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06 March 2009

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It was announced today that Merlin helicopter pilot Flight Lieutenant Kevin Harris has been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC).

The DFC, awarded for “an act or acts of valour, courage or devotion to duty whilst flying in active operations against the enemy” was awarded to Flight Lieutenant Harris following a particular sortie during his 2-month tour as part of the Joint Helicopter Force (Iraq) in support of Operation TELIC.

On the 26th March 2008 he was the Captain of the Incident Response Team (IRT) Merlin helicopter based at Basrah Air Station. The aircraft was scrambled to recover a fatally wounded soldier from Basrah Palace in Iraq. With reported weather conditions at the minimum acceptable, he elected to lift to attempt an extraction. Harris was fully aware of the risk that was posed to the aircraft and crew due to heavy fighting throughout the day in the landing area and the noise of the aircraft providing militia warning of a high profile inbound target. In poor weather and fading light he flew his aircraft tactically, at ultra low level into the potentially lethal landing site.

On arrival there was no sign of the casualty; Harris held his Merlin on the ground for as long as possible, fully exposed to indirect fire. With danger increasing by the minute he eventually had to lift, whereupon he saw the casualty being moved to the landing site. Aware of the risk to his crew and the aircraft, Harris made a second landing. Having landed it took some time to embark all passengers as not one but three seriously injured casualties required evacuation. All the time indirect fire was landing in and around the landing site.

In absolute minimum flying conditions, Harris lifted and flew directly across the city to expedite the recovery to hospital. Harris flew his Merlin at roof top height; hopping over power lines and weaving around known hostile areas until safely back at the Contingency Operating Base.

Over the period from 26-28th March 2008 Harris led his team on another five occasions, extracting 30 very seriously wounded personnel and a significant number of other casualties.

Many IRT sorties are high risk. However, on this occasion and during the whole period Flight Lieutenant Harris displayed unflinching gallantry, distinguished flying and leadership in the finest traditions of the Service.

Upon hearing the news of this distinguished award, Flight Lieutenant Harris was both elated and deeply honoured.

Wing Commander Simon Paterson, Officer Commanding 28 (Army Co-operation) Squadron and Flight Lieutenant Harris’ Commanding Officer, commented, “I am absolutely delighted that Flight Lieutenant Harris’s bravery has been recognised by this phenomenal award. It is truly an honour to command such individuals. The whole of 28 Squadron and the Merlin Force salute the actions of Kevin and his crew which placed the lives of 3 serous wounded individuals into the safe hands of the medical team at Basra. Kevin demonstrated his true mettle as an outstanding officer showing skill, gallantry and leadership in abundance and we are very proud.”

The Station Commander and Merlin and Puma Force Commander, Group Captain Jonathan Burr, further commented, “Flight Lieutenant Harris displayed great courage and flying skill to rescue wounded soldiers under heavy enemy fire and in treacherous weather conditions, risking his own life and that of his crew. Merlin helicopters have been conducting the Immediate Response Team mission continuously for over 3 years and Flight Lieutenant Harris would be the first to say that any of his Merlin Force colleagues would have shown the same gallantry and determination faced with a similar situation. This award also pays tribute to his crew, the engineers, medics and support staff who all played their part to make this mission possible and save precious lives. All of us at Royal Air Force Benson are extremely proud of Flight Lieutenant Harris and his crew; their actions demonstrate the finest spirit of the Royal Air Force.”.

Flight Lieutenant Kevin Harris, 28 years old and known as Kev, is originally from Southampton and is now living in Salisbury. He was educated at Wyvern School in Fair Oaks and went to college at Barton Peveril before joining the RAF in February 2002. Following Initial Officer Training at RAF Cranwell and initial flying training at RAF Shawbury, he was posted to the Merlin Force at RAF Benson in 2005. A Combat Ready pilot, Flight Lieutenant Harris has completed 7 tours on Operation TELIC in Iraq. He has recently completed Instructor Training at RAF Shawbury and is now a Qualified Helicopter Instructor teaching new pilots with 28 (AC) Squadron at RAF Benson on the Operational Conversion Flight.

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