A GRADUATE from the Exeter University Officer Training Corps has been recognised for his gallantry after foiling a complex enemy ambush in Afghanistan.
It is the second time that Captain Mark Cripps has been awarded a Mention in Despatches (MiD) honour.
Captain Cripps, aged 30, of 2nd Battalion The Rifles, was at the back of the patrol with his men as support to the Afghan National Army when they became pinned down in a compound surrounded by open ground without air support during the carefully planned ambush in November last year.
Mark and his 15-man team of advisors were the only ISAF troops to patrol alongside the ANA in the area just north of Lashkar Gah where the enemy were defensively robust. The threat was constant with almost every patrol he accompanied being attacked.
He said: "In the days leading up to the attack we had been engaged with small arms fire on every patrol, we had been on, so we knew something was likely.
"We were on our way back from the patrol and as our backs were turned, that's when we were engaged. It sounds odd, but you just switch into a certain mode. We have spent years training for this so when you get shot at you aren't really thinking about that, you are thinking about what you should be doing and what the members of your team should be doing.
"This was my second tour of Afghanistan. I was on Herrick 10 up in Sangin so I had had quite an aggressive tour, and all of my soldiers were experienced non-commissioned officers, so we were quite used to it in a way."
The ANA soldiers at the front of the patrol immediately returned to support Mark and his soldiers. The Afghans are very brave people and they rallied around us to give us as much support as they could. They are the boys who need more awards than we do, because they really do just walk into fire. They came and supported us."
Realising the risk of becoming out-manoeuvred by the insurgents, Mark led a small team under heavy fire up a shallow drainage ditch to a neighbouring compound 150 metres away as bullets zipped past their heads. From his new position he was able to fire on the enemy to break up the attack, which allowed the rest of his patrol to escape.
He said: "Your best chance of survival is to react. If you just stay in the ditch and don't do anything then it's probably going to go horribly wrong and you are going to take casualties because they are not going to shoot at you unless you are at your weakest. So you need to change it and get the situation to your advantage.
"The insurgents don't like getting close to us because they know we are good, and when we get close they just want to melt away, so the best way to break an engagement is to advance on it. So that's what we tried to do."
His citation states: "For Cripps such action was routine in the highly dangerous ground on which he patrolled. His tactical instinct and selfless decisive conduct under fire unquestionably preserved the lives of many others.
"Cripps was the lynchpin that both suppressed the enemy and encouraged the ANA. This has enabled them to regain the initiative and break the enemy's defences."
The announcement was made last week with the release of the latest operational honours and awards list which includes 106 personnel.