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Australian Wins Top UK Military Honour

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  • Australian Wins Top UK Military Honour

    An Australian army pilot has been awarded one of Britain's most prestigious military honours for his bravery while under enemy fire in Iraq.

    Major Scott Watkins, who was recently promoted from Captain, was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) for saving several lives in two incidents in which he acted with "outstanding courage".

    He is the first Australian since 1972 to be awarded a DFC, which is the third highest operational gallantry honour in the British forces.

    On exchange from 161 Recce Squadron to the British Army Air Corps based in Germany, Major Watkins, was deployed to the Forward Operating Base at Kalsu in northern Iraq as a Captain in September last year.

    He provided air support for the Black Watch Battle Group, which was fighting insurgents on the ground in the northern province of Babil when his helicopter was shot at.

    "Captain Watkins proved himself to be a cool and courageous pilot," his citation read.

    "In the opinion of the commanding officer of the Black Watch, Captain Watkins' actions undoubtedly saved a number of soldiers' lives in the Black Watch Battle Group."

    On November 10, he took control of the Lynx helicopter he was co-piloting after the British pilot was injured when the aircraft was hit by three rounds of Iraqi gunfire.

    After taking the controls of the Lynx, Capt Watkins avoided further gunfire, reported his position and landed safely at the coalition base at Camp Dogwood, south of Baghdad.

    The pilot was evacuated to a coalition military hospital in Baghdad and treated for his injuries.

    In the second incident, he was again shot at and "acted in a very courageous manner under fire".

    Australian Chief of Army Lieutenant General Peter Leahy extended his congratulations to Major Watkins on his award.

    "His actions are in keeping with the finest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, the Joint Helicopter Force - Iraq and the Australian Army," he said.

    Lt Gen Leahy said that the award reinforced the high regard in which coalition partners held Australian Defence Force personnel, their training and their expertise and adaptability in demanding operations.

    Another Australian honoured for bravery in Iraq was an SAS soldier known as Trooper X, who in 2003 was awarded Australia's medal of gallantry for almost single-handedly fighting off 20 Iraqi troops.

    From 1918 to 1972, a total of 2,391 Australians were awarded the DFC but from 1975 Australian personnel no longer received British honours.

    Vietnam veterans Lieutenant Terence Hayes and Second Lieutenant Michael Sonneveld were the last Australians to receive a DFC.

    Major Watkins will receive his award from the Queen at a ceremony in Buckingham Palace when his commitments allow.

    Source: AAP News

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