Three RAF And Marine Receive Distinguished Flying Cross In Operational Honours

14 December 2006

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A Squadron Leader, a Flight Lieutenant, a Flying Officer and a Royal Marine Major attached to the RAF have received the Distinguished Flying Cross for their conspicuous bravery in Afghanistan.

In addition 11 other RAF personnel were among service personnel honoured at the Ministry of Defence yesterday for their service around the world, principally in Iraq and Afghanistan. Two soldiers from the 3rd Battalion the Parachute Regiment were posthumously honoured with the highest gallantry awards for their exceptional valour. One received a Victoria Cross and the other a George Cross.

Defence Secretary Des Browne said: ”In Iraq , Afghanistan and across the world our brave men and women continue to put their lives on the line in the pursuit of security and stability. They are an inspiration to us all.”

Chief of the Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup said: ”The past year has been one of great challenge for the people of our armed forces, and they have consistently delivered above and beyond our already high expectation. I am immensely proud of them all; and these honours reflect the nation's pride.”

In addition to the four DFCs, the Military Cross was awarded to Flt Lt Matthew Carter of the RAF Regiment. His “selfless bravery” as a forward air controller in Afghanistan was critical in destroying Taliban positions. The DFC was awarded to Royal Marines' Major Mark Hammond for his actions in three engagements in Southern Afghanistan in September. Flying a Chinook helicopter as an exchange pilot with 18 (Bomber) Sqn from RAF Odiham, Major Hammond rescued three separate casualties in one night, each time in the face of serious enemy fire.

DFCs were also awarded to Harrier pilot Sqn Ldr John Monahan and Chinook pilots Flt Lt Craig Wilson and FO Christopher Hasler.

Mentioned in Dispatches were Sqn Ldr Michael Woods, Sgts Graham Jones and Daniel Baxter and Flt Lt Warren Keenan. The Queen's Commendation for Valuable Service (QCVS) was awarded to Air Cdre Barry North OBE , Gp Capt Malcolm Brecht OBE, Wg Cdr Richard Clifford, and Sqn Ldrs Derek Watson and Robin Norman.

Sqn Ldr John Monahan was a pilot with the Joint Force Harrier Detachment, part of 904 Expeditionary Air Wing at Kandahar in Afghanistan. On 24 Apr he was due to fly a two-Harrier patrol providing Close Air Support for ground forces. Prior to take off the second Harrier developed a problem and Monahan decided to go solo.

Within a few minutes “on station” he received a transmission from Australian forces who were under sustained attack by the Taliban, pinned down, unable to retreat and running out of ammunition. Normally they would be required to mark their position so the Harrier could identify the enemy but did not because they feared that in doing so would give away their position and lead to their being overrun.

Monahan decided to descend from the relative safety of higher altitude and made low level passes to establish the position of enemy forces, each time through effective and sustained fire from the ground. But in doing so he managed to pinpoint the Taliban and drop munitions which silenced the guns with direct hits, allowing the Australians to retreat without any casualties, re-arm and continue their patrol.

His composure, in the full sight of the enemy and under the most intense pressure, undoubtably saved the lives of numerous Australian troops in what was a selfless act of commitment, total mission focus and bravery. He was awarded the DFC.

Flt Lt Craig Wilson was Captain of a Chinook from 1310 Flt in Helmand Province. On 11 Jun he was tasked with his second casualty evacuation of the day. He had only been in theatre a few weeks and had completed a minimum of theatre night flying. A British soldier had been very seriously injured during enemy contact. To avoid giving away his presence and maximising the element of surprise he flew at 150ft and landed with precision at night in the middle of the stranded patrol's location, recovering the man to safety.

Just a few hours later he was tasked yet again with a further casevac, but had to hold off while an Apache gunship suppressed enemy action. By the time he returned to base with the casualty he had barely enough fuel to remain airborne, but he knew a man's life had been at stake. Gallantry and extreme and persistent courage ensured the recovery of the two very seriously wounded British soldiers and almost certainly played a vital role in saving their lives. A short while later he volunteered to fly a further mission - despite having been on duty 22 hours - to insert troops badly needed as re-enforcements. He was awarded the DFC.

