Saturday, September 12, 2009
YOUNG naval medic Kate Nesbitt has become only the second woman in the history of the armed services to be awarded the Military Cross.
Able Seaman Nesbitt, from Whitleigh, Plymouth, has been described as a "hero" after details emerged of how she saved the life of a soldier in Afghanistan.
The 21-year-old described how she ran 70 yards across open ground to treat a horrifically injured comrade while Taliban bullets were "whizzing around" her head, claiming "I was just doing my job".
In receiving the Military Cross, Kate becomes the first Royal Navy service woman to have received the honour.
She was awarded the honour after heroically treating Corporal John List, of Chepstow-based 1st Battalion The Rifles, on the battlefield.
"Without warning, Taliban fighters opened fire having ambushed us," said Kate, who was aged 20 at the time and attached to 1 Rifles as a unit medic.
"Within seconds, I heard 'man down, man down' on the radio and I knew I was needed. I got the location details and sprinted 60 to 70 metres running towards him while under fire.
"All I was thinking was: there's a casualty and I need to be there. I just thought the quicker I get to him, the more chance I have to save his life. It was adrenalin.
"Whenever I went out on patrol, I hoped I wouldn't be needed. When the call came, I knew I had to step up to the mark."
Having crossed open ground to get there, Kate was met by Cpl List and a Royal Marine who was holding the injured man's head.
"When I first got there, I didn't think he was going to make it. I treated him for about 45 minutes and he was a mess. He was struggling to breathe and I had to provide him with another airway. The round had gone through his top lip, ruptured his jaw and come out of his neck. He was so lucky the bullet did not hit an artery. Bullets were whizzing around my head and shoulders and hitting the ground all around us. The Taliban knew that they had got someone and were targeting us."
Within a short time, the soldiers and Marines cleared the area of Taliban fighters and a Merlin helicopter arrived to fly Cpl List to hospital.
The incident happened in Nawa near Lashkar Gah, on a sweltering mid-afternoon day in March three weeks before Kate was due to return home after a six-month deployment.
The five-day operation was designed to push the Taliban away from the region in the run-up to the Afghan election.
The troops had been handing out safety packs and food, and reassuring the local Afghans.
After returning home three weeks later, Kate was keen to see how her patient was recovering.
She attended the 1 Rifles medals parade in Chepstow in May.
"He is recovering well," said Kate. "I found it all overwhelming really. He said he wanted to say a huge thank you to me. He couldn't talk when it happened so it was the first time I had heard him speak. His mum said if it was not for me, he would not be here today."
Kate said she was flattered to receive the Military Cross, and said she was still coming to terms with the honour.
"Being described as a hero is just too much. I did my job the best I could. It was just overwhelming to hear people say 'Well done' and that he made it through."
Her father, Clive Nesbitt, a former Royal Marine Colour Sergeant who served in Plymouth for decades, said: "Being here today, I would not have wanted her to have done that in a million years. She's very lucky. But she did it and I am so very proud of her.
"I cannot tell you what it was like sitting at home waiting to hear some news.
"I'm proud because it is what she wants to do, but it doesn't take away the worry."
Clive, 50, said he did not fully appreciate how heroic his daughter had been until she returned home weeks later. "It was a very courageous thing to do."
He said he also wanted to publicly thank 1 Rifles for "looking after" Kate.