Thursday, March 12, 2009

Royal Irish Honoured for Helmand

For the first time ever, three soldiers from the same regiment have been awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross. The soldiers, all from The Royal Irish Regiment were recognised in the latest Operational Honours List for their bravery against the enemy in Afghanistan.
Acting Sergeant Alwyn Stevens, Corporal Robert McClurg and Lance Corporal Jone Toge, from 1st Battalion The Royal Irish (1 R IRISH) were deployed to Afghanistan as part of 16 Air Assault Brigade from March - September 2008.

The three soldiers' role in Helmand Province was to mentor colleagues in the Afghan National Army (ANA) and this included mentoring them while on operations.

The great personal courage they demonstrated in carrying out this task has earned them the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross, which is awarded for acts of conspicuous gallantry during active operations against the enemy.

Fiji-born Lance Corporal Jone Bruce Toge was specifically recognised for taking command of the Operational Mentoring Liaison Team which was supporting the Afghan National Army to the south of Musa Qaleh after his commander was incapacitated. Lance Corporal Toge gallantly led his men and personally extracted four injured soldiers and the lead Afghan National Army sergeant from a killing area:

"We were the only ground troops in the area, so we got the order to secure the high ground and get sight of a village where the Taliban were operating from," said Lance Corporal Toge.

Travelling in armoured Warrior vehicles, the unit were hit heavily by Taliban rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs):

"The commander of the other Warrior got hit, so they withdrew back. We were left there alone, out in the open. Then we got hit," Cpl Toge explained.

"I was out for about ten seconds. It was like in the movies - I had the radio strapped to my head, and I remember the commander asking, 'what's wrong, what's happening out there?"

As he told his commander, some 700m behind him, that his vehicle had been hit by three or four rocket-propelled grenades, Cpl Toge realised some of the Afghan soldiers were seriously injured:

"They were screaming. One had a neck and shoulder injury. I knew I had to extract the casualties - that was my priority. So I went with the ANA medic - we crawled forward, got the guys, pulled them back and patched them up."

Aware that his second objective was to secure the high ground, Corporal Toge radioed for the other armoured vehicle to remove the wounded men from the battle zone:

"We heaved them onto the back of the Warrior and then continued fighting. We had our eyes on the enemy in the village. Literally, I was looking at them and their eyes were looking at me, and we were firing into each other - it was kind of weird."

Cpl Toge and his team fought off the Taliban insurgents and secured the area, enabling his commander's team to move forward and capture the village.

Describing the event, he said:
"The adrenalin kicks in and you prioritise - casualty, objective, then yourself. That's what I did. I didn't think about medals - I just thought it was another fight. That's what we do."

Reflecting on what was his second tour in Afghanistan, Cpl Toge spoke of the "dramatic change" he saw in Afghanistan since the first time he was stationed near Musa Qaleh:

"In 2006 we had just a small compound in the town itself. It's expanded now and we have hands on everything - there is more control of the whole area and most of the outskirts of Musa Qaleh as well, which is pretty impressive."

Acting Sergeant Alwyn John Stevens was also honoured with a Conspicuous Gallantry Cross for personally engaging several Taliban fighters numerous times, while mentoring the Afghan National Army.

In his role as a section commander Sgt Stevens regularly took the Afghan soldiers out on patrols, working with two other British soldiers to observe what they were doing on the ground and suggesting alternatives if they did something wrong:

"We don't tell them exactly what to do, we help them develop," he said, adding that training was carried out under constant threat from the Taliban insurgents, who attacked Sgt Stevens and his men on more than one occasion.

While out on one particular patrol with a platoon of soldiers, Sgt Stevens and his men were ambushed by Taliban fighters:

"We came under heavy enemy fire from three different sides and they were moving to surround us," he said, "so I took a team and pushed out to the flank and managed to engage them before they engaged us."

As a result they were able to escape a dangerous situation without any casualties or fatalities, despite being outnumbered two to one by the Taliban. He added:

"When you're in a situation like that the training kicks in and you just deal with it and forget about everything else. When it comes to a fire-fight you just have to take control, remembering that as well as yourself, you have your men to deal with. You don't question it, you just get on with it. You can't doubt yourself."

Corporal Robert William Kerr McClurg, the third member of The Royal Irish Regiment to receive the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross was honoured for his calm, selfless leadership style and great personal courage which repeatedly salvaged deteriorating situations, which would have lead to the loss of Afghan National Army and UK lives.

No comments:

Post a Comment