Soldiers from the British Army's global response force have been presented with medals in recognition of their efforts during the evacuation of Kabul.
Medal parades have been held by 16 Air Assault Brigade Combat Team’s (16 Air Asslt BCT) units to mark their service on Operation Pitting, the mission to evacuate British people, entitled Afghans and civilians from partner nations as the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in August 2021.
Soldiers on their first deployment were presented the Afghanistan Operational Service Medal with an Op Pitting clasp, while soldiers who had previously served in the country and already received the OSM were given the clasp.
Private Barry Wallace, of 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment, said: “The way I see the medal is that it represents over 15,000 people that we rescued from Afghanistan. To receive it shows that we all did an important job to a very high standard, and I’m hugely proud of that.
“The way I see the medal is that it represents over 15,000 people that we rescued from Afghanistan." Private Barry Wallace
“We were rotating through stations taking evacuees on the journey from entering the airport to getting on a plane out. So, one day I’d be working crowd control on the front gate and the next helping process evacuees’ paperwork and baggage. The conditions were incredibly hard, it was really hot and we were working with people who were in a really desperate situation.”
The 32-year-old from Bridgend in South Wales joined the Army at 29, wanting a fresh challenge in his life after working as a chef for 16 years.
Private Sophie Robertson, a clerk with 23 Parachute Engineer Regiment, was driving home to Cupar in Scotland for summer leave when she found out she was deploying.
“I’d driven 400 miles from the barracks in Suffolk and was 100 miles away from home when the phone rang,” the 26-year-old said. “My sergeant told me to get home, sleep and get back on the road the next morning – two days later I was in Kabul.
“I was part of a team of female soldiers searching women and children, because the cultural sensitivities in Afghanistan meant that men couldn’t do that job. We were incredibly busy, and it was heartbreaking work – people were fleeing with only what they could carry and pleading with us to help relatives that they were having to leave behind. When I first got back, I struggled with that but now I look back and see that it was a big achievement to have got so many people out.
We were incredibly busy, and it was heartbreaking work – people were fleeing with only what they could carry and pleading with us to help relatives that they were having to leave behind." Private Sophie Robertson
“It means a lot to receive a medal – my first one – and I’m really happy that what we did is being recognised.”
In the two-week mission some 750 troops from 16 Air Asslt BCT, the British Army’s global response force, provided security and logistic support to the evacuation, with most of the soldiers coming back from their summer leave at short notice to deploy.
Working alongside the Joint Force Headquarters and in partnership with the Royal Air Force, the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office and UK Border Force, more than 15,000 people were flown out. While in Kabul, the troops distributed 250,000 litres of bottled water, 25,000 bottles of baby formula and 9,000 nappies to the crowds of people waiting to be evacuated.