For risking life and limb during an intense five-hour operation to find hidden roadside bombs in one of the most dangerous areas of Helmand, Sapper Matthew Garey is to be awarded the Queen's Gallantry Medal.
Matthew, aged 24, who serves with the Corps of Royal Engineers, was the lead searcher of a team tasked with clearing a vital supply route to a patrol base in the Gereshk area.
The route was designed to improve commerce and increase security in the district, but patrols in the area were targeted by powerful Improvised Explosive Devices (IED).
Four recent attempts to clear the route had resulted in one death and four casualties including two double amputees. The area had claimed eight casualties in total. Just six days before Matthew had seen a fellow lead searcher lose both his legs to an IED planted in the very ground he was about to cross.
Clearing the route of IEDs was a vital task.
'Step out on the ground'
On his own at the front of the group, it was Matthew’s decision alone to declare the path free from explosive devices, a heavy burden that could not be shared.
“It wasn’t a nice job to work on - there was an aura around it that we didn’t feel on other jobs because of the incidents that had happened before,” recalls Matthew, from Tamworth.
“As a search team we know what we are doing so are confident in doing it, but seeing another team injured was a real reality check. That it could happen to any of us. One slip in concentration, one accident, one freak coincidence can lead to casualties and death and we were very aware of that. Seeing something happen to another good team made us realise that just because we had done four months of the tour without problem didn’t mean we were all going to be fine at the end of six months.
“But when you step out on to the ground you have to put what has happened before to the back of your mind. As the lead searcher stepping onto that ground it’s a lot of responsibility so you have to focus on the job.”
Despite limited visual evidence of the IEDs and repeated equipment false-alarms increasing the strain to heart stopping levels, Matthew managed to negotiate the IED laced ground. For five long hours he searched the area inch by inch.
“You are concentrating so hard you forget about the time and everything else. It’s just a constant motion of scanning the ground in front of you and listening out to the equipment. Your concentration is on that so much that you forget about everything else and before you know it a couple of hours have flown by.”
'Exemplary level of gallantry'
His intense search uncovered a deeply buried a potentially lethal IED command wire.
“To be honest I didn’t think about what kind of IED it could be connected to, and what damage that could do if it detonated, I just knew we had to deal with it.
“The way our team looks at it is that every IED is there to harm or kill someone so every IED we deal with is at least one life saved. That command wire was connected to an IED so to us, finding it was a life that had been saved. There is also a sense of relief and pride within the team. That we could move on from that job.”
Matthew’s citation concludes: “Garey showed awe-inspiring courage. Willingly placing himself in harm’s way throughout the tour, all with extraordinary conduct.
“This single tale of his Herculean efforts personifies his astonishing and exemplary level of gallantry.”
The Queen’s Gallantry Medal is awarded to military personnel for acts of exemplary bravery not in presence of the enemy.
The announcement was made today with the release of the latest operational honours and awards list which includes 106 personnel. The awards are for actions roughly during the period 1 September 2011 to March 31 2012 during Operation HERRICK 15.
Matthew is the sole recipient of the QGM on the list.