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PARA to receive VC for act of valour

26 February 2015

A British soldier who singlehandedly prevented considerable loss of life during an assault into a Taliban stronghold in Afghanistan is to be awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest mili-tary honour, it has been announced today with the publication of the operational honours and awards list.

Lance Corporal Josh Leakey, of The Parachute Regiment, was deployed in Afghanistan as a member of a task force conducting operations to disrupt insurgent safe-havens and protect the main operating base in Helmand Province during the summer of 2013.

It was whilst on a combined UK/US assault led by the US Marine Corps to disrupt a key in-surgent group on 22 August 2013 that the force, having dismounted from their helicopters, came under accurate machine gun and rocket propelled grenade fire.

 

"Things just felt different"

The Command Group were pinned down on the exposed forward slope of a hill. Having at-tempted to extract from their position for an hour, a Marine Corps Captain was shot and wounded and their communications put out of action.

“On this day, things just felt different,” said Josh, recalling the events of the day. “The enemy were more determined, even when air support was around, they stood and they fought, which was fairly uncommon. And, thoughts going through my mind on that day were, let’s do this right. There’s a man wounded, we need to get this guy sorted, and also stop more people get-ting wounded.”

Josh, aged 27, positioned on the lee of the hill, realising the seriousness of the situation and with complete disregard for his own safety, dashed across a large area of barren hillside which was now being raked with machine gun fire.

The full severity of the situation became apparent as Josh reached the top of the hill. Approx-imately twenty enemy had surrounded two friendly machine gun teams and a mortar section rendering the fire support ineffective.

 

Engaging the enemy

Josh moved down the forward slope of the hill and gave first aid to the wounded officer. De-spite being the most junior commander in the area, he took control of the situation and initi-ated the casualty evacuation.

Still under enemy fire, Josh set off up the hill to get one of the suppressed machine guns back into action. One reaching it and with rounds impacting on the frame of the gun itself, he moved it to another position and began engaging the enemy.

“Everyone was under fire,” he said. “it wasn’t just me. But, we needed to be the ones giving effective enemy fire, instead of the ones on the receiving end. That’s why the guns had to be re-sited and realigned onto the enemy.

“We had to take the fight to the enemy because they were dominating the area and our free-dom of movement was being denied. We needed to swing the tide back in our favour, which, when we came around, that’s what happened.”

 

Inspired by his actions

His citation states: “This courageous action spurred those around him back into the fight. For the third time and with full knowledge of the dangers, Lance Corporal Leakey exposed himself to enemy fire once more. Weighted down with more than 60lbs of equipment, he ran to the bottom of the hill, picked up the second machine gun and climbed back up the hill, around 200 metres of steep terrain.

“Rounds were hitting the ground around him. But, despite the danger, Josh re-sited the gun and returned fire. This was the turning point as, inspired by his actions, and with a heavy weight of fire now at their disposal, the force began to fight back with renewed ferocity.”

Having regained the initiative, Josh handed over the machine gun and led the extraction of the wounded officer to a point from which he could be safely evacuated. “My goals on that day were very simple, as were everyone’s on that day,” he said. “When it became clear there was a casualty, our mission changed slightly so we had to deal with the casualty and we had to suppress the enemy.

“I like to think we did a pretty good job of looking after the casualty and of suppressing the enemy.”

Josh is not the first recipient of the VC in his family, as his second cousin twice removed, Sergeant Nigel Gray Leakey, was posthumously recognised with the honour in November 1945 during the Second World War.

 

Wounded US Marine evacuated

Josh’s citation honours his actions that day: “Displaying gritty leadership well above that ex-pected of his rank, Lance Corporal Leakey’s actions single-handedly regained the initiative and prevented considerable loss of life, allowing a wounded US Marine officer to be evacuated. For this act of valour, Lance Corporal Leakey is highly deserving of significant national recognition.”

The head of the Army broke the news to Josh, 27, who was told by General Sir Nick Carter to ‘take a seat, I’ve got something to tell you’. Josh says: “I’m still stunned, absolutely stunned really, that they’ve given it to me. It’s going to take a while for it to sink in.

“If it was up to me there’d be many other people sitting here with me doing this as well. There are so many people out there deserving, from my battalion, my regiment, from Afghan; there are so many of us who’ve done things. It’s nothing out of the ordinary, really.

“You don’t do anything in the Army on your own. It’s not normal being singled out; you feel uncomfortable, because everything you do is team effort really, in my opinion. And that day was no different.

“I like to think that on that day we gave a good account of ourselves, you know, fellow para-troopers cutting around the green zone doing what we do best, really, taking the fight to the enemy.”

 

"Typifies the spirit and ethos of the Parachute Regiment"

Lieutenant General John Lorimer DSO MBE, Colonel Commandant of the Parachute Regiment said: “Lance Corporal Leakey’s exemplary conduct in the face of heavy and accurate enemy fire typifies the spirit and ethos of the Parachute Regiment.

“On their behalf and as Colonel Commandant of the Parachute Regiment, I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Lance Corporal Leakey on this singular and most deserved award. We are exceptionally proud of him.”

The Commanding Officer of 1st Battalion The Parachute Regiment said: “Lance Corporal Leakey’s actions that day are in the finest traditions of the British Army. He is a deeply professional, quietly proud and very respected soldier whose courage and example espouses everything that is best in the Army’s Values and Standards and those of the 1st Battalion, The Parachute Regiment. We are all immensely proud to serve alongside him.”

 

Proud parents

Lance Corporal Leakey’s parents, Mark and Rosie Leakey, said: “We are hugely proud of our son Josh and of the award he’s going to receive. We celebrate the occasion today with Josh’s mates, with his battalion and with the Parachute Regiment.

“As Josh’s parents we are so thankful to God that he survived that day – along with many other occasions during his three operational tours in Afghanistan. Our hearts go out to so many other parents whose sons and daughters did not survive that long conflict. ‘You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day…’ (Psalm 91 v 5).”

 

Brother of an 'airborne warrior'

Lance Corporal Leakey’s brother, Ben Leakey, said: “I have always been incredibly proud of my brother, for whom I have the utmost respect and admiration—regardless of the two letters that will now follow his name. In every sense, I have looked up to Josh for as long as I can remember, and will continue to do so far into the future as he returns to service life and his career as an airborne warrior in the Parachute Regiment.

“Josh has always known that this was his path in life, but with being awarded the Victoria Cross he has well exceeded even his own expectations. It is an honour and a blessing to be able to enjoy this spectacular moment with him.”

 

Highest award for gallantry

The Victoria Cross is the highest award for gallantry. The VC may be awarded to all ranks of the services and civilians for gallantry in the presence of the enemy. It may be awarded post-humously.

The announcement was made today with the release of the latest operational honours and awards list, which includes 140 personnel. The awards are principally for actions on Op HERRICK during the period of October 2013 to June 2014.

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