THE SUN Military Awards are back, celebrating another year of heroics from the finest Armed Forces in the world.
Tonight’s cherished awards – affectionately dubbed The Millies – are returning for their 12th year to salute Our Boys and Girls.
Hundreds of nominations poured in from readers before a shortlist of three was whittled down for each category. The winners – unveiled tonight in London – were picked by a judging panel of ex-military top brass, Forces supporters and celebrities.
On these pages we showcase our nominees across the categories, hailing incredible acts of courage, fortitude and dedication at home and abroad.
Brother dies and Fin vows to wear beret too
Private Fin Doherty, 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment.
PRIVATE Doherty was six when his brother was killed in a Taliban ambush while with the Parachute Regiment in Afghanistan.
Fin resolved to honour his brother’s memory in an extraordinary and inspirational way.
He set his heart on joining the Parachute Regiment just like brother Jeff, who was known to family and friends as JJ.
Last November, Fin passed P-Company, the training and selection organisation of the Armed Forces, after completing the 19-week course at Catterick Garrison in North Yorks.
He was presented with his brother’s maroon beret by Sergeant Major Adam Ireland, JJ’s best friend who fought alongside him.
As he accepted the beret, Fin fought back tears as he remembered the years of anguish and heartbreak that followed JJ’s death in June 2008, two days after his 20th birthday.
Modest Fin, 18, still struggles to see himself as an inspiration to others.
‘All I have ever known’
Instead, he pays tribute to his brother and says: “JJ was everything to me growing up.
“When I was two or three and he was training to be a paratrooper, he’d put me in his bergen while he ran. My head would be sticking out of the top. He was my hero.
“As a result, the Parachute Regiment is all I have ever known. I grew up with it. Even after he died, his friends were still there.”
JJ’s memory helped Fin get through training and he won the Best Recruit award at the Army Foundation College, Harrogate.
Fin, of Southam, Warks, says: “I’m just doing what I’ve always wanted to do. I’ve never done it for any other reason. I’ve wanted to pass P-Company for as long as I can remember. I was born to be a Para.
“JJ was only a kid. He would have been 31 now and I think of all the stuff he was capable of doing and he hasn’t done.
“When I was handed his beret I looked up to the sky and had a quiet word with him.”
Mum Joyce says: “Fin doesn’t see himself as an inspiration, but he is.
“A mum stopped me and asked if Fin would have a chat with her 15-year-old son.
“He wants to be like Fin, and that’s cool. I want JJ to be remembered as long as he possibly can be, and what Fin is doing is allowing that to happen. But he’s also allowing Afghanistan to be remembered.
“Not just for JJ, but for all the boys who didn’t come home.”
A 221-mile swim, cycle and march honours D-Day Paras
Captain Matt Pexton and Captain Jamie Robson, 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment.
They spent three days last August undertaking the feat to commemorate the regiment’s role in D-Day and honour those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
The pair, who have served together in Afghanistan, swam a 21-mile relay across the Channel to Calais.
Then they cycled 150 miles from Calais to Bruneval in Normandy before tabbing – marching with a 37lb bergen pack – 50 miles to Pegasus Bridge near the D-Day beaches.
Along the way the duo, pictured right at Pegasus Bridge, raised £7,500 for their regimental charity, Support Our Paras, which supports serving and former members as well as widows.
Jamie, 26, from Newcastle, says: “We both wanted to do something that honoured the regimental history.
“We decided on the route because it took in some of the locations where the Parachute Regiment received regimental honours, including Bruneval, where there was a fundamental raid in February 1942, and Pegasus Bridge.
“Once we set a foot in the Channel there was no way we wouldn’t finish the challenge.
“But we almost didn’t start. The swim was delayed for 24 hours because of rough seas.
“Then we were asked to start a week later but we had a support vehicle waiting for us in Calais so had no choice but to set off at eight o’clock on a windy night last August, when there was a small weather window.
