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  1. #1
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    Default U.K. Hugo Farmer , Conspicuous Gallantry Cross, Afghanistan

    The Conspicuous Gallantry Cross (CGC) is a second level military decoration of the United Kingdom armed forces.

    The CGC was instituted in the aftermath of the 1993 review of the honours system. As part of the drive to remove distinctions of rank in awards for bravery, the CGC replaced both the Distinguished Conduct Medal (Army) and the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal (Air and Naval) as second level awards to Other Ranks and ratings. The CGC also replaced the Distinguished Service Order, in its role as an award to officers for gallantry (although the DSO was retained as an award for outstanding leadership). The CGC now serves as the second level award for gallantry for all ranks across the whole armed forces.

    Lieutenant Hugo Farmer – Parachute Regiment – Conspicuous Gallantry Cross

    "Throughout 3 PARA's tour of Afghanistan, Lieutenant Hugo Farmer commanded 1 Platoon A Company in some of the most intensive engagements of the tour. During this time he consistently demonstrated outstanding leadership and gallantry. On 27 July, when defending the District Centre in Sangin against determined attack by the Taliban, his platoon was engaged by gunmen and two of his men were wounded. On 30 July, his platoon was attacked once again and Lieutenant Farmer personally led an assault onto the enemy in the building. His prompt action regained the initiative and forced the Taliban to flee.

    "On a clearance patrol on 17 August, Lieutenant Farmer identified and engaged enemy fighters resulting in a vicious fire fight. Under effective hostile fire, he organised supporting artillery fire and then personally led an assault on their positions killing a number and forcing them to withdraw. Lieutenant Farmer organised a snap ambush and inflicted significant enemy casualties thereby allowing his platoon to proceed unharmed.

    "On 20 August, his lead Section became engaged in a heavy fire fight and soon had 3 soldiers incapacitated. This forced a withdrawal. This situation was further complicated by the fact that Corporal Budd, the Section Commander, was reported as missing having continued to assault the enemy position on his own. Lieutenant Farmer quickly reorganised his Platoon and led two attempts with his remaining Sections in an attempt to locate Corporal Budd.

    "Driven back by increasingly heavy fire, he was forced to adopt a defensive position until reinforcements arrived. Lieutenant Farmer continued to consolidate his position fighting off repeated Taliban attacks. On the arrival of Apache helicopters, he directed their fire to suppress the enemy before personally leading one Section to find and evacuate his injured section commander.

    "Lieutenant Farmer displayed considerable courage and personal example under fire inspiring his men in a dangerous and confusing situation where casualties had been sustained.

    "Lieutenant Farmer's actions over this three month period were undertaken in the full knowledge of the significant risks he faced. Often under intense fire, he never hesitated to lead from the front. His courage and inspirational leadership contributed significantly to decisive defeats of the enemy and have merited the award of the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross."

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    Default The story

    Hugo Farmer’s first ambition on leaving university with a double first was “to make as much money as possible”. The City snapped him up. It did not take long, however, to feel he was “becoming a grey man”. His colleagues were “just getting richer and fatter and older. I thought to myself, ‘I need to change tack here. I need to do something interesting’.”

    He left his job even before he had been accepted for officer training at Sandhurst.

    Two-and-a-half years later, in July 2006, 26-year-old Lieutenant Farmer was in command of a platoon of battle-hardened para-troops in Helmand province, Afghanistan.

    Corporal Bryan Budd, 29, was notably brave among men for whom courage was the norm and outstandingly competent in a culture that prized professionalism.

    Uniquely among these men, Budd also kept photos of his family by his bed. He was devoted to his wife Lorena and their daughter Isabelle, and could not wait for the birth of a second girl, due very soon.

    Budd was one of the section leaders in Farmer’s platoon. Soon the NCO and the young officer would face a test of courage that would leave one of them dead and the other thinking he had had enough of the army . . . “I don’t want this any more.”

    On July 27, A Company 3 Para was sent to Sangin, a key Afghan town that was a grim, bloody, frightening and exhausting place to be in the summer of 2006. They were surrounded by fanatical enemies, under constant attack, and totally dependent on outside help to keep going.

    The company had already spent a torrid time in Sangin in June and early July, when three men had been killed by a rocket fired by the Taliban.

    They had a new CO, Major Jamie Loden, who intended to patrol Sangin aggressively. The aim was to find and destroy the Taliban and to dominate at least the area around the district centre, the administrative compound that was the symbol of the Afghan government’s flimsy authority.

