming his M-4 out his pilot seat window. Once the tech was “secured enough,” Beale’s Chinook went ramp up, laid down suppressive fire, and pulled max power in taking off. “We exited so fast, the second Chinook couldn’t keep up,” he said. It was an eight-minute flight back to Kandahar, getting the tech to the hospital in time to save his life.
After relating the events of September 14 to the Corps, Beale put the two values of the Army Warrior Ethos into more concrete terms for cadets. For “I will never quit,” he said, “After the hard work is over and the task is accomplished, reflect upon the value of tough times and recall how those experiences made you better people, better leaders, and better prepared to handle the uncertainty of life.” For “I will never leave a fallen comrade,” Beale brought up the current epidemic of veteran suicide. As the current representative of all West Point-commissioned officers who have heroically led soldiers in combat, the 2022 Nininger recipient spoke with authority when he said, “We owe it to our soldiers, our friends and classmates, and our families to look out for each other and make the world a better, a more resilient place.”
September 6, 2022
West Point, NY: The West Point Association of Graduates is pleased to announce that Lieutenant Colonel Robert K. Beale, Class of 2002, has been selected to receive the 2022 Alexander R. Nininger Award for Valor at Arms, which will be presented on October 20, 2022, at West Point, New York.
On September 14, 2011, then Captain Beale displayed exceptional valor, courage, and leadership as the Pilot and Air Mission Commander (AMC) for 3rd Battalion, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne) while assigned to the Combined Joint Special Operations Air Component in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. Beale was returning from a planned operation leading five Chinook helicopters when he heard a nine-line medevac request come over an open channel. As the AMC, he did a quick calculation and determined his helicopter was 12 minutes away from a wounded service member. After receiving approval from his chain of command, he diverted to what turned out to be a Navy EOD tech who had been wounded by an improvised explosive device. Beale decided to conduct an immediate daylight hoist extraction without fire support while under heavy RPG fire. After hoisting the flight medic to the wounded EOD Tech, he repositioned his Chinook to a nearby field, successfully extracting him and (per medical personnel) saving his life. According to the citation of the Silver Star that Beale received for his actions on that day, “His calm demeanor and poise under fire instilled confidence in his crew, allowing them to maintain their composure and situational awareness while evacuating the casualty.”
In addition to his Silver Star, Beale has been awarded four Bronze Stars, five Meritorious Service Medals, three Air Medals, the Combat Action Badge, the Master Aviator Badge, the Parachutist Badge, and the Army Staff Badge.
Beale has been deployed more than a dozen times during his career and is currently serving at U.S. Army Special Operations Aviation Command at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He is a graduate of the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and completed a Master of Arts in International Relations from Webster University.
Thank you. Good evening everyone. LTG and Mrs. Gilland, Todd and Mrs. Browne, distinguished guests, friends and family, the Corps of Cadets, I am truly honored to have been selected as this year’s Alexander Nininger Award recipient. Having read the Medal of Honor citation for 2LT Nininger, and having reviewed the citations for the prior recipients of this high honor, including my classmate Christopher Dean, I’m humbled to be a part of such an elite group of graduates.
I appreciate the opportunity to speak to all of you this evening. After sitting through similar events when I was a Cadet over 20 years ago, it is truly humbling being on this side of the podium. My friend and classmate, LTC Tim Wyant, while offering his congratulations, also let me know that now, I too, can have the privilege of joining the elite club of speakers who have put the Corps of Cadets to sleep! Hopefully, I can prove him wrong tonight. As a Cadet, I was a 4-year member of C-2, Go Circus, a German major, was on the Army Crew team, and was preparing to go into what was then a Peacetime Army. We listened intently to every speaker, trying to internalize their message so that we could apply it in our future service to this Nation. I hope you will perhaps do the same this evening.
At the beginning of our Firstie year, the world changed when four planes crashed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a field in Western Pennsylvania. September 11th immediately changed the trajectory of our futures as soon-to-be graduates and commissioned officers. During my tenure at the Academy, I had always wanted to be an Army Aviator and after discovering Special Operations Aviation, I wanted to serve as a 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment ‘Night Stalker.’ Following 9/11, my resolve to become a Night Stalker was heightened.
The 47 month West Point experience instilled in us the values of Duty, Honor, and Country. We internalized the Cadet Honor Code and applied it to our decision-making for the rest of our lives. The lessons you learn here, the friends you make, the mentors that shape and mold your life, are what makes this place so special. At every turn in my career, I worked with, for, or led a West Point graduate, some of them sitting in front of me right now, and without any question, I always knew what was in the DNA of that officer and leader. Cadets, make the most of your time here, develop long-lasting relationships, learn from the best, because when the times are tough, they will be there for you.
On the night of September 13th, 2011, I achieved my career goal and was serving in the 160th as a senior Captain. I was forward-deployed as a pilot and the Air Mission Commander of a 5xMH-47G Chinook helicopter assault force. We were based out of Kandahar, Afghanistan, and flying missions almost every night. In the early morning hours, our flight of Chinooks was returning to Kandahar after conducting two separate missions in southern Afghanistan. While en route, we overheard on the radio an urgent request for MEDEVAC support to a servicemember who had just stepped on an improvised explosive device. Each crew wrote down the details from the 9-line and chimed in on our internal radio that we were very close to the grid and our flight medics could provide potentially lifesaving support. As CW4 Doug Englen, the Flight Lead, developed the plan, he reached out to the ground force commander to coordinate the casualty evacuation. I then sought approval from the Task Force Commander, LTC Bill Golden, to redirect our flight and execute the CASEVAC, which was now going to be after sunrise on the 14th. Without any discussion or guidance, LTC Golden’s only response to me was: “Execute.”