“Quitting wasn’t an option. The regiment was in our minds all the time. Not just the men who served on D-Day and during the Second World War but those who served in Northern Ireland, Iraq, Afghanistan and across the globe.”
Matt, 27, from the Weald of Kent, adds: “We both thought the tab would be the easiest part, but we were wrong.
“It’s our bread and butter as Paras but by the time we got to it, we were exhausted and the last ten miles were the hardest. During the challenge I spent a lot of time thinking about the regiment and the men who served.
“Tabbing to Pegasus Bridge in the small hours of the morning would have been what the Paras did in World War Two so that was particularly poignant.
“Jamie wants to do six marathons in six days as our next challenge but I think I’ll take some convincing.”
The pair were training for another deployment to Afghanistan when they learned of their Sun Millies nomination.
Jamie says: “It was a tough challenge and meant a lot to both of us though, so the nomination and getting to attend tonight feels like a nice way to round off what we did.”
Marine battles PTSD after friends killed in action
Lieutenant Colonel Joe Winch, Royal Marines.
TEN years after his first Afghanistan tour with the Royal Marines, Lt Col Winch’s life began to fall apart.
His wife, Amy, had just given birth to their third child and the soldier who always led his men from the front felt he could no longer cope.
He says: “At its worst I couldn’t leave the house or look after myself at a very basic level.
“Noise was the worst. It physically hurt me, which meant often I couldn’t sit down for a meal with my family or be in the house when anybody else was in there.
“Life was completely dysfunctional. There seemed to be nothing I could do to make it better.”
Joe who joined the Royal Marines in 2002, was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
He says: “Quite early on in my diagnosis I had wanted to just escape to a hillside and sit there in the tranquillity.
“But I hadn’t been able to do it on my own. I couldn’t drive or take care of myself. About nine months post- diagnosis, my wife booked a holiday to the Brecon Beacons. I went out on a short hike with Amy’s dad, Andrew, and the weather suddenly deteriorated.
“I noticed my father-in-law was quite agitated. He wasn’t scared but he was noticeably uncomfortable in an environment he was not familiar with.
“In stark contrast, I was thoroughly enjoying myself. I realised that in normal life I am exactly like Amy’s father was.
“I’m agitated, concerned and overwhelmed. But in the mountains when the going got tough, I was really confident. It was one of the first big breakthroughs in my recovery.”
A couple of weeks later, Joe was invited to be part of a group of injured Marines going climbing in the Alps.
‘Agitated and overwhelmed’
Next, he joined a team of wounded Marines in successfully scaling 20,310ft Mount Denali, formerly Mount McKinley, in Alaska. Joe, 41, from Gosport, Hants, says: “When I got back from that trip I started to talk openly about PTSD, to tell people how unpleasant and difficult it is – but that with the right opportunities and the right support there is no reason we can’t go on to do amazing things.”
As the most senior Royal Marine to publicly admit to having PTSD, Joe was saying it was OK not to be OK.
He says: “The PTSD almost certainly began early in my first tour in 2006 but it looked and felt like I was doing fine.
“If you scratched the surface, hidden away underneath was all this chaos, turmoil and traumatic stress that I had never dealt with because we were at war.
“Masses of friends and colleagues were killed over a six or seven-year period and it is that accumulated stress which did the damage for me.”
In May last year, Joe stood on the summit of Mount Everest with a team of injured Marines to inspire others.
He says: “It makes me feel slightly better about not being able to walk my kids to school or the other limitations I have as I know I can still do amazing things.”
HERO OVERSEAS: INDIVIDUAL
Flying in hotspot to help stricken chopper crew
Flight Lieutenant Aaron Kerry, RAF Odiham.
CHINOOK pilot Aaron Kerry was on the last flight of his three-month tour when the mayday call came in.
A French military helicopter was down and on fire in a remote corner of Mali that was infested with IS terrorists last April.
On board his helicopter and the one flying alongside were 50 French Paras.
