An Army sergeant who risked his own life to save two soldiers stranded in an enemy attack has been awarded a Mention in Despatches.
Sergeant Steven Leslie, aged 30, from 3rd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland (3 SCOTS), was on patrol in one of the most violent areas of Nad ‘Ali when the unit came under attack.
Machine gun fire ripped through the air and peppered the ground from two firing points no more than 200 metres away. Seconds later, six grenades from yet another exploded within ten metres of the patrol. Shrapnel sprayed the area as the soldiers pressed hard into the ground to seek what protection they could.
Insurgents fired hundreds of machine gun rounds on the patrol as Sgt Leslie leapt to his feet and ran around the sprawled troops to rally them to cover - leading them through 50 metres of open ground in the enemy’s killing area so they could reach safety.
Two soldiers however remained trapped on the far side of the battlefield. Taking control Sgt Leslie fired on the enemy to cover the men so they too could make their way to relative safety - the fight continued for another ten minutes before the whole patrol could break away.
But even as they withdrew the insurgents continued to fire on the patrol for the next half-an-hour till the soldiers reached a known area of improvised explosive devices. As the soldiers navigated the deadly terrain, Sgt Leslie directed the patrol’s machine gunners to cover them till they reached their checkpoint 300 metres away.
His intuition paid off as the insurgents redoubled their attack in a 20-minute battle. The enemy were firing at the soldiers from five different positions between 150 and 600 metres away.
From his exposed position Sgt Leslie controlled the gun group until the soldiers could get back into a defensive position to return fire. Thinking the enemy had been neutralised Sgt Leslie started extracting the soldiers back to the checkpoint, but, deafened by the noise of the battle, the gunners did not hear his orders to withdraw.
Spotting the isolated gunners the enemy again attacked. Realising what had happened, Sgt Leslie covered the 150 metres of open ground as rounds kicked up the dust at his feet. In an incredible act of bravery he grabbed the soldiers and led them out of danger to the checkpoint whilst still under fire:
You don’t think about it at the time,” he said. “You just know you have to go and grab them. If it wasn’t me then it would have been someone else - I just took the instant to run out and get them. You don’t have time to reflect really.
You don’t even realise there are rounds landing around you. Everyone has had rounds landing at their feet over there. It’s not just me. You just do what you need to do and get out. Anyone would have done what I did, just as I would do it again.
The enemy continued to attack the soldiers for the next half-hour and the patrol had to fight hard before they could break away to return to the safety of their command post.
Sgt Leslie’s citation states:
Sergeant Leslie’s exemplary gallantry and leadership throughout a complex and dangerous withdrawal kept his young soldiers alive but he thought little of his own life.
Through his selfless bravery, and putting the safety of his men before his own, Sergeant Leslie is worthy of national recognition.
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.