Bravery of soldier Nathan recognised

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Courageous Bulwell soldier Nathan Vittles has been honoured for his bravery in helping to save his commanding officer as they came under heavy fire in Afghanistan.

Lance Corporal Vittles, a 25-year-old dad of three, has been Mentioned in Despatches, the oldest form of recognition of gallantry within the UK Armed Forces.

He risked his life to help evacuate his wounded section commander and reduced the risk of enemy fire to an exposed support helicopter waiting to take them away from the scene.

According to the Army, Lance Corporal Vittles, of The Queen’s Royal Lancers Brigade Reconnaissance Force (Catterick), an NCO for just 12 months, “showed conspicuous courage, physical determination and coolness of mind to enable the soldier’s safe extraction and reduce the risk of enemy fire to the exposed support helicopter”.

The incident happened on 29th November last year, when the Brigade Reconnaissance Force (BRF) conducted a raid into the highly-contested insurgent stronghold of Yakchal.

On completion of the mission, and nearing the helicopter landing site, the BRF came under small arms and machine gun fire from a number of enemy positions less than 200 metres away.

Instead of moving closer to the relative safety of the helicopter extraction point, Nathan positioned himself and a gunner towards the enemy threat, covering the movement of the helicopters, which had landed 50 metres away.

As the insurgents were firing their weapons, both the Apache and Chinook helicopters had to return fire. As the two helicopters dropped to their landing sites, both Vittles’ Troop and the aircraft were targeted by the enemy.

One aircraft was struck and members of the troop, who had already got on board, were ordered to return fire through a hatchway.

As Nathan’s section began moving to the aircraft, his Section Commander was seriously wounded by three rounds from a burst of machine gun fire.

Nathan said: “When he was hit I was next to him so I had to act and my training just took over.

“He was conscious but in a lot of pain and I didn’t know how bad his injuries might be. Luckily, I had a machine gunner with me which made it easier to suppress the enemy fire.”

Despite significant pressure to get on the helicopter, Nathan held his position and his nerve. He organised and directed a highly-effective response to put down the insurgent firing positions, whilst continuing to report insurgent firing points to his troop leader.

Once the remainder of his troops’ support weapons were coordinated to eliminate the threat from the insurgents, Nathan switched his focus to the evacuation of his injured colleague.

He quickly led three other members of his troop in the task of moving the casualty 50 metres across heavily irrigated terrain – all while remaining exposed to insurgent fire.

The former Djanogly City Technology College pupil said: “It was the hardest thing I have ever done physically. I thought we were never going to be able to do it. The ground was so muddy, it was virtually impossible to move carrying that weight.”

The wounded soldier, in his full equipment, weighed 160kg. In the end, it took eight soldiers to get him up the ramp and into the helicopter.

Once inside, he used his medical skills to assist the medic and continued to reassure his stricken friend.

His citation states: “From start to finish, his prompt action, courage and leadership suppressed the imminent and complex threat, enabling the evacuation of his wounded Section Commander, the safe extraction of his Troop and the safety of a valuable aircraft.

“Vittles rose to the occasion in the best traditions of the British Army and at a level which belies both his rank and experience.

“For his dogged determination, highly effective leadership and disregard for his own life, Vittles is unquestionably deserving of national recognition.”

The Mention in Despatches is the oldest form of recognition of gallantry within the UK Armed Forces. Since 1993, it has been reserved for gallantry during active operations.

The announcement was made in latest operational honours and awards list issued by the armed forces, which includes 117 personnel. The awards are for actions roughly during the period September to March 2013 during Operation HERRICK 17.