Military minds behind Afghanistan evacuation given honours
The military minds behind the hazardous evacuation from Afghanistan are among the Royal Navy sailors and Royal Marines given operational honours and awards for exceptional work and dedication to service.
Royal Marines Brigadier Dan Blanchford headed up the largest humanitarian aid operation in more than 70 years, as the UK evacuated British nationals and eligible Afghans from Afghanistan as the Taliban seized control of the country.
More than 15,000 people were evacuated from Kabul Airport during Operation Pitting – the UK codename for the evacuation – last August under Brig Blanchford, who received a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the latest operational honours list announced by the MOD.
He said: “It is an honour to have been recognised, but this is really a story about the incredible and humbling work from all the soldiers, sailors, aircrews, RAF police and movements team whose selfless and compassionate commitment around the clock in very difficult conditions enabled us to evacuate 15,000 vulnerable Afghans.”
Brig Blanchford also led on the repatriation of UK nationals from overseas during the Covid-19 pandemic and the disaster relief response to the explosion in a Beirut Port, in Lebanon, in August 2020.
Lieutenant Commander Will Durbin is another naval officer recognised for his efforts throughout the airlift from Kabul.
The 35-year-old, who is now serving aboard Portsmouth-based destroyer HMS Duncan as a senior warfare officer, was posted to Qatar as a liaison officer between the Royal Navy and RAF assisting with operations across a vast area from Cyprus to Afghanistan.
“To witness the relief and joy of those being evacuated from Kabul, particularly the children, brought home the importance of our efforts in the operation,” he said.
“To hear the laughter of children as they were able to take their minds off their recent ordeal was a poignant moment for us all.”
He receives the Queen’s Commendation for Valuable Service for his efforts.
Meanwhile, Chief Petty Officer Jamie Ward gets a Queen’s Commendation for Bravery after a fire rescue while off duty.
CPO Ward and his wife, Elaine, found smoke filling their neighbour’s house in Yeovil and reacted quickly with little thought for their own safety.
“We could smell burning and I asked Elaine if we’d left something on,” CPO Ward said. “We looked outside and could see smoke filling our neighbour’s house.
“At that point, I didn’t think and just ran upstairs knowing their baby might be up there. It was very smoky but we managed to get our neighbour out who was asleep on the sofa.
“Thankfully the front door was unlocked, but it’s something I just did naturally. I would hope someone would do the same for our family. We have to look after each other.”
The 40-year-old has worked as an engineer on helicopters with the Commando Helicopter Force since joining the Royal Navy aged 16.
CPO Ward, who is originally from Tamworth but lives in Yeovil, served in Iraq and Afghanistan on Sea King helicopters and now maintains Merlin aircraft at nearby air station Yeovilton.
“It’s really nice to be recognised. Obviously, I feel the need to be humble about it. I’m sure the wife will be asking where her award is,” he added.
“I just didn’t think about it and did what came naturally. We go through fire training at HMS Raleigh and there’s an element that your training kicks in – you just look out for each-other at the end of the day.”
Second Sea Lord, Vice Admiral Martin Connell, praised the bravery of CPO Ward.
“Our people are the beating heart of our organisation. Chief Petty Officer Jamie Ward’s heroic and selfless actions saved a life and prevented any further injury and damage in the process,” he said.
“He has shown exemplary courage in the face of adversity, a fine example of the core values the Royal Navy upholds.”
Lieutenant Commander Andrew Dennis gets the Queen’s Commendation for Valuable Service after protecting the health of nearly 4,000 service personnel who deployed as part of the Carrier Strike Group led by HMS Queen Elizabeth last year.
Effectively liaising with more than 40 countries, he personally developed and managed the successful vaccination programme across the Strike Group that resulted in every individual being vaccinated against Covid-19.
He said: “It was a complete surprise to receive an award, and a great feeling to be recognised for my work with the CSG.
“Getting nine platforms to sea safely from a COVID-19 perspective was really challenging. Policies had to be agile and working across government was essential to creating a safe environment enabling us to successfully deploy.”
The list in full
Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE)
Brigadier Daniel Blanchford, Royal Marines
Queen’s Commendation for Valuable Service (QCVS)
Lieutenant Commander Andrew Dennis
Lieutenant Commander William John Durbin
Queen’s Commendation for Bravery (QCB)
Chief Petty Officer Jamie Andrew Ward
Foreign Awards List
US Legion of Merit
Brigadier Chris Ordway, Royal Marines
US Bronze Star
Captain James Lythgoe, Royal Marines
NATO Meritorious Service Medal
Colonel Robin Forster, Royal Marines
Australian Operation Service Medal
Captain Nicholas Wood