Flying Officer Christopher Hasler was a Chinook Captain, also part of 1310 Flt. In July 2006 as a relatively inexperienced pilot he led a formation of Chinooks into Sangin, a Taliban stronghold, to re-supply and extract elements of 3 PARA, under extremely dangerous conditions. The day before a soldier had been killed trying to secure the helicopter landing site. To make the most of surprise he chose to land in an area away from the usual landing site where there were buildings on three sides, with the ever-present threat of one of the two rotors striking a building and causing catastrophic damage.

To give the Chinook more space he intentionally placed one of the spinning rotors above a single-storey rooftop. Any error could have been fatal. The mission was a complete success. On another occasion he landed troops while the Taliban were firing at him with RPGs and rifles. He held his nerve while his troops were disembarking at the hottest of helicopter landing sites, allowing them to suppress enemy positions with minimum UK casualties. He acted with great courage and composure in the most demanding, high-risk environment the Chinook Force has operated in within recent history and displayed the highest standards of gallantry and professionalism and outstanding capability as a helicopter captain. He was awarded the DFC.

RM Major Mark Hammond was an exchange Chinook pilot with 19(B) Sqn and was involved in 3 separate casevac engagements in one night in Sep 06 in which he showed leadership, superior flying skills and inspirational command of his crew – each time under fire. The first was the extraction of a seriously wounded soldier from Sangin under fire. While Apaches provided suppressing fire he made an aggressive quick approach to the landing site and successfully collected the casualty. On arrival back at Camp Bastion he received a second call to extract a critical casualty.

Despite knowing the casualty location was under attack from the Taliban, he landed using night vision goggles while being engaged by enemy fire from several positions and the approach had to be aborted. A nearby Apache crew witnessed two rocket propelled grenades (RPGs) pass just 10 metres above and below the Chjinook. Back at base four rounds were found to have hit the aircraft, one causing almost catastrophic damage to a wing blade root. So Hammond took another Chinook and, despite further sustained fire, managed to extract the badly injured soldier. He was awarded the DFC. He was awarded the QCVS for his services during Op Telic ( Iraq ) in 2002

RAF Regiment Flt Lt Matthew Carter was a Tactical Air Control Party officer within 3 PARA operating in Southern Afghanistan. The RAF Regiment provides the vital links between ground forces and air power by directing air assets in response to events on the ground, including directing fire onto enemy ground positions.

Carter regularly directed close and accurate Attack helicopter fire with devastating results, neutralising the enemy with ruthless precision. In one firefight he left the protection of his vehicle and forced his way to the front line without regard for his personal safety. In another attack the fire he directed from the air was on a Taliban target only 30 metres from his position. But the risk was essential given the ferocious weight of fire coming in which would otherwise have resulted in significant casualties. In a further incident he was part of a force being dropped off at night to capture a high-value Taliban leader; the Chinook pilot had to take off after just 20 seconds with Carter still inside due to sudden incoming fire. Without regard for himself Carter jumped out of the Chinook from 15 ft and landed in a ditch and instantly began directed fire onto Taliban positions. He gallantly and repeatedly exposed himself during all contacts with the enemy at a very high risk of being killed. He was awarded the Military Cross.

Sqn Ldr Michael Woods was Officer Commanding 1310 Flt of Chinook Helicopters. Throughout his tour during the summer of 2006 he led high risk missions including troop insertion which gave infantry the advantage of surprise, and found himself under constant threats from Taliban ground positions. Attacks by an agile and determined enemy on platoon houses - temporary locations where soldiers base their operations - were on the increase and extraction of casualties under fire was frequently required. On arrival in theatre Woods galvanised all aspects of Chinook operations. The risk of aircraft being shot down remained extremely high throughout his tour and he also provided valuable moral support and guidance to his more inexperienced crews. He was Mentioned in Dispatches.

Sgt Graham Jones was a Chinook crewman who showed the highest standards of professionalism, gallantry and airmanship during his ten week deployment in Afghanistan as part of Operation Herrick. He was involved in a number of high risk sorties and his actions were a constant source of inspiration to fellow aviators. On 11 June he played a major role in the recovery of two British soldiers from two different landing sites – both under significant threat from enemy fire. The landings were made at night in dusty conditions with zero visibility. On another occasion, he landed 37 troops and a quad-bike into Taliban heartland of Sangin. Suddenly the Chinook was engaged by RPG and small arms fire from both sides of the aircraft. Acting instinctively Jones leapt from the aircraft and began firing at the enemy to provide cover for the quad to leave - not a required element of a crewman's duties. Once the quad was away he climbed aboard the Chinook and calmly continued with the take-off. He was Mentioned in Dispatches.

