Sergeant Antony Holland, aged 31, from the King’s Royal Hussars, was leading an 11-man training and advisory team for the Afghan National Army (ANA) when it, and 20 other soldiers in the patrol under his command, were attacked.
For almost 8 hours they came under sporadic gunfire, then a rocket-propelled grenade struck one of the patrol vehicles, deafening the crew inside and peppering the commander with shrapnel.
They then came under fire from 3 angles as Sergeant Holland’s own vehicle became stuck in a ditch.
Mindless of the risk, Sergeant Holland and a medic left the relative safety of their vehicle and ran 70 metres through enemy fire to reach the stranded crew in the vehicle struck by a grenade. He said:
Through irrigation channels, knee-deep in mud with our kit on, it felt like 250 metres. We could hear the gunfire cracking above our heads.
Insurgents’ fire rained down on him and the medic as they assessed the casualties. Sergeant Holland then returned fire so the medic could get to work:
Just 15 inches away there were splashes in the ground where the bullets were striking. There was no cover, so I was leaning over the medic and using him as a firing platform so we could suppress the fire.
Eventually they got the injured man to safety, but Sergeant Holland then had to ensure the stranded vehicle was guarded to stop it falling into insurgent hands.
Sergeant Holland, originally from Carterton, Oxfordshire, joined the Army in 1999. He deployed with 3rd Battalion The Rifles on what was his second tour of Afghanistan in 2012.
That day I was in charge and I wanted to make sure there were no further casualties. But I had to take an hour for myself after our debrief because the reality of what could have happened set in.
Sergeant Holland’s citation states:
By his decisive leadership and quick-thinking, Holland ensured that no further ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) casualties were sustained and the stricken vehicle was safely recovered.
There is no doubt that Holland’s actions helped defeat a well-planned insurgent ambush and ensured the extraction of his Advisor Team to safety. His composure and bravery recovered an extremely dangerous situation and almost certainly prevented further casualties being inflicted.
Sergeant Holland lives in Tidworth, Wiltshire, with his wife Sara. They are expecting the birth of their first child in June.
He explained how he heard that he was to be awarded the Mention in Despatches:
My commanding officer called me in off leave and so I thought I was in trouble. I’m honoured by it, but the satisfying part for me is seeing the progress we’ve made with the ANA during our time there.
The Mention in Despatches is one of the oldest forms of recognition for gallantry within the UK Armed Forces. Since 1993 the Mention in Despatches has been reserved for gallantry during active operations.