Carver Barracks 33 Eng Reg (EOD) soliders honoured

THE courage, selflessness and resolve of two Royal Engineers from 33 Engineer Regiment (EOD) has been honoured in the latest operational honours list.

Sergeant James ‘Tommo’ Thomas of 61 Field Squadron (EOD) has been Mentioned in Dispatches, the oldest form of recognition of gallantry within the UK Armed Forces.

Married to Jane, with two children, Sgt Thomas is to receive the recognition for his leadership and courage in what is statistically the most dangerous work in Helmand, the search for Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).

Sgt Thomas, 32, commanded a team working in an area heavily seeded with IEDs in Khar Nikah.

In December last year work began on two Observation Posts (OP) close to Tommo’s compound, to give ISAF troops greater security. Tommo and his team cleared the compound of IEDs for the first OP, and then, using their engineering skills, led the effort to construct the base.

The watching insurgents responded to the threat the OP presented by firing a Rocket Propelled Grenade and small arms fire at the engineers throughout the build.

Undeterred, Tommo continued to lead his men in the construction project, in full view of the enemy, only pausing once when a soldier on the roof of the building was injured by small arms fire. Tommo carried him down a ladder to safety and then rallied the work party to return to the construction project.

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Moving to start on the second OP however, a soldier struck an IED, amputating three of his limbs.

Tommo immediately set about clearing a safe route, but a second IED was initiated, amputating both legs of a second soldier. Tommo, who was right behind the soldier, administered first aid with two others and arranged his evacuation. He then picked up his search equipment and personally led the continued route clearance towards the second OP.

Again, he was the first to volunteer to help build the new OP, which once again came under sporadic fire.

“Through both incidents, Thomas displayed not only remarkable composure and fortitude but a staggering indefatigability,” says his citation.

“The Ops have since transformed the lives and confidence of local nationals within their aegis.”

Sgt Duncan ‘Flash’ Gordon, who is also a member of 61 Field Squadron (EOD), 33 Engineer Regiment (EOD), is to receive the Queen’s Commendation for Valuable Service for his work in mentoring the Afghan national Army Explosive Hazard Reduction Teams. He was also deployed forward as the sole Counter-IED training team representative on Nahr-e Saraj.

The 32-year-old was responsible for the training of Afghan soldiers in the skills needed to detect and render safe IEDs and then wrote the book on how to do it.

Flash took four Afghan soldiers and a sergeant with basic IED knowledge and turned them into an effective team, capable of operating alone in one of the most dangerous roles in Afghanistan. He led them from the front helping them detect and destroy 11 IEDs during their training.

He said: “The guys we taught were enthusiastic and there were some great characters including Sergeant Abdullah Nasrullah in the team.”

The team, accompanied by Flash, went on to play a key role in Operation OMID CHAR, a pioneering Afghan-planned and led offensive to clear an area in Gereshk of insurgent activity last year.

Once established, he trained four more Afghan teams and re-wrote the training syllabus based on his experiences. His course was then adopted in other parts of Afghanistan.

His citation reads: “Gordon’s role demanded unique courage, performing an inherently risky task whilst developing a raw Afghan capability, without the formal checks and balances normally associated with such hazardous duty. His success in these circumstances was remarkable and has paved the way for a crucial element of transition.”

Sgt Gordon said: “I’m very, very proud to receive the award. I don’t see it as just my award, its for the whole team that trained the guys.

“We all worked together as a team, we had our highs and lows, but we all pulled together and got through it.”

The announcement was made today with the release of the latest operational honours and awards list, which includes 140 personnel. The awards are for actions roughly during the period October 1 2010 to March 31 2011.