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Photograph by Jamie Betts
Flight path
Ian Hutter's sense of duty and service led him to become a strike fighter aviator, to fly a plane escorting Osama bin Laden's remains, and now, to study at Richmond Law.

To the extent that any night at war is routine, Navy pilot Lt. Ian Hutter got a routine assignment in the early hours of May 2, 2011. He was leaving Afghanistan in his F/A-18 combat jet when he was told to help escort an MV-22 Osprey to an aircraft carrier in the sea.

Hutter had already logged thousands of hours on similar missions. There was no reason to think this assignment was any different, but he also had no way of knowing that SEAL Team 6 had just raided a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, and killed Osama bin Laden. That night, Hutter and other F/A-18 pilots unwittingly escorted Osama bin Laden’s remains as SEAL Team 6 made its way to the North Arabian Sea.

“For good reason, those guys were not advertising what had just happened,” he said. He is quick to emphasize that his role in the operation was very small. “I absolutely do not take credit for the guys that did so much great work,” he said.

He pieced it together only later, as the news started to spread. The best part, he said, was sharing the news the next day with soldiers on the ground.

“They’d been living pretty rough lives, and to know that a goal of the campaign was accomplished was motivating,” he said. “It almost sounds terrible that a dead person instills a sense of patriotism. I think it’s more that we’ve been doing this for a long time, and it’s easy to lose sight of what the end goal is.”

His career led him to become an instructor at Topgun’s satellite school in Virginia Beach. When he met his wife, his attention began to shift to family. Together, they started to picture a life outside the military, one that soon included Richmond Law, where Hutter just completed his first year.

With only two semesters behind him, he’s not sure where he’ll land (maybe a law firm, maybe criminal prosecution). Behind all his options is a sense of duty and service to others.

A longer version of this story appeared in Richmond Law, the magazine for law school alumni. Read it here.