We maneuvered our flight towards the scene of the explosion and immediately started taking enemy fire. An RPG flew across the front of my aircraft, narrowly missing us, and heavy machine gun fire was coming from all directions. By the time we were in position to land, the sun had already crested the ridgeline. We are called Night Stalkers for a reason, and here we are about to do a daylight CASEVAC exfiltration, with no overhead support, and only our organic weapons.
I was the pilot in Chalk 2, which also had our flight medic, CPL Nick Arzamendi, on board, and we proceeded inbound to the casualty. Upon arrival, we saw that the terrain was not conducive to landing, so after CPL Arzamendi’s recommendation, in conjunction with CW4 Englen’s, we made the decision to hoist CPL Arzamendi down to the casualty in order to expeditiously recover him. While my crew, led by SSG Dave “Sparky” Parkhurst, calmly executed the hoist, a task we routinely trained, small arms fire was coming from all directions. My co-pilot CW2 Brian Tallent, a former enlisted Ranger and decorated war hero himself, steadily hovered the aircraft while CPL Arzamendi prepared the casualty.
Sparky surveyed the terrain around us and spotted an open field about 50 meters out our right door. Due to the nature of the injuries, and the method of transport, we were not going to be able to hoist the casualty safely into the aircraft. So we maneuvered our Chinook over to the field and set down, leaving CPL Arzamendi with the ground force to help move the casualty to the aircraft. Immediately after setting down, we started receiving incoming mortar fire. Sparky, and our other crew chiefs, were manning their M-240s and M-134 mini-guns and engaging enemy targets to suppress enemy fire aimed at our aircraft. Meanwhile, Doug Englen’s aircraft was flying circles overhead with SSG Jeremy Thibodeaux and his crew providing additional suppressive fires, covering both our aircraft and the ground force maneuvering to our ramp.
While sitting on the ground, we were vulnerable towards the front of our Chinook. I grabbed my M-4 rifle, opened the window, and prepared to defend the aircraft and our crew. We were not going to leave the area because we would have put the ground force at greater risk and the casualty may not have survived.
After what felt like a lifetime, the ground force loaded the casualty onto our aircraft and CPL Arzamendi performed life-saving measures on him. We departed the field, under heavy fire, and flew directly back to the medical facilities at Kandahar. My co-pilot Brian Tallent pulled maximum power the entire way while I coordinated with the hospital via the radio, and we ultimately landed safely at the hospital pad. Nick Arzamendi transferred the casualty to the hospital and we returned to our aircraft parking.
The Navy EOD Chief Petty Officer we recovered that morning lost his leg but survived his wounds and is still serving to this day.
Six other Night Stalkers earned the Silver Star that night as well. In fact, that was Doug Englen’s second Silver Star mission in less than five months. The men I served with on that mission are my heroes and I am proud to call them friends to this day.
This unplanned mission highlighted the traits we want to see in our Soldiers and leaders. The Army is trained to live by the Warrior Ethos: “I will always place the mission first. I will never accept defeat. I will never quit. I will never leave a fallen comrade.” The two elements I want to focus on tonight are the never quit attitude and never leaving a fallen comrade.
Close to my heart is the Night Stalker Creed. The very last line of that creed is “Night Stalkers Don’t Quit! NSDQ!” That mentality is why the United States Military will always be the most awesome force for good in this world. We have men and women who don’t quit and will accomplish the mission no matter how difficult or challenging. On the night of September 13th 2011, not one of the 32 Night Stalkers flying in those 5x MH-47’s quit. They continued to fight until the mission was accomplished.
There are often pressures to take an easier approach to life, to seek less work and more fun, or find more satisfaction at a “real school.” My classmates and I felt these same pressures, whether it was questioning the late nights doing homework, the long hours preparing for flight exams, or my friends wondering why they were spending night after night freezing at Ranger School in February. But after the hard work is over and the task is accomplished, we always seem to reflect upon the value of those tough times and recall how those experiences made us better people, better leaders, and better prepared to handle the uncertainty that life seems to send our way. West Point gives you the opportunity to build a foundation of knowledge, skills, and close relationships you will cherish for the rest of your life.
A promise we make to all of our Soldiers is we will never leave a fallen comrade. We understand that promise in combat, but what about your comrade back home? We are living in an epidemic of Veteran suicide. Soldiers are going to war, doing the tough work, and returning home safely, only to later lose the battle against substance abuse and depression. We owe it to each other and ourselves to reach out and check in on our sisters and brothers. Help them find purpose in their lives, direct them to the help they may need, and don’t let them spiral down a dangerous path. All it takes, sometimes, is an e-mail, a text, or a phone call. Be available for them. Normalize the acceptance of mental health treatment. We owe it to our Soldiers, our friends and classmates, and our families to look out for each other and make the world a better, a more resilient place.
In closing, I want to thank you all for taking the time to listen. We need leaders of character to command America’s most valuable resource, its people. When you go to assessment and selection for the 160th, there is a sign on the door of the board room. The first time you enter that room, the sign reads, “Am I worthy?” As the candidate endures the board, the final step in the selection process, the sign is changed. After dismissal from the board, the candidate awaits his or her fate. When called back into the board room, the sign now reads, “Was it enough?” I challenge you Cadets, every morning when you wake up and look at yourself in the mirror to ask yourself, “Am I worthy?” And before you go to bed each night, ask yourself, “Was it enough?” Strive every day to make yourself and your organization better than it was the day prior. Make every day a constant pursuit of excellence.
Thank you for this great honor. I want to leave you with the final portion of the Night Stalker Creed. This line is permanently emblazoned in my heart and is what motivates me to be better every day: “I serve with the memory of those who have gone before me, for they loved to fight, fought to win, and would rather die than Quit.”
Go Army, Beat Navy. Night Stalkers Don’t Quit! Thank-you.