Robert Beale grew up in Philadelphia, and was inspired by his grandfather, a Navy veteran. He became an Eagle Scout and participated in the Summer Leaders Experience at West Point. Receiving early acceptance to both the Military Academy and the Naval Academy, he chose West Point. Based on a positive CTLT (Cadet Troop Leader Training) experience and the influence of the movie Blackhawk Down, he decided to branch Aviation. He selected Blackhawks and was initially posted to Germany before deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2006, he assessed into the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, the “Night Stalkers,” and transitioned to flying the Chinook. While on deployment to Afghanistan in September 2011, he was leading a 5-ship element. On the night of September 13-14, 2011, his unit flew a Special Forces team on an infiltration mission, and conducted an emergency resupply for a Marine Corps Special Operations unit in contact. Returning from that mission at about daybreak, his pilots monitored a request for immediate medevac. Instantaneously, all the pilots in his flight calculated the distance to the casualty and determined that they were the closest asset. Beale contacted headquarters, notified them of his intent to head to the casualty, and received the response “Execute.” He split his flight into two elements; one returned to base to refuel and rearm to be ready to respond, and the other headed to the casualty. When they arrived on site, they had to loiter, waiting for the casualty to be prepped for flight. As the sun came up, “the fireworks went off,” and Beale noticed an RPG warhead whiz past the nose of his helicopter like a flaming Nerf ball. Unable to use the hoist to recover the casualty, the flight medic descended under fire to assess the casualty. Determining that he was “worse than we thought,” the medic identified a field 50 meters away and recommended the Chinook land. As Beale’s Chinook landed, they began taking mortar fire. Quickly, Beale’s wingman suppressed the enemy mortar team, while Beale’s crew began laying down covering fire (Beale shot his M-4 out the window of his aircraft to provide security towards the front). Once the casualty was loaded, pilot Brian Tallent pulled 100% torque, flying the Chinook “faster than I’ve ever flown before” and then executing the most precise landing Beale had ever experienced, going from 145 knots to 0 in seconds (without jostling the casualty, who was not strapped down in the back). The wounded EOD technician lost a leg, but he survived.
For his actions, Robert Beale received the 2022 Nininger Award. The award is named in recognition of the heroic actions of Second Lieutenant Alexander R. Nininger, USMA Class of 1941. Nininger was serving in the Philippines with the 57th Infantry Regiment of the Philippine Scouts. He was killed near Abucay, Battan on January 12, 1942, and posthumously received the Medal of Honor. The Nininger Award is given to an exemplar of heroic action in battle.