An Army commander from Retford has been award the Military Cross for an act of extreme bravery while serving in Afghanistan.
Corporal Oliver Bainbridge, 25, shielded a wounded colleague after an improvised explosive device (IED) strike by lying on top of him as enemy fire rained down on them.
During an assault that spanned 24 hours, Bainbridge, of A Squadron, The Royal Dragoon Guards (Catterick), displayed incredible bravery, selflessness and offensive spirit to protect his men and repel the enemy.
Bainbridge was leading his section of the Brigade Reconnaissance Force (BRF) into an insurgent stronghold in the Arghandab River Valley last November when they came under intensive rocket propelled grenade and machine gun attack.
Two dismounted BRF troops began extracting to a patrol base when Bainbridge’s troop was ordered to move into an over-watch position before extracting themselves.
Commander of the lead Jackal (an armoured vehicle), his vehicle struck an IED, disabling and engulfing it in debris and dust.
Quickly seizing control, and with no regard for his own safety, he began checking his crew and found his driver, had a suspected broken leg, was semi-conscious and in shock, so there was initially no way of knowing if his injuries were life-threatening.
Bainbridge administered effective first aid before calming and ordering his disorientated Gunner, who had been blown from the vehicle into an area of significant threat, to safety.
A medic moved forward to assist him, with their position coming under heavy and accurate fire.
It was clear the insurgents were determined to inflict further casualties on the static and vulnerable target.
Multiple bursts of rounds impacted the ground and the Jackal within 30cm of Bainbridge as he grabbed his injured driver and dragged him to a crater caused by the blast, while simultaneously instructing the IED search team and medic to seek cover.
The driver, unable to defend himself, would undoubtedly have been hit by the extremely accurate fire had it not been for Bainbridge, who then further exposed himself to the incoming fire by lying on top of him for several minutes before taking up his own rifle, blown clear of the vehicle by the blast, to suppress the firing point.
The former Elizabethan High School pupil, said: “It was a natural instinct to protect him. He was hurt and couldn’t move, I didn’t want him to get hit again. The bullets were whizzing past and cracking against our vehicle.”
Bainbridge then personally co-ordinated the driver’s extraction to the relative safety of a larger armoured vehicle, a Warthog.
With his crew safe, and with light fading, he returned to his vehicle to remove all mission-essential equipment.
This took two hours before he moved with his troop to a defensive position 100 metres north of the stricken Jackal.
“It was exhausting but I just had to keep myself going,” he said,
“I can’t praise enough the work of the Vallon detector guys who cleared the safe route back.”
“They were under a lot of pressure and without their focus and expertise we could have all been hit by IEDs.”
At first light, he led a three-man team back to the vehicle to oversee its recovery by a Warthog, where they again came under fire from multiple points.
Before moving from the blast site, his team confirmed two more IEDs just 30cm either side of the safe lane created the previous night.
Despite the risk to his own safety, and demonstrating unwavering dedication, he returned for a third time to ensure nothing could be exploited by insurgents.
Subsequently, while leading his section on another raid on an insurgent target, he was seriously injured.
His citation noted that he has been hit three times by IEDs in his Army career and stated: “This action typifies Bainbridge’s character.”
“This display of personal courage, selfless commitment and inspired leadership has resonated throughout the ranks.”