Sunday, August 9, 2009
By Rupert Hamer
Award for the unsung stars of rescue missions
Hero helicopter crews who fly through enemy fire to rescue wounded troops are to be given a special award - on the Queen's orders.
The award, called The Crest, was created after the Queen was "personally moved" by the bravery of Chinook crews in Afghanistan who are believed to saved more than 1,000 British lives.
Now the unsung heroes of what the RAF call "flight 1310" will each receive a special emblem signed by the Queen. Emblazoned on the award is the motto Whatever, Wherever, Whenever written in Latin.
The announcement of the award comes at a time of mounting casualties.
Twenty-three British troops have died in the last six weeks alone, while 52 have lost limbs since the war on terror in Afghanistan began.
However, a military source said: "Without the efforts of these airmen and women the number of those killed fighting the Taliban would have been four times as many.
"This award, by the symbolic head of our Armed Forces, is recognition of the huge contribution that these Chinook crews have made.
"Every day these crews have flown through a hail of fire to pick up wounded soldiers. Yet they are very much the unsung heroes of this conflict.
"This award will recognise the unique contribution they make in ensuring the safety of British troops fighting toeto-toe with the Taliban.
"It is easy to pinpoint and honour the bravery of an individual pilot who has demonstrated huge courage under fire.
"But without his or her navigator and crew who are their eyes and ears, it would be impossible to fly.
"Honouring those people for individual acts of bravery is more difficult - their heroism is less visible.
"This award will rebalance that and provide a huge morale boost to everyone involved in flying the helicopters".
The award comes as the Government comes under mounting criticism over a shortage of Chinooks.
The twin-rotored helicopters in Helmand are on constant standby to pick up injured Nato troops as well as wounded Afghan civilians.
They also deliver food, water and ammunition and can even land on the side of jagged mountains.
Last year Lieutenant Nichol Benzie was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for rescuing two critically ill soldiers while under heavy fire from small arms and mortars in Helmand.
Another Chinook pilot also got the DFC for landing his helicopter safely with the governor of Helmand on board after the Taliban knocked a hole in one of his rotary blades with a rocket-propelled grenade.