Heroes of Helmand honoured

THE Royal Anglians are today formally honoured as the heroes of Helmand with an array of medals and bravery awards recognising the ferocity of the fighting they were involved in last summer in southern Afghanistan.

THE Royal Anglians are today formally honoured as the heroes of Helmand with an array of medals and bravery awards recognising the ferocity of the fighting they were involved in last summer in southern Afghanistan.

Six members of the battalion received one of the highest honours, the Military Cross, five soldiers received a Mention in Despatches and another officer was awarded the Queen's Commendation for Valuable Service.

In addition, out of 120 commendations given out among the 8,000 troops that served in Helmand last summer, 48 went to the Royal Anglians including a posthumous award to Private Chris Gray. There were also 16 joint commanders' commendations.

Lieutenant Colonel Stuart Carver, commanding officer of the battalion, was awarded a Distinguished Service Order for his exemplary leadership.

Informing his men of the awards yesterday , he told them: “I subscribe to the theory that any award to a commanding officer reflects on the whole battalion.”

The six MCs are an historic achievement for the battalion. The Royal Anglian Regiment has only ever been awarded four since it was formed in 1964.

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Lt Col Carver said: “While some people may see medals as a piece of metal on a ribbon, to us they are far more than that. They are recognition of a job well done in Afghanistan.”

A citation for his DSO recognised how his “impeccable judgement and personal example took the battalion through the complex and dangerous jungle-like zone.”

But the tour of Helmand was costly for the battalion - known as the Vikings - with nine killed in action and more than 120 wounded.

The full list of Royal Anglian honours were read out at the battalion's headquarters at Pirbright at noon. Immediately afterwards, the battalion was stood down until after weekend to celebrate their success.

The Royal Anglian medals and commendations were among 184 honours - not including commendations - that have been announced by the Ministry of Defence.

While there was no Victoria Cross announced, despite speculation in the last few weeks, but the second highest honour of a Conspicuous Gallantry Cross was awarded to five soldiers, including two to the Mercian Regiment which was based in Helmand at the same time as the Anglians.

Other honours went to military personnel serving in Northern Ireland and Iraq where Flight Lieutenant Michelle Goodman became the first women to receive the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Among the Royal Anglian soldiers Mention in Despatches were

n Sergeant Simon Panter from Harleston for “heroic actions, outstanding leadership, initiative and aggression that sent a powerful message to the enemy that British forces would attack to reinstate legitimate government whatever the risk”;

n Sergeant Steven Armon from Cambridge who “was intimately involved in 30 contacts with the enemy, displaying outstanding gallantry, bravery and leadership”;

n Warrant Officer Kevin Main who “deliberately and repeatedly chose to disregard his own safety in order to either guarantee the protection of his comrades or ensure the success of the mission”;

n Major Philip John Messenger who was “an inspirational and fearless leader”;

n Sgt Major Tim Newton from Norwich who “displayed extreme bravery and selfless commitment to his men while under fire.”

Major Philip Blanchfield from Fakenham received the QCVS for offering guidance to others “despite an incredible workload and under enormous pressure.”

The Queen's Gallantry Medal was awarded to the regiment's Private Luke Nadriva.

THE ROYAL ANGLIAN MILITARY CROSS SOLDIERS:

Lance Corporal Levi Ashby: The 21-year-old from Wells received the MC for his actions during a rocket propelled grenade attack, which left five of his comrades serious wounded. He took control of his section and despite being a relatively young NCO, his actions were regarded as decisive in beating a determined enemy and in rescuing and saving the lives of his injured colleagues.

L/Cpl Ashby, a former pupil of Alderman Peel High School in Wells, found himself on open ground and put down covering fire while the casualties were extracted from the scene.

Corporal Billy Moore suffered a serious bullet to his right arm on Friday, April 13, during the battalion's first major contact with the Taliban and one which also saw Private Chris Gray killed. Cpl Moore, who is from Essex, showed great courage and remained in command of his section, refusing morphine and evacuation from the battlefield. The citation reads: “His aggressive leadership and bravery had a tangible positive effect on the confidence of the soldiers under his command.”

The 31-year-old, was eventually airlifted back to the UK for treatment, but by late August had returned to Afghanistan and was back on frontline duty.

Lance Corporal Oliver Ruecker from Thetford was part of a vehicle patrol when two rocket propelled grenades hit the vehicle and set it alight. As L/Cpl Ruecker dismounted, the former Methwold High School pupil saw an armed Taliban fighter about to shoot his colleagues, but he got his shot in first and removed the serious threat. Realising that his comrade Corporal Dean Bailey was stuck in the burning vehicle, he ignored his own safety, returned through a hail of enemy fire and extracted the soldier from the burning vehicle seconds before it exploded in a ball of flame.

Major Dom Biddick MBE, commanding officer of A (Norfolk) Company repeatedly proved his tactical ability and exceptional leadership skills. The citation reads: “fearless in combat, his huge contribution to the success and increasing security of the area, and the winning of consent from its population, were as impressive as his performance under fire.” Major Biddick, 33, is recognised for the critical part he played in the success of the British mission in Helmand.

Major Mick Aston, from Australia, applied his tactical ability and impressive leadership skills to lead a company of up to 200 soldiers through some of the most intense close combat the British Army has experienced for some years.

Captain David Hicks (killed in action) demonstrated leadership, courage and tactical skill of the highest level during an extremely demanding eight days which ultimately cost him his life. The 26-year-old was mortally wounded during an attack but despite his injuries, refused to leave his post until he could no longer take part in the battle. His conduct was way beyond that which would be expected, repeatedly “leading the fight” against a determined enemy, and putting himself in the centre of the action.

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