A reservist with the Territorial Army in Bristol has received a coveted Joint Commander’s Commendation – for disobeying an order.
Staff Sergeant Kevin Langshaw, 52, is a member of 266 Battery (Gloucestershire Volunteer Artillery), Royal Artillery, based at Whiteladies Road TA Centre.
He was on deployment in Afghanistan at a checkpoint in the Nahr-e Saraj district of Helmand, using balloon-mounted cameras to guide an eight-man patrol to safety after a heavy firefight with the Taliban.
Sitting at his screen in the isolated checkpoint, he was trying to plot a route back for the infantry soldiers, who were low on ammunition and in grave danger of being picked off by surrounding insurgents.
Then the company commander came on the radio, saying there had been a severe weather alert and an order had come from HQ at Camp Bastion to bring the balloon down, in case it was lost along with all the expensive camera technology.
Kevin recalls: “I just said to him: ‘With all due respect sir, it’s staying where it is until the boys are back in the checkpoint.’ They still had another 15-20 minutes on the ground, fighting their way back to the checkpoint. As the crow flies it was only about 800 metres but for them it was 1.5km or more.
“I was trying to keep track of two (Taliban) weapons at the time. If I lost a £15k balloon and £20k of cameras, so what? Do you want to lose a man or a balloon? But, as it was, the balloon survived too.”
Of some 170 commendations awarded during Operation Herrick 15, only four were to TA soldiers and the other three were officers. Although the incident in question happened in November 2011, it was only a few months ago that he was told and he was only recently presented with the commendation by the Lord Lieutenant of Bristol, Mary Prior MBE.
Kevin added: “When they said I had a commendation, I thought it would be bizarre if it was because of that day when I disobeyed an order. And it was!’
Married with two daughters aged 18 and 21, Kevin is a security inspector with South West Water and he is also qualified as an independent mortgage adviser.
He was 24 years in the Regulars, spending six years with the Royal Artillery in the British Army on the Rhine and serving on two tours in Northern Ireland. Kevin qualified for his green beret as a Royal Marine Commando in 1986 and, specialising in observation, communications and signals, undertook a number of training roles before retiring in 2001.
“I thought about joining the TA but was told, wrongly, that I was too old,” he said. “That was remedied in 2007 when he was invited to join 266 Battery as Signals Sergeant but it was another four years before he was mobilised to Helmand – on his 50th birthday.
Kevin’s role was as an ISTAR (intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance) detachment commander, using surveillance equipment – camera systems mounted on a balloon – to defend the base locations and to gain intelligence.
“Because I built up such a good knowledge of local activity, I could see where and when things were out of place,” he said. “I picked up on weapons being moved, tracking them to the firing point and could warn the patrol on the ground before they could be shot at. I also helped them to identify the firing point and engage from there.”
Kevin’s first month was spent building up the intelligence picture, first working with 42 Commando who then handed over to a company of 5 Rifles. For the first four weeks of the infantrymen’s tour they could not leave the checkpoint without being fired on.
“We were getting shot at daily, with grenades being launched into the compound and thrown over the wall,” explained Kevin. “But the balloon enabled us to push back that threat. I also identified the local Taliban commander – he was 6ft 6in tall, and an easy character to follow around. He became a Category 1 target but when winter came he disappeared.
“Perhaps he knew we were after him but by that time we had taken out one of his snipers and his two-man IED team, both arrested after I had tracked them on the camera.”
Now, back with 266 Battery, he is able to pass on all he has learned in three decades in uniform: “I have all those years of military knowledge, which a TA soldier wouldn’t pick up ordinarily – even small things like putting your webbing together or cooking rations in the field. Useful things that they don’t teach you. And I like being a soldier.”