Despite running low on fuel, Aaron turned the British Chinooks from C Flight 18 Squadron back to go to the rescue.
Aaron, from Norwich, says: “We were doing a pretty routine logistics move, picking up troops from a base about 40 minutes away and returning them safely at Gao Airfield.”
Because visibility was poor, the Chinook crews spoke on the radio to two French Caiman helicopters travelling in the opposite direction to adjust their heights and avoid a collision.
Aaron, 33, says: “After we had passed, one of them radioed and said the other had been forced to make an emergency landing in the desert with an engine fire.
“Ending up downed in the middle of nowhere is any aviation crew’s worst nightmare when you are operating somewhere like that.” Crewmen dropped the Paras to secure the area and the Chinooks waited to give top cover until a back-up helicopter arrived to pick up the abandoned crew.
Aaron’s commanding officer, Wing Commander Matt Roberts says: “Aaron stayed on the ground providing support for more than half an hour. It is remarkable in a hostile environment like that.”
Rebuilding Somali spirit to tackle terrorists
Colour Sergeant Alfie Bates, Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment.
BY the time Col Sgt Bates and his 12-man team of assault pioneers arrived in North East Africa, the soldiers of Somalia’s national army were losing their fighting spirit against al-Shabab.
The terror group was running amok in the remote town of Baidoa.
Alfie says: “When al-Shabab attack, they bring everything – up to 100 fighters and vehicles mounted with machine guns. All noise and thunder.
“First they massacre the people inside the camps, then burn everything and take their victims’ weapons to use in more attacks and assaults.”
Knowing lives were at stake, Alfie, 34, of 2nd Battalion, the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment, put every ounce of his soldiering skills learned from Northern Ireland, Afghanistan and Iraq into creating new defence lines that the Somalis could build and defend.
He says: “Being a British soldier, you are stood there in all the protection the Army issue us and these guys are fighting in flip flops without body armour. But they are very, very brave and I wanted to make sure that they were equipped to protect their town.” By building ditches that could swallow enemy vehicles, installing razor-wire entanglements to slow down the terrorists and protecting soldiers behind sandbagged walls, the British were able to give back a fighting spirit to the Somalis.
Alfie says: “I understand that in a defensive location they have not lost one man since.”
Life saved in 3,500-mile rescue from Antarctica
Squadron Leader Jonathon Lowe, RAF High Wycombe.
SQN LDR Lowe is the Royal Air Force’s first and only Dual Emergency Medicine and Intensive Care Medicine trainee.
The trail-blazing doctor was stationed in Antarctica last March when a civilian contractor became desperately unwell.
The patient’s chances of survival were slim, and Jonathon faced a five-day, 3,500-mile journey to Chile with the ill man that would test his medical skills.
He and his team set about saving the man’s life while attempting to organise an evacuation from the remote base.
Thanks to the hard work of teams back in the UK, at 3pm the next day they set sail on the first leg of the evacuation from Adelaide Island.
Jonathon, 31, from Plymouth, says: “I packed all the supplies I knew I’d need and a body bag in case things didn’t turn out how we all hoped. It was serious.”
After a day-long journey in pitching seas, Jonathon, along with colleague Major Amber Chadwick and their patient, reached a neighbouring station off the coast of Antarctica where they waited for a plane to take them to Chile. After nine hours of flight, plus refueling, Jonathon and his still-conscious patient arrived in Santiago, Chile, and were met by an ambulance. Jonathon says: “He was so lucky to survive.”
Speaking of his Millies nomination, he adds: “It’s a huge shock. I feel fraudulent. There were so many other people involved that allowed me to do what I did.
“I didn’t save his life. There was a whole team of us.”
HERO AT HOME: INDIVIDUAL
Cornet player’s rescue as driver collapses at wheel
Colour Sergeant Richard Kerr, Band of the Royal Regiment of Scotland.
