A British soldier has had a miraculous escape after the strap of his helmet was shot off during his first patrol with his new unit in Helmand province.
Bombardier James Hallam, from 148 Battery, 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery, has been in Afghanistan since April 2011 working with the Warthog Group and the Royal Marines of 42 Commando, but he recently joined the Brigade Reconnaissance Force (BRF).
Bombardier Hallam was deployed on Operation POT KHANJER 20 to search compounds in a known insurgent area to the east of Lashkar Gah when his brush with a Taliban bullet occurred.
The soldiers, Royal Marines and engineers who make up the BRF inserted into the area by helicopter and then moved out on foot to carry out searches of buildings where it was believed explosives used in IEDs were being made.
This was Bombardier Hallam’s first operation with the BRF and no sooner had they landed on the ground, than the troops came under fire. During the exchange of gunfire, an insurgent bullet flew past the side of Bombardier Hallam’s head:
It was pretty punchy, I could hear the bullets whizzing past me and all I was focusing on was firing back,” he said. “I knew that one had come pretty close to me because I heard the noise, felt the heat, and the force of it knocked me over. But it wasn’t until later that I realised just how close it’d come.
Bombardier Hallam picked himself up and continued to return fire. A few minutes later, once under cover, one of the officers asked Bombardier Hallam what was wrong with his helmet.
The bullet which knocked him to the ground had hit the clip on the underside of the rim of his helmet, completely severing the strap. Amazingly, despite being just millimetres from his face and ear, the bullet left no mark on Bombardier Hallam’s head:
I thought the strap had just come loose during the contact, but when I reached up to feel for it, it wasn’t there,” he said. “I took my helmet off and could see where the round had hit the rim, breaking the clasp. It was shock more than anything. I can’t believe it came that close to me - I am a seriously lucky guy!
This is the third time that Bombardier Hallam has deployed to Afghanistan. During the three tours, he, like many of those who’ve served in Helmand, has found himself in some dangerous situations, but he admits this is the closest he’s ever come to being seriously injured.
However, he said it’s not made him very popular with his new unit:
When the lads heard what had happened, obviously they were as surprised as me and were glad I was OK, but then they were all saying ‘don’t sit next to me’ because I think they reckon I’m jinxed!
The helmet will now be examined by experts from the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory based out in Afghanistan who carry out an assessment on any equipment which is damaged in the line of duty.
However, once the necessary tests have been completed, Bombardier Hallam, who has been in the Army 11 years, is hoping he’ll be able to get it back:
That helmet saved my life - there is absolutely no doubt about it,” he said. “I don’t think I’ll be able to wear it again because of the damage but I’d like the strap at least to carry around with me as a bit of a lucky charm.
Just two days after his close shave Bombardier Hallam was back out on the ground on another operation with the BRF. He said he’s not nervous about what might happen:
Having been to Afghanistan several times, the kit we’ve got on this tour is brilliant and so much better than anything I’ve had before. The new helmet and Osprey [body armour] is a massive improvement on the last one I had and even the new pelvic protection is great. So, I reckon as long as I try and keep my head down, I’ll be fine.