    Loden wasted no time: 1 Platoon under Farmer were sent out on patrol on the day they arrived, and Loden went with them. They set up checkpoints, walked through the bazaar and circled through the town. As they headed back towards the safety of the base, everyone noticed an ominous quiet. “It was totally silent,” said Farmer.

    Private Pete McKinley was famous for his eyesight. Now he spotted two figures on a roof, clutching rifles and “running along like monkeys”. Farmer ordered Bryan Budd to take his section, including McKinley, towards them. They had gone 50 yards when McKinley saw two gunmen dart out of a doorway.

    “I brought my weapon up to my shoulder and dropped the first one,” he said. “I shot at the second one but I don’t think I got him. The next I knew, two other blokes popped up behind us. The fire was coming in from two places and me and Bry were in the open.”

    In the firefight that followed, Private “Eddie” Edwards was hit twice in the leg.

    Dan Jarvie, the platoon sergeant, was still in the main street towards the back of the patrol when he heard the shout of “Cas-ualty!” Jarvie was one of the most popular men in 3 Para. He was 31 years old, from a small mining village near Dunfermline in Fife, and had been a para since he was 16. He looked tough and spoke loud. His confidence was reassuring. But what made Jarvie so popular was the paternal warmth he showed to officer and “Tom” alike.

    Together with Corporal Stuart Giles, the medic on the patrol, he ran forward towards the front of the patrol. “It was like the gunfight at the OK Corral,” he said. “There were rounds whizzing by us, rounds hitting the dirt at your feet.” Edwards had been pulled into cover. It was appalling what two rifle bullets could do. They had “basically opened the top of his leg from his thigh to the knee . . . from my initial assessment I thought, ‘F***, he is going to lose it’.”

    Jarvie and Hugo Farmer held the wound together while the medic patched it with field dressings, injected Edwards with morphine and splinted his bad leg to his good one. Jarvie tried to take Edwards’s mind off his injuries.

    “Eddie,” he told him, “there will be no more f****** tap dancing for you for a couple of months.” Ten minutes later Edwards was in front of the company medical officer at Bastion, 3 Para’s main base.

    After the first contact, Budd and McKinley had kept advancing, driving the Taliban back and creating a space in which Edwards could be evacuated by air. As they moved forward, McKinley suddenly found himself lying on his back. He had no idea what had happened. Budd pulled him to his feet and they carried on fighting.

    Budd forced some of the gunmen back into a shelter used as a public toilet and lobbed in a couple of phosphorus grenades in an attempt to smoke them out. The interpreters reported hearing someone screaming: “I’m burning!”

    As Budd kept coming, the remaining fighters fled, running across an open field under fire from the rest of the section.

    McKinley was starting to think he had been hit and Jarvie examined him. “I pulled his body armour down at the back and sure enough there was a fingernail-sized piece of RPG [rocket-propelled grenade] shrapnel in his back.” By now the fighting was dying down and, against his wishes, McKinley was casevacced back to Bastion.

    Edwards’s left femur had been shattered and the bone splinters had ripped the muscle from knee to pelvis. He would keep his leg, but recovery might take a year. He was sedated when 3 Para’s commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Stuart Tootal, visited. McKinley was very much awake, however. Before the deployment Tootal had known him mainly for his record of indiscipline. Now it was his courage which attracted the CO’s attention. THE paras continued to push out patrols over the next few days, and invariably provoked a Taliban response. Loden had to balance high-risk patrolling with the paras’ duty to protect their base and offer some security to a squad of Royal Engineers who were building up its defences.

    A platoon of Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers and half a dozen Afghan policemen were based at Sangin. The British were expected to work alongside them to give an “Afghan face” to operations. The Afghans were often reluctant partners.

    The ANA platoon commander was given cash to pay his men but preferred to spend it on drugs for himself, which he bought in town. His men disliked and distrusted him and the platoon split along tribal lines into quarrelsome factions.

    “They were going feral and threatening to shoot each other,” said Farmer.

    They made use of their authority to “take little boys off the street and round the corner and then go and wash themselves in the river. It was blatant. There was no disguising what was going on”.

    Most of the soldiers had no particular problem with the Afghans’ sexuality, but the abuse of minors appalled them. Eventually the platoon commander was sacked.

    The police were no use at all. In the first half of August half of them fled into town while the rest joined the Taliban.