Sgt Daniel Baxter was a Chinook loadmaster and a crew member of the standby Chinook at Camp Bastion , Afghanistan. On 6 September he acted with exceptional professionalism and bravery under enemy fire three times. The first was following a Taliban mortar attack on troops in Sangin and a casualty urgently needed uplifting from a platoon house. As they landed the Chinook came under fire and Jones returned fire from the helicopter as it took off, suppressing enemy fire to enable the casualty to be uplifted. On another occasion that day further casualties including a seriously wounded soldier required uplifting from Musa Qala. Once again there was sustained enemy fire as they landed as well as while returning to Camp Bastion – on later examination a number of bullet holes had pierced the Chinook, and while engineers were working on the damage a third call for urgent assistance was received and he boarded a second Chinook to retrieve more injured troops from Musa Qala. Despite operating under fire three times and having 4 RPGs launched at his aircraft he showed professionalism and bravery under enemy fire. For his superb airmanship and situational awareness Baxter was Mentioned in Dispatches.

Flt Lt Warren Keenan was a Puma Captain who had just taken off on patrol around Basra in March this year when he was called to attend a vehicle checkpoint where friendly forces were being attacked. The checkpoint was close to known heavy anti-aircraft enemy weapons that had fired at coalition helicopters in the past. He placed his Puma in extreme danger several times in the face of the enemy in the air and on the ground to divert attention from the team under attack on the ground. Moments after he had taken off an improvised explosive device (IED) exploded, injuring soldiers. Despite the probability of damage to his Puma he continued to fly close by and provide deterrent top cover. He displayed valour and incisive command while under fire. He was Mentioned in Dispatches.

Air Commodore Barry North OBE was the UK 's Air Component Commander in the Middle East , responsible for provision of UK air power to support Operations in Afghanistan , Iraq and elsewhere. During his seven month tour his role was expanded to include the air component to Operation Highbrow, the evacuation of personnel from the Lebanon. He showed outstanding leadership, most notably the re-basing of UK air assets across the region which reduced risk and increased capability. He was awarded the QCVS.

Group Captain Malcolm Brecht OBE was the Commander of Basra air station within the Multi-National Division South East of Iraq and led 903 Expeditionary Wing until April this year. His inspiring leadership and example transformed Basra Airport into a viable commercially viable operation. He introduced training programmes for Iraqi air traffic controllers and purchased fire engines, a landing light system - all to help the stabilisation of Iraq. During his tour 20 attacks were launched against the airport from insurgents – and Brecht launched counter ops which twice captured insurgents red-handed as they prepared to attack the base. His drive, vision and energy contributed to lasting Iraqi reconstruction. He was awarded the QCVS.

Wg Cdr Richard Clifford was Officer Commanding Force Protection at Kandahar during the summer on 2006 and responsible for 12,000 personnel, equipment and infrastructure which was under constant enemy attack. Kandahar was the Coalition's Centre of Gravity for a huge area of Southern Afghanistan. Clifford established the force protection system around Kandahar which secured the airfield from ground attack and co-ordinated the patrolling of a 350 km square Ground Defence Area around the base, which almost certainly saved lives. He displayed exemplary leadership and delivered extraordinary results. He was awarded the QCVS.

Sqn Ldr Derek Watson was Air Loadmaster for 230 Sqn at RAF Aldergrove.

One of the most able helicopter crewmen in the RAF over a period of 30 years of operational helicopter flying, Sqn Ldr Watson was responsible for developing and refining Thermal Imaging intelligence used in the fight against terrorism. He was awarded to QCVS.

Sqn Ldr Robin Norman was the Meteorological Officer at Al Udeid, Qatar between June and July 06 in support of Op Telic ( Iraq ). He has spent five out of the recent 8 years deployed on ops. A Reservist approaching retirement, Norman was tasked to provide weather advice for the Tornado detachment. However, since he was the only UK Met Officer at the base he cheerfully and with a dogged determination to provide a first-class service also advised visiting aircraft including Nimrod and VC10 that were arriving and departing around the clock. Completely without regard for his own rest time, he displayed the very highest standards of professionalism and diligence by providing accurate and timely information that ensured air operations were served with the best weather advice available. He was awarded the QCVS.

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