Honours for Penicuik soldiers

Sgt  Saiasi Vonop of 2nd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland
Sgt Saiasi Vonop of 2nd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland

Soldiers from the Royal Highland Fusiliers were among members of the Armed Forces to be honoured for their efforts in Afghanistan.

Sergeant Saiasi Nuku Vono has been praised for showing “physical courage” when the vehicle he was travelling in struck a roadside bomb. Three of the occupants were killed.

Majors Gary McGown, Stephen Dallard, and Timothy Draper, Captain Ross Boyd and Sergeant Vono, all from 2 SCOTS, based at Glencorse Barracks in Penicuk, all received honours.

2 SCOT Sgt Vono (36), originally from Fiji, was awarded a Queen’s Commendation for Bravery for his actions after a roadside bomb exploded. He was on his way back to Patrol Base Ouellete after a patrol in the Nahr-e-Saraj district, Helmand Province, when the improvised explosive device (IED) was triggered.

The struck Mastiff was the rear vehicle to Saiasi’s and the blast caused serious injuries to all nine of the soldiers it was carrying, with three of them later confirmed as killed in action.

With smoke and dust from the massive explosion still thick in the air Saiasi looked upon a scene of utter devastation. He immediately assessed there were multiple casualties and urgent life-saving medical treatment was needed.

All communications with the Mastiff were lost and Saiasi had to react quickly while remaining alert to the threat of secondary IEDs and small arms fire attacks – a known insurgent tactic.

He directed other soldiers to cover him as he led them down to what remained of the Mastiff, displaying inspirational leadership and setting the highest personal example.

Saiasi climbed onto the roof of the vehicle, exposing himself to small arms fire in order to see inside before jumping down on to un-cleared ground to gain access to the rear doors.

He applied a tourniquet to the section commander’s leg and then coordinated the extraction of all nine casualties from the vehicle. Having run out of stretchers Saiasi instinctively grabbed one of the casualties and carried him across more than 100 metres of un-cleared ground before immediately returning to the stricken Mastiff.

Once the casualties had been evacuated he again exposed himself to the danger of secondary devices and small arms attack by leading a team back to the vehicle to retrieve mission critical equipment.

His citation reads: “In an incident of extreme pressure and chaos, Sgt Vono’s gallant act demonstrated the highest standards of leadership, calmness and selfless commitment.

“He showed physical courage in an environment of known insurgent threat. His actions ensured the swiftest possible response and his coordination on nine serious casualties was instrumental in ensuring their swift evacuation.

“His personal example, leadership and loyalty to his men exemplify the very best traditions of a senior non-commissioned officer in the British Army and for his actions he should be nationally recognised.”

Major Stephen Dallard (36) of 2 SCOTS, has been appointed OBE for his contribution to the operational tour, when he was based at Patrol Base Ouellette, in a large, complex and dangerous area of operations that was one of the most contested and kinetic areas of Central Helmand.

Responsible at one point for 275 men, his principal task was to protect the nationally important Route 611; a crucial link between northern Helmand and the provincial capital Lashkar Gah. Security along the route is key to the freedom of movement for locals, which in turn promotes governance and economic development

This required Stephen and his men to place themselves at daily risk of indirect fire attack and the threat of IEDs as they conducted checks of the route. Sadly, three of his company were killed by an IED.

To deliver campaign progress he presided over the development of the ANCOP (Afghan National Civil Order Police) to enable them to take the lead in delivering security of the route. He led his company group and three ANCOP Battalion commanders through some difficult times and ensured all remained focused on the mission.

The success in transferring the responsibility for the security of Route 611 also enabled the early transfer of Patrol Base Ouellette to Afghan control and a significant reduction in deployed personnel.

Captain Ross Boyd, who was acting Major at the time, also from 2 SCOTS in Penicuik, was appointed MBE for taking on the role of Company Commander of the Nad-e-Ali District Police Advisory Team at a critical and highly complex point of the Afghan campaign.

Despite the challenges of managing the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) disengagement from the Nad-e-Ali Uniform Police (AUP), Ross effectively supported them in developing leadership and institutions in the height of the insurgent fighting season.

He skilfully balanced the conflicting requirements of ensuring the Afghan’s success while breaking the culture of dependency on ISAF forces.

This fuelled the desire of the Afghan security forces to take the lead and enabled them to flourish and achieve almost total independence.

His citation states: “Captain Boyd has provided stellar leadership well beyond that required or expected of a Captain.

“He has moulded a collection of individuals into a highly competent team. His Company has remained entirely focussed and utterly professional, despite the austerity of their patrol base and the increasingly routine nature of their tasking.”

It continues: “Captain Boyd has achieved immeasurably more than might be expected, even of a strong Major; a remarkable feat particularly for an individual who had so little role training.”

Major Gary McGowan (49) of 2 SCOTS, was the Company Commander responsible for the Lashkar Gah Training Centre (LTC) Advisory Team. He was awarded a Queen’s Commendation for Valuable Service for his support to the operation.

Gary realised that to get the Afghans to take responsibility for their own training his team needed to take a step back to allow the Afghans the room to step forward.

He refused to accept anything but success and as a result of his contribution the Afghans took over responsibility for the LTC in late 2013.

Described as the ‘shining light’ by the Afghans, the LTC is now a centre of excellence for police training in Helmand. Originally designed for the Afghan Uniform Police, it is now used by the Afghan Local Police, the Afghan Public Protection Force, the Afghan Border Police and the Civil Order Police.

The training centre offers Afghan led courses as diverse as Counter IED training to First Aid and IT skills.

Major Timothy Draper (36) of 2 SCOTS, faced many hurdles in developing Helmand’s Police HQ at a time that the Afghan authorities were getting used to the gradual withdrawal of ISAF support. He was awarded a Queen’s Commendation for Valuable Service.

It was imperative that the Afghan National Police (ANP) were able to stand on their on their own two feet or the security infrastructure, made possible by ISAF involvement, might be undermined.

Working with a team of 18 in sometime oppressive and potentially dangerous conditions, Timothy’s efforts enabled the HQ to become an example for other provincial HQ’s to follow.

The development was so successful that ANP were able to begin to identify, neutralise and warn ISAF of threats.

His citations states: “Draper has played a pivotal role in developing the United Kingdom’s understanding and ability to influence key Afghan power brokers.

“The extraordinary combination of an assured field commander, confidence inspiring advisor and ruthlessly efficient staff officer has delivered operational effect at a seminal moment in the campaign.”