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Heroism in Afghanistan from all three Services recognised

The commitment and heroism displayed by members of our Armed Forces in Afghanistan last year was recognised in the Operational Honours List published last Friday.

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

Among the 136 members of the Armed Forces in the list was Corporal Isobel Henderson, from the Royal Army Medical Corps, Captain Jack Anrude from the Royal Marines, and Warrant Officer Stephen Bowden from the Royal Air Force.

Here are their stories.

Corporal Isobel Henderson

Combat Medical Technician Class One Corporal Isobel Henderson from the Royal Army Medical Corps has been honoured with a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) for her actions in Afghanistan between July and September 2010.

During this time the diminutive Corporal was the lone medic in a checkpoint she shared with 20 Scots Guardsmen and 15 Afghan Police, which came under attack more than 60 times:

The boys were great though. They made me giggle,” she said. “They really helped me out and I couldn’t have done it without them.

This involved helping her out on patrols and included the guys lifting the five-foot-two-inch (1.6m) Corporal over walls as the kit she had to carry amounted to half her body weight:

At the end we were joined by a female nurse - I was grateful to have someone to talk about girly things with,” she said.

Outside the gates of the checkpoint, the threat of bombing and shooting was extreme. The number and type of casualties Corporal Henderson had to deal with was described in her citation as ‘unprecedented’. She said:

I had to send in a report every week of the injuries we had treated. I’ve kept the book I used to keep track of them. I looked at it recently and was surprised by just how busy we had been.

At the time you don’t switch off, you’re a bit like a robot getting on with your work, it’s not until afterwards that you think about it. It’s different dealing with the children though. Soldiers who have kids themselves find that a bit difficult.

On one occasion, insurgents had placed a bomb close to the checkpoint, and mistimed their attack, resulting in the massive bomb exploding under a minibus taxi crammed with women and children.

Corporal Henderson went into the mayhem and calmly did her work, despite the added complications and awfulness of having to deal with local Afghan infant casualties, saving those whom she could, and effecting their evacuation:

When we arrived the bus was non-existent. Yet there was a little girl alive in the wreckage, there was a carton of juice and some cooking pots that were still intact, untouched, even though people had been blown into the river and into fields. It was incredible.

On another occasion, a Guardsman was shot outside her checkpoint. Two non-commissioned officers were then also shot while going to his rescue. Corporal Henderson got to work on all three, giving first aid and reassurance.

In yet another awful incident, five Afghans were caught in an explosion close to the checkpoint.

Because of Corporal Henderson’s reputation for excellence, which she had earned with the Afghan people, they were brought to the checkpoint where she treated them with impressive professionalism and care, reassuring and informing the Afghan relatives through an interpreter:

They brought them to the gates in wheelbarrows,” she said.

Her citation concluded:

Corporal Henderson has had to deal with an exceptionally heavy burden of casualties in an isolated checkpoint which has been under near constant attack for six months. This has demanded the highest level of professionalism and commitment in desperately difficult circumstances.

But at the start of her tour she was far from certain that she was going to be able to cope with it all, despite having served in Iraq:

In Iraq we had seen trauma. Everyone expects HERRICK to be the same, but it’s a different kettle of fish. But I’m proud of how I dealt with it all,” she said.

Captain Jack Anrude

Captain Jack Anrude from the Royal Marines has been awarded a Military Cross for his actions during an incident in Afghanistan on 20 June 2010.

Captain Anrude (then a Lieutenant) led his troop out of Patrol Base Hanjar accompanying an Afghan Special Forces unit to speak with locals at a mosque:

It’s not often that you get a chance to work with these guys, so I was pleased to have that opportunity,” said Captain Anrude.

Captain Anrude was leading the patrol through a complex and unfamiliar maze of alleyways, when, without warning, a gunman appeared from a doorway only metres away and unleashed a hail of automatic fire. Captain Anrude was hit twice, once in the head, striking his helmet (he only found the bullet lodged in his helmet five days later), and once in the arm, while two other patrol members, including an Afghan soldier, were seriously injured with neither man able to walk unaided.

Ignoring his own significant injuries, Captain Anrude took immediate and decisive command of the situation and courageously led his troop out of the close alleyways and into open ground where the patrol quickly came under sustained and accurate fire from at least two separate enemy ambushes.

Without effective cover and with casualties, Captain Anrude chose to extract his patrol across two hundred metres of open ground.

Leading by example, he picked up the injured Afghan soldier and, with bursts of accurate fire striking around him, carried the soldier to safety, pausing only to return fire.

Captain Anrude’s citation said:

Anrude’s exceptional leadership and selfless gallantry proved crucial to the success of this mission. His command was inspiring; by co-ordinating both the medical evacuation and the effective suppression of the enemy, he courageously regained the initiative and certainly prevented further casualties.

Asked what he felt listening to these words at the Operational Honours and Awards ceremony last week, Captain Anrude said:

I was trying to imagine what my parents would think and hoped they would be proud. My mum passed away last year. I also know that I wouldn’t be standing here if it hadn’t been for the lads. I’d have been out on a limb without their professionalism. I’m going to have to buy them beaucoup de beer when I get back.

Warrant Officer Stephen Bowden

Warrant Officer Stephen Bowden from the RAF has been awarded the Queen’s Gallantry Medal for actions in Afghanistan over 16 and 17 May 2010.

Being one of the first to arrive at the scene of a massive fire at Camp Leatherneck (adjacent to Camp Bastion), Warrant Officer Bowden immediately recognised the severity of the situation and, without hesitation, assumed command of the incident:

All I could see was a big black cloud of smoke, and I thought we’re going to have to go into that,” he said.

However, the situation worsened some forty minutes later, as a catastrophic dust storm took hold, with gusting winds exceeding 60 knots driving the fire and reducing visibility down to metres.

This combination of dust storm and inferno generated a grave threat to WO Bowden and his team’s lives, but, with a display of incredible awareness of the situation, WO Bowden decided to remain and fight the fire, only withdrawing his team at the last safe moment:

The fire was about the size of two football pitches, and I knew there was welding gear in there, which meant gas cylinders, and we were concerned that embers were blowing in the direction of Camp Bastion,” said WO Bowden. “It was the most serious incident I’ve attended in 35 years’ service.

Showing no fear, WO Bowden was the last to withdraw from the fire, spending considerable time and exposure to personal danger in accounting for all his men.

Leading from the front, WO Bowden brought his team back to tackle the inferno, halting it on the opposite side of the street to the bulk fuel installation containing over one-and-a-half-million gallons of fuel.

Despite regular explosions and the knowledge that there were more gas cylinders in the area, WO Bowden led his team deep into the heart of the blaze to push the flames back and relieve the pressure on the threatened fuel installation.

Despite suffering disabling smoke injuries to his eyes, and in some pain, WO Bowden remained at his post throughout the night and well into the next afternoon to oversee the successful culmination of the fire. His citation concluded:

There is no doubt that Bowden’s courageous and unselfish efforts in leading his team of brave firefighters was fundamental in minimising injury and preventing loss of life in this incident.

Published 28 March 2011