    It seemed to the paras that they were now fighting a different sort of enemy. At the outset, the Taliban foot soldiers were local youths attracted to the insurgents’ ranks by the pay of $10 or $12 a day. Their losses were painful. If British estimates were correct, 63 had been killed in Sangin in the first week of July alone. As a result, Taliban leaders were having to bring in replacements from outside. Some were from other parts of Afghanistan, and a smaller number from Pakistan.

    The newcomers were militarily far more experienced and tactically smarter than the hired guns, whose marksmanship was poor. They knew how to fight, as the British were to discover.

    The idea of patrolling the town filled everyone with foreboding. The younger Toms were beginning to wonder what the point of being in Sangin was. “They would say, ‘We are not having any effect here, we are going out for the sake of it, people are dying, there is no clear benefit’,” said Farmer. With Loden, he explained to the men that “we couldn’t develop this siege mentality. We had to go out, we had to dominate the ground and not just hand them the initiative. We couldn’t just be reactive”.

    The men listened, but it was “difficult to persuade the blokes when whenever they go out the gate they get ambushed, people are getting seriously injured, people have died and they start thinking about their R&R and home”.

    On August 12 the Taliban carried out one of their most daring attacks to date, ambushing a patrol led by Lieutenant Andy Mallet when it was only 40 yards from the front gate. Farmer saw Mallet come in. “He had the ‘thousand-yard stare’ look in his eyes and I think he was counting his lucky stars,” Farmer said.

    The engineers’ activities building up the camp inevitably attracted the attention of the Taliban, who would harass them with fire. To the south, the sappers cut back the corn and maize fields surrounding the helicopter landing site to a distance of 100 yards, robbing the Taliban of cover.

    Despite this, the site was still vulnerable, and on August 17 Loden ordered a dawn patrol to clear the area.

    The objective was to deter the Taliban from hiding weapons in advance of any helicopter resupply. One of the attackers’ techniques was to cache rifles and RPGs in buildings and fields along likely patrol routes. This gave them the freedom to move around unarmed, pick up the weapons, carry out the attack, then drop the arms and assume the guise of civilians.

    By now, the paras had a reasonable idea of how their enemy were organised. It seemed that they operated in sub-units of about 10 men. In the course of the fighting that summer the Taliban had evolved more sophisticated tactics, firing simultaneously from several angles and using a variety of weapons. Above all, they had developed very fast reaction times. Any patrol was “dicked” [observed] immediately. If the paras stayed still for more than 10 minutes they could expect to be ambushed. To counter the threat, patrols were now often more than 40 strong.

    At 3am on August 17, 1 Platoon tabbed to a lying-up position in the green area to the south known as the Gardens and regarded as “Taliban Central”. At first light, a Household Cavalry (HCR) armoured troop moved out west to the gravelly, scrub-covered flood plain of the Helmand river, to provide covering fire.

    Once they were in place, 1 Platoon began their patrol. The plan was to walk along a lane that cut through the fields, back to the district centre, searching compounds as they went. Before they set out they received an intelligence report saying the Taliban knew they were there. As soon as they started they saw two young men on a motorbike who appeared to be “dicking” them. Farmer ordered their arrest.

    They were grabbed, masked with blacked-out plastic goggles and handcuffed before being taken back to the base. While his men were dealing with the prisoners, Farmer glimpsed, through a gap in the crops, another pair of men walking along a path about 70 yards away.

    “I thought they were farmers.” They were “laughing and joking, just two of them walking along”. Then, as they got closer, he saw “webbing, AKs, RPGs, and not only that. I saw five guys behind them with exactly the same kit”.

    He turned to warn his men. As he did so, the Taliban saw them, and the firefight began. Farmer called in the mortars and 1 Platoon moved forward. “Whenever we got in a fight with the Taliban, I always made a point of forcing them back. Taking the initiative, showing them that if they are going to take us on conventionally then they are not going to win.”

    Things started well. “This was a nicely coordinated, satisfying attack. The covering fire was going in well, the mortars were going in well, sections were moving well and it was all good.”

    When they reached the Taliban position, however, the paras found they had “bugged out along a little covered route”.

    The Taliban had not given up, however. During the fight, the two prisoners the paras had seized were killed, apparently caught in the crossfire of the initial contact. (The incident was later looked into by the Royal Military Police special investigations branch, which determined that both men had been killed by Taliban fire and found no evidence of wrongdoing on the part of the paras.) But it seemed to Farmer that the Taliban did not know they were dead.

