News story

Body armour saves UK soldiers in Helmand fire fight

Lance Corporal Jamie McKenzie and Highlander Steven O’Neill were on patrol with Recce Platoon, A Company, 4th Battalion The Royal Regiment of…

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Lance Corporal Jamie McKenzie and Highlander Steven O’Neill were on patrol with Recce Platoon, A Company, 4th Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland (4 SCOTS), in the Loy Check area, north of Lashkar Gah in Helmand province, when they came under fire.

Lance Corporal McKenzie, aged 21, says the attack seemed to have come out of nowhere:

We were walking down a track and suddenly an insurgent just started firing from within a tree line about 30 metres away. The trees were so thick we didn’t even see him.

20-year-old Highlander O’Neill was behind Lance Corporal McKenzie, with both soldiers near the back of the patrol:

We all just hit the deck,” said Lance Corporal McKenzie. “Almost immediately, I felt a thump. I quickly checked myself but couldn’t see anything so just carried on. It was only a few seconds but he must have fired eight rounds at us.

During the contact, one of the platoon’s soldiers was shot in the pelvis, but his pelvic protection and ballistic underwear slowed down the bullet. The rest of the platoon quickly began their drills to treat their injured colleague. Once he was stable and ready to be extracted, the soldiers continued on their patrol.

It was only when they were back at base that Lance Corporal McKenzie and Highlander O’Neill realised how close they had come to being injured too.

Lance Corporal McKenzie’s Osprey body armour had a hole in the shoulder where a round had hit him and been deflected. He was bruised from the impact of the round but it wasn’t until a few days later that he learnt his Osprey body armour had actually saved him twice:

I was looking for something in the pouch I wear on my chest and noticed a small hole in the cover which was odd,” said Lance Corporal McKenzie.

When I took it apart, I found a bullet lodged between the plate and padding. I couldn’t believe it.

One of Highlander O’Neill’s knee pads had also been hit by a bullet, but had stopped the projectile before it could enter his leg:

When I saw it, I was really surprised,” he said. “Thinking back, I had felt a sting on the back of my leg, but at the time I was so focused on returning fire and keeping the rest of the patrol safe that I didn’t register it. I took my trousers off and when I saw the bruise it made me realise how close it had come.

For soldiers serving in Afghanistan during the summer, when temperatures can reach above 50 degrees Celsius, wearing protective kit can sometimes be the last thing they want to do. However, Highlander O’Neill says he now appreciates it even more and won’t be moaning about being too hot in future:

The kit is really good and it may be heavy to wear on patrol in the heat and the sun but, seeing how well the body armour works, I’m glad I’ve got it.

Captain Robbie Donaldson, Second-in-Command of A Company, agrees:

They are both very lucky lads. If they had not been wearing the kit, things could have been so much worse. Even the soldier who was sadly injured in the contact was saved from a more serious wound because he had his ballistic protection on and we’re told he’ll make a full recovery.

Both Lance Corporal McKenzie and Highlander O’Neill are due to complete their tour of Afghanistan in October when 4 SCOTS return to their base in Fallingbostel, Germany. Both soldiers are looking forward to seeing their families, and Lance Corporal McKenzie will be showing off his unusual souvenir:

Ever since I found the bullet, I’ve been carrying it with me as a lucky charm,” he said. “Think I’m going to get a hole drilled through it and wear it on a chain round my neck as a reminder.

Published 12 September 2011