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DSO for Army Major who charged enemy lines

An Army Major who threw himself into the line of fire to save the lives of his elite Army unit in Afghanistan has been awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO).

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Major Justin Stenhouse, aged 36, from 1st The Queen’s Dragoon Guards, was the Squadron Leader of the Brigade Reconnaissance Force (BRF) during Operation HERRICK 15.

This elite force is tasked with taking the fight to the insurgents, disrupting their chain of command and limiting their movement of weaponry, with Major Stenhouse leading his men on around 70 missions, often in heavily-contested areas.

During one of these daring missions to recover weaponry from insurgents, Major Stenhouse and his men came under heavy fire. With his soldiers pinned down by the force of the attack, Major Stenhouse ran forward into oncoming fire to take the momentum away from the enemy. His actions shocked the insurgents so much that they withdrew from the attack.

On another airborne mission in support of Afghan soldiers, Major Stenhouse, from Hartfield in East Sussex, led an operation to defeat a group of insurgents who were preparing to carry out a series of attacks on the provincial capital of Helmand.

As soon as he landed, it was obvious that the insurgents were intent on fighting to the death. With complete disregard for his own safety, and under intense fire, Major Stenhouse led the assault on the insurgents’ position. His personal bravery undoubtedly saved lives and set the conditions for operational success.

Indeed, throughout his tour, the BRF removed 29 insurgents from the battlefield, seized 1.6 tonnes of homemade explosives, including 61 improvised explosive devices, and captured 21 weapons.

Some of these captures were made in December last year on the day of the Prime Minister’s official visit to Afghanistan, when Major Stenhouse planned and personally led four separate aviation assaults against the enemy.

Major Stenhouse said that during the tour the individual bravery of soldiers across the board amazed him.

He said:

The main threat was not from bullets but from IEDs. Because of their indiscriminate nature, that is what we were most worried about.

When you do come under fire, you have to keep moving otherwise the bullets come closer to you and your soldiers.

We saw dust being kicked up by bullets within a metre of us. The concern is how to get to the next stage, talking to those around you about what to do and getting air support.

We were carrying around 30kg or more in kit in case we had to remain overnight while out on patrol in insurgent safe-havens; for instance if the weather turned and the helicopters couldn’t pick us up. As a result, it was difficult to run anywhere.

We had great support from the Warthog squadron. Nothing frightens the insurgents more than a large number of armoured vehicles.

I just did my job. The planning and nine months of mission specific training we did prepared us so that, when we were faced with the enemy, we reacted automatically. When we needed to seize the initiative it was second nature to do what I did.

I can’t emphasise enough how much the success of the mission was down to the other 122 men in the squadron.

Major Stenhouse, who is now based at the Defence Academy in Wiltshire, said the tour had produced tangible successes.

He added:

The weapons we seized were significant but it was also the things such as reconnaissance and transition to Afghan-led patrols. We can be proud to have made a substantial difference during our time there.

His citation concludes:

Stenhouse has delivered one of the finest examples of enduring courage and leadership during a challenging, dangerous and demanding tour. His commendable courage and dogged determination has been interspersed with a number of magnificent displays of gallantry.

His relentless drive, inspired leadership, personal courage, tactical acumen and flawless judgement mark him out as extraordinary during HERRICK 15.

The DSO is awarded for distinguished leadership during active operations against the enemy.

The announcement was made last week with the release of the latest Operational Honours and Awards List which includes some 106 personnel. The awards are for actions taken during the period of Operation HERRICK 15 from 1 October 2011 to 31 March 2012. See Related News.

Published 5 October 2012