    “It was pretty clear that they thought we still had these prisoners with us and they relentlessly pursued us for a kilometre into camp,” he said.

    The Taliban were been reinforced with fighters from the town. Other groups began shooting towards the paras from several different directions. They were now about 1,000 yards from the safety of the base. “There was a lot of dangerous ground to go through. If we got a casualty we were going to be in a lot of trouble.”

    The paras dropped back, firing and manoeuvring, and called for help from the air. Two RAF Harriers appeared overhead, but the pursuers were hard on the paras’ heels and the chances of a deadly cockup were high. The Harriers were too fast-mov-ing to get more than a glimpse of the ground as they swooped over. They did, however, open fire, at one point hitting the defensive walls of the base. Farmer tried to help by marking his location with a coloured smoke grenade, but this only gave away their whereabouts to the Taliban and drew their pursuers towards them.

    He decided to set up a snap ambush. The platoon peeled off and turned to face their enemy. As the Taliban advanced up the path they were hit with fire that slowed down the pursuit.

    By now everyone in the base was involved in the drama. The engineers had stopped work and were manning two WMIKs, modified Land Rovers mounted with .50 heavy machineguns, which emerged from the base to provide supporting fire. The guns of FOB Robinson, a forward base south of Sangin, joined in with salvos of 105mm shells.

    The HCR had moved their armour to a better position to cover the withdrawal, but in the process a Spartan threw a track and could go no farther.

    After a second snap ambush the paras were able to break out of the vegetation and into the scrubby dry river bed to the east. The pursuers chased them right to the edge of the wadi. The sight of the disabled Spartan distracted them and they began to spray it with RPG and small-arms fire. The crew were still inside. As the paras fell back, everyone in and around the base concentrated fire on the Taliban while an HCR Scimitar raced out to rescue their comrades and retrieve sensitive equipment from the stricken Spartan.

    Once everyone was safely back in camp, the Harriers came over again, dropping two big bombs that put an end to what had turned into a very long engagement. As on so many occasions, everyone had been very lucky. Farmer thought to himself that it was “an absolute wonder that no one died that day”. BY now they were wondering how long this could last. The Taliban were becoming more tenacious, more daring and more skilful. It was essential to unbalance the enemy by coming up with new ap-proaches. Intelligence reports suggested that the Taliban were preparing to plant improvised explosive devices (IEDs) on the paras’ well-trodden routes into town. The need to find new ones was pressing.

    On August 20, 1 Platoon set off to find a new path through the area north of the base. It meant blowing holes through a series of compound walls. 1 Section, led by Bryan Budd, pushed ahead into cultivated land to the north and east of where the demolitions would take place. 3 Section, commanded by Corporal Andrew Wad-dington, and supported by a WMIK, moved out to the north and west. Together they would screen 2 Section under Corporal Charlie Curnow and the engineers who set the charges.

    Budd was leading from the front. As he pushed through a field, shoulder-high with maize, he saw a group of Taliban about 30 yards ahead. He used hand signals to warn his men and to prepare them for a swift attack. They started to move stealthily round in a left flanking movement. As they did so, however, the WMIK with 3 Section came under fire. The element of surprise now vanished.

    Alerted by the shots, the Taliban spotted the advancing paras and began firing. The gunmen were invisible, hidden by the thick maize.

    Budd charged into the oncoming fire, followed by his section. Immediately, Corporal Guy Roberts spun back, hit in the shoulder. Private Andy Lanaghan was struck in the upper arm and the face. Lance-Corpo-ral Craig Sharp took a bullet in the chest plate of his body armour, which knocked him over.

    “I heard the buzz of the round a fraction of a second before and then it was like being hit by baseball bat,” he said. His chest and stomach were burning. He put his hand under his vest, expecting to feel blood, but there was none.

    Three of the eight-man section were down. If they stayed where they were, they might all die. Budd made a decision that cost him his life, but saved those of his men. By now he was close enough to see the gunmen, only 20 yards away. He ran forward, crashing through the vegetation, firing as he ran. That was the last time he was seen alive.

    His self-sacrificing action succeeded. The enemy fire slackened and the rest of the section crawled back to a drainage ditch 25 yards away. Farmer moved forward to join them. When he learnt that their commander was not with them, he and Curnow led 2 Section towards where Budd had last been seen.

