U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 3 James D. Hawkins, an Aviation branch safety officer at the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence headquarters, stands for a photo at Fort Rucker, Alabama, Dec. 8, 2021. Hawkins was recently awarded Guatemala’s Medalla Monja Blanca (Medal of the White Nun), the highest award Guatemala awards to foreign military, for his hurricane response efforts as a medevac pilot while serving with Company C, U.S. Army Air Ambulance Detachment, 1st Battalion, 228th Aviation Regiment, Joint Task Force Bravo, at Soto Cano Air Base in Honduras, in the winter of 2020.
Guatemala’s Medal of the White Nun is awarded for meritorious actions of friends who support the Guatemalan Armed Forces and the Guatemalan people. The White Nun is Guatemala’s national flower, and is a rare orchid variant whose stamen and pistils resemble a nun who bows to pray. The flower grows on another plant, such as a tree, and does not harm it in any way. It takes many years for it to bloom, and it is said to only bloom in the winter months—which ironically is when two hurricanes hit Guatemala and Honduras last year.
With some grid coordinates for remote villages, Hawkins said he was basically given the keys to the aircraft and told, “Go save the world.”
For 10 days, he, his copilot and crew provided search and rescue and humanitarian aid to the Guatemalan people, including rescues and patient transports for flood and landslide victims, and delivering food.
“For the first 5 days it was like, go do whatever you can in the country, so we would take off as a crew and just go do amazing stuff–lifesaving, medevacs,” Hawkins said. “One time we might be on the west side of Guatemala at 14,000 feet on a mountain top saving somebody, and two hours later after we did that rescue we’re on the northeast coast at sea level at the ocean finding our own fuel and then if there’s a patient that was hurt there we would pick them up and bring them back to Guatemala City.”
At one point, they assisted with delivering a freshly slaughtered cow to a remote village, for food, which is how their mission became known as “Task Force Rawhide.”
Hawkins said he relied on literally everything he had learned during his more than 22-year career, and he lauded the outstanding aircrew members he served with.
“All the knowledge I had gained over the years, all the combat flying and schools, mountainous training, overwater training and instrument flying, all the training I learned over the years, I used every bit of that training,” Hawkins said. “The ten days that we spent in Guatemala was the best flying I’ve ever done. It was the most rewarding, and the most satisfying”
While serving with 1-228th Avn. Regt., Hawkins conducted operations in Guatemala and Honduras in response to two back-to-back hurricanes, Eta and Iota, that devastated the region in November and December of 2020.
(U.S. Army photo by Kelly Morris)