Soldier’s bravery to secure bridge
Sunday 13th October 2013, 12:11PM BST.
A bomb disposal expert waded neck high in an irrigation ditch before removing his body armour to make a vital bridge safe from a system of explosives.
Major Matthew Long, 39, battled in the baking Afghan heat for 10 hours to prevent the Taliban from blasting the Kakar Bridge on a key route for military supplies and local herdsmen.
Major Long, of the Royal Logistic Corps, was called into action when a wire was spotted at the bridge which is near an observation post and a military forward operating base in Helmand Province.
The soldier, who lives in Wiltshire but is originally from Taunton, Somerset, knew the area was exceptionally dangerous; only days before insurgents had killed a handful of Afghan soldiers and injured more when an IED (improvised explosive device) ripped through their checkpoint.
Major Long’s heroics, in securing the devices, have earned him the Queen’s Gallantry Medal in the latest round of military honours which see 117 service personnel recognised.
On September 20 last year the officer was called at night time to assess the situation after the suspicious wires were discovered.
Realising the complexity and sophistication of the bombs – “the most sophisticated device I have seen in my tour,” – Major Long decided to take action at first light even though it increased the risk of exposure to Taliban small arms fire.
Major Long had to wade through a wadi filled with effluent – while searching for booby traps – to approach the detonators on the bridge’s underside. It took him almost three hours to be sure no explosives were lurking in the water.
“It’s pretty daunting, but I just had to get on with it,” he said.
“I was just thinking the sooner I get it done the better.”
He disconnected the first charge, connected to 20kg of explosives, and recovered “dangerously unpredictable detonators”.
However, the second charge, containing another 20kg, was jammed into a confined space under girders at the opposite end of the bridge.
The soldier was unable to access the second charge because of his protective layers – so he took them off and worked in just his fatigues.
His citation reads: “With astounding courage, Long exposed the device and remotely pulled it from its position revealing what appeared to be an anti-handling device attached to the underside.”
Major Long destroyed the device in situ with a controlled explosion, before collecting Taliban materials for forensic analysis in the hope it would reveal clues about the bombmaker’s identity.
The Taliban planned to devastate international troops and the bridge itself, the major said.
“The enemy intention was for the next resupply to the observation post to be hit on the bridge when the vehicle went over it,” he said.
“Then the guys climbing out of the vehicle would be killed by the next device or soldiers coming to help would have been targeted.”
The officer, who has been married for seven years to wife Kirste, 43, has a daughter Alice, aged six.
He does not speak to them too much about his work, he said.
“I have to tell little white lies.
“It is harder for families than soldiers because we are trained to do the job.
“They are not privy to the training and only see Hollywood movies like The Hurt Locker which don’t depict what it is like in reality.”