WHEN the driver of a coach collapsed at the wheel at 70mph while taking a military band back to Scotland, Col Sgt Richard Kerr, 36, had to act.
The cornet player and married dad of two, from Portadown, Co Armagh, jumped up and seized the wheel.
He says: “He started to drift from the left to the right very slowly. I had a cup of tea in my hand and I just threw it down.
“The driver’s head was down, he was slumped over the wheel, out of it.
“I just had to take the steering wheel and steer the coach.”
The drama unfolded on a rainy April night last year on the M6 as more than 30 members of the band returned from London after training.
Richard adds: “The driver wasn’t waking up. I needed to get him out of the seat, but he was locked in, so the only thing we could do was steer the coach and get him to come around.
“He came around but he wasn’t totally with it, so I coached him into slowing the vehicle down.” Under Richard’s guidance, the driver was coaxed into reducing his speed while the coach was steered on to the hard shoulder. Once it stopped, Richard gave the driver medical aid and made arrangements for a new driver. He says: “It’s not nice to think what it could have been.”
On being nominated, he says: “It’s amazing – it came totally unexpectedly. I’m humbled to be nominated.”
Chasing armed speeder with fake blue lights
Lance Bombardiers Zac Walton, Kyle Cromar and Richard Wheatley, 7th Parachute Regiment Royal Horse Artillery
THREE Parachute Regiment soldiers were driving along the M25 to their HQ in Colchester, Essex, last March when an unmarked car raced past them flashing blue lights.
But with the driver wearing military fatigues, their suspicions were aroused.
So L/Bmdrs Zac Walton, 24, Kyle Cromar, 29, and Richard Wheatley, 27, gave chase. And when they pulled along- side, the driver pointed a firearm at them.
Zac, from Colchester, says: “I turned around and said, ‘He just pulled a gun on us’. We were all a bit bewildered.
“So we got on the brakes and moved behind him.”
They called the police and stayed glued to the vehicle at speeds of up to 100mph – until they hit a traffic jam.
Kyle, a married dad of one from Newquay, Cornwall, says: “It was gridlocked, so Richard got out the car, and went up to the window.
“I followed behind Richard while Zac went to the left-hand side of the car. I opened the door and took hold of the steering wheel, asking for ID. Zac went around the other side, swung the door open and took the handgun.”
Moments later the police arrived and arrested the man. The weapon was later found to be an imitation.
The 55-year-old driver from Kidlington, Oxon, has been released while inquiries continue.
Kyle adds: “We’re lucky we’ve had the right training and been given the right mindset, and we got that from the Army.
“If we weren’t in the Army we probably wouldn’t have acted.”
Dad’s quick-thinking saves comrade crushed by truck
Lance Corporal Craig Daniels, Military Provost Guard Service
The married dad-of-one, from Thornaby-on-Tees, North Yorks, had an hour left to go on his shift in December 2018 guarding the gates of Catterick Garrison, North Yorks, when the call came for help.
A fellow soldier had been hit by an HGV and left for dead in the road.
Craig, 33, who raced to the scene carrying field dressing, says: “He was just laid on the floor.
“He didn’t even look like he had been run over, but he was semi-conscious and struggling to breathe.
“I was going over his body systematically and I found bleeding.
“So I got the field dressings and applied them.”
Unknown to Craig, the soldier’s pelvis had been crushed by the rear wheels of the truck and he had an arterial bleed.
Craig adds: “We later found out he had minutes to live if that field dressing hadn’t gone as quickly as it did.” Once he had stabilised the patient, an ambulance arrived and the crew took over. The soldier is now recovering well.
On being nominated for a Millie, Craig says: “It’s overwhelming, but the main thing for me was that the man was OK.
“His family still have a son, and his little boy still has a father.
“That’s what keeps me going.”
HERO AT HOME: UNIT
Six days flying to save flood-hit town
18 & 27 Squadron RAF Odiham.
CHINOOK choppers dropped 600 tonnes of rubble to shore up Whaley Bridge dam, which was close to bursting during floods last year.
More than 580 homes were cleared and 1,500 residents evacuated in August when the dam in Derbyshire threatened to disintegrate.
But the RAF came to the rescue, flying a gruelling six-day mission to move huge sacks of aggregate into place and avert catastrophe.
Flight Lieutenant Matthew Smyth, 32, from Stafford, says: “The scale of the flooding was immense. We had an inkling something was going on — there was a national crisis brewing.”
He and his crew, who were the first servicemen on the scene, were called in by the emergency services.
They immediately started ferrying aggregate bags on to the dam. After six hours they started drawing on a “Battleships grid-style” system to ensure the rubble was placed in the correct spots. After six days of relentless flying, the two units from RAF Odiham, Hants, declared it mission accomplished.
Matthew says: “I landed that day certainly very tired but feeling very proud of what the crew had achieved.”
On being nominated for a Millie, he adds: “You don’t do the job to get a pat on the back, but its brilliant. We’re all awestruck.” Crewman Sergeant Gavin Anderson, a 31-year-old married dad-of- two, from Pocklington, East Yorks, directed the pilots so the helicopter could drop the rubble in the right spot.
He says: “It was long days, and very tiring. On day three or four, farmers in the local fields were creating ground-to-air signs saying, ‘Thanks RAF’, or, ‘You’re our heroes’.
“To see that after a long, tiring day was incredible.”
‘Herculean’ task of keeping submarines on patrol round-the-clock… for 50 years
Operation Relentless, Continuous At Sea Deterrent .
The codename for this “Herculean” feat is Operation Relentless – otherwise known as the Continuous At Sea Deterrent. And it is the longest unbroken operation ever undertaken by the UK Armed Forces.
Commodore Jim Perks, 53, from Kingston upon Thames, Surrey who is head of the submarine service, says: “It is a truly Herculean effort to have had deterrent submarine on patrol for 50 years.”
The “bomber” boats are busy all year around delivering the nation’s “ultimate insurance policy” against attack.
But critics often misunderstand the nuclear deterrent’s job. Cdr Perks adds: “I love it when people say it’s never used, because they couldn’t be more wrong. It is being used every single minute of every day for more than 50 years – it is a deterrent.”
And it is made possible through the commitment of dedicated crews who set sail for months with almost zero contact with the outside world.
Commanding Officer of HMS Vengeance, Commander Darren Mason, 46, from West Sussex, a married dad-of-two, is in charge of a crew of 167.
He says: “My job is to avoid every single type of vessel – you name it, if it goes in the ocean I’m to avoid it – by as much margin as possible.
“But I only move at my most stealthy, at exceptionally slow speeds.
“If you were walking fast, you would be going faster than me, and I’m trying to run away from things that are doing hundreds of miles an hour.
He adds: “The nuclear deterrent provides that comfort blanket to the UK Government and the population that no one is going to do anything rash, because they do not know what the UK will do in response.”
Ultimate good neighbours muscle in after a month’s rain falls in hours
2ND Battalion, the Yorkshire Regiment.
In the village of Grinton, residents had fled their homes with just the clothes on their backs, as livestock drowned and pets were lost.
So civic leaders approached 2nd Battalion, the Yorkshire Regiment, and they reacted without hesitation.
A minibus of squaddies was loaded up and they spent hours clearing roads, filling sandbags and providing vital “muscle”.
Proud Lt Col Ben Westcott, commanding officer of 2 Yorks, based at Somme Barracks, Catterick Garrison, North Yorks, says: “From where we were based you could hear the thunder up over the moor – you could tell it was significant.
“There had been some really horrendous damage done – and it was damage all across the local areas.
“The Regimental Sergeant Major found a minibus full of troops and drove up there and started helping the local residents.
“We are unique in being the last county regiment – and we take that really seriously.”
Of being nominated for a Millie, Lt Col Westcott, says: “I’m immensely proud. We don’t do this stuff for recognition, we do it because of the importance of that local bond.