    “We tried to move forward and it was clear there were enemy all over the place and it wasn’t going to work,” he said. They tried a different approach, moving south, then flanking right and following the stream northwards. As they advanced along the bank they saw “Taliban bodies . . . I could see two from where I was quite clearly. Someone had tried to patch them up, or maybe they tried to patch themselves up because there was cotton wool and medical equipment lying around”.

    There was no sign of Budd and no possibility of going farther, as the section came under intense machinegun fire. The bullets were “hitting rock, hitting chest plates and they were splitting”. Farmer got “shrapnel in my boots, shrapnel in my chest plate and shrapnel in my arse”. Curnow was hit in the leg.

    Back at base it was clear to Loden that 1 Platoon were “now in a fairly sticky plight”. He called Bastion for air support and was told that two Harriers were just arriving and Apaches were on their way.

    Loden needed more men on the ground but was running out of soldiers. He had already dispatched a quick reaction force to secure the casualty collection area. He now scraped together a second platoon, plundering every unit attached to the base.

    Their task was to advance to where Farmer and his men were pinned down and stop them being cut off from behind. The Harriers had arrived, but the air controller was unable to see the enemy and direct the pilot on to the target. Then an Apache appeared and the paras’ fortunes began to improve.

    “I asked them to strafe the enemy positions on the other side of the stream and very soon after that they started forcing them back,” Farmer said.

    The paras were finally able to move up to where Budd had last been seen. They found his body lying on the sun-baked earth at the edge of the maize field. The bodies of three Taliban lay around him.

    Four of his comrades carried him back to where a medic and quad bike were waiting. At first the medic thought he could feel a faint pulse, but it was wishful thinking. They loaded Budd onto the quad and collapsed back into the base, while the Taliban harassed them with mortar and small-arms fire. THE engagement had lasted more than an hour. Budd’s death sent a chill through his comrades. The tempo of the fighting was relentless yet the high attrition rate the Taliban were suffering did not seem to wear them down.

    Farmer found himself thinking: “Right, I have had enough of the army now. I am going to sort this mess out and then I am just going to see my time out because I don’t want this any more.”

    He knew what he was supposed to do: “Get the blokes to agree that they are going to carry on as per usual. They are going to keep on doing the job. That this is part of war fighting and no one said it was going to be easy, so let’s just crack on.”

    But at the back of his mind he was wondering: “Next time I go out, is it going to be me? Is it going to be more of the blokes? Are we going to get into a real state and start getting a number of people killed?”

    Bryan Budd had seemed indestructible. If he could die, anyone could. “His blokes had a belief in him,” said Dan Jarvie. He shared most of the qualities that made a popular soldier. He was, according to Jarvie, “outrageously fit, outrageously switched on, with a mega sense of humour and very, very helpful”.

    Farmer “remembered a time we were being mortared and everyone went down to the basement to get away – quite rightly so. But I decided to go up to the top of the tower to see where the mortars were coming from to try to locate it and pass it on to Major Loden who would call in air if needs be”. When he got there, “who was there, already doing exactly what I was going to? Bryan Budd. That was typical. He thought above and beyond his immediate safety and about the bigger picture”.

    Farmer added: “He would always be happy to go forward. There would never be any questions, any indications that he was scared and didn’t want to do it.”

    But what he was finally remembered for was his dedication to his life beyond the battlefield. “He was different,” said Farmer. “Every now and then he would come up to me with pictures in his hand of his family and he would say, ‘Boss, this is my little girl, this is my wife, we are expecting another baby.’

    “Whenever he put his bed down he would put up pictures of his family. No one else did that. They would have their magazines, books and ration packs strewn about the place, but he would have a nice, neat bed space and a picture of his family, and that is what he wanted to talk about most.”

    An investigation was carried out into the circumstances of his death. There were suggestions that he might have been the victim of friendly fire, though these were not substantiated. A subsequent ballistics investigation could not confirm a match with any of the paras’ weapons.

    What was certain was that Bryan Budd had sacrificed his life for his men in an act of selfless heroism that thoroughly merited the Victoria Cross he was awarded four months later.

    “It was rare to see the enemy when a firefight began,” said Craig Sharp, who was a few yards behind Budd when he ran forward. “Bryan saw the gunmen and knew it was going to turn very nasty. He acted in the best interests of his men. He decided to precipitate the attack in order to save our lives.”

    Hugo Farmer was due to fly out for a fortnight’s R&R but offered to stay on after Budd’s death. Loden told him to go and get some rest. He was later awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross for his “courage and inspirational leadership




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