“We’re really proud of our soldiers and how they conducted themselves.”
Wounded in bloody tour… rebuilds life with sport
Rifleman Craig Monaghan, 2 Rifles.
INSPIRATIONAL former Rifleman Craig Monaghan was part of the company that suffered more casualties than any other in Afghanistan’s bloodiest tour.
A series of blasts left Craig with a traumatic brain injury, PTSD and three-quarters of his hearing gone.
Without the Army, he quickly spiralled into deep depression. Bereft of hope he tried to take his own life three times. But then he rediscovered his love of rugby and everything changed.
Craig became the first soldier wounded in Afghanistan to represent his country, as a member of the England Deaf Rugby team.
And now he works with Sale Sharks Premiership rugby club, where he has helped more than 250 veterans switch to civilian life, find work and homes. He says: “We went to Afghan knowing our job. We wanted to be surrounded by the enemy and fight as much as we could. We did get that fight and but, unfortunately, it also came at a high cost.
“To lose so many lads was tough.”
By the end of their tour in Sangin Province, in the summer of 2009, 13 Riflemen from 2 Rifles had been killed.
Craig – one of 46 wounded – was flown to Camp Bastion and eventually to Selly Oak hospital in Birmingham.
He was medically discharged in January 2013. He says: “Coming home wounded, I didn’t believe I’d done a good enough job. I felt a bit of a coward for getting hit, like I’d let the boys down.
“The chain reaction from that guilt was pretty awful.”
Slowly, through playing rugby, scrum-half Craig, 29, from Wythenshaw, Gtr Manchester, began to recover. He says: “I was wounded and my career ended. I went through the suicide stuff and then have rebuilt my life using sport.”
Powerlifting through multiple sclerosis gloom
RAF Sergeant Georgina Smith.
BY rights RAF Sgt Georgie Smith should not be able to walk, let along serve in the Forces.
Four years ago she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and feared her career in the service would be over.
But remarkably Georgie, who served in Afghanistan, Bosnia and the Falklands, has gone from strength to strength – after taking up powerlifting.
She has defied the doctors, winning four silvers and two bronze medals at the Warrior Games in Florida last June where she was UK team captain.
Georgie, 40, says: “I believe 100 per cent in the military mind set.
“If I wasn’t using sport as my crutch I would be in a very different place.”
Georgie, who had worked as a Detention Handler in Kandahar, discovered powerlifting on a visit to Help for Heroes’ recovery centre at Tedworth House, Wilts, and now deadlifts 100kg – that’s twice her bodyweight.
Georgie, who lives in South Wales, says: “I manage my illness right now by constantly looking forward to the next competition – train towards it, recover, have a little rest and then start again.” On top of her job at Bristol’s Armed Forces Careers Office, and her sporting achievements, Georgie is now the RAF advocate for chronic illness and disability as well as a champion for sports with the MS Society of Wales.
Georgie says: “I think the worst thing you can do is to allow the illness to overtake you because ultimately a lot of illnesses are mind over matter.”
So calm under pressure as missile fails to launch
Squadron Leader ROGER CRUICKSHANK, RAF Lossiemouth
PINNED down by dozens of IS fighters armed with rocket-propelled grenades, the small group of Iraqi soldiers had already taken heavy casualties and were facing almost certain death.
Their only hope was a pair of RAF Typhoon fighter jets screaming in at 450 miles an hour.
In one cockpit, Sqn Ldr Cruickshank pressed the red button to launch a 500lb Paveway IV laser-guided missile on to the two dozen terrorist fighters hiding under a tree.
Suddenly an error warning light came on – and the plane’s computer would not allow the weapon to fire.
Roger says: “I remember screaming at the aircraft at the top of my voice.”
In that moment, the 37-year-old remembered a training briefing and that a series of button pushes would allow the pilot to skip to another missile and fire. He says: “I only had about two seconds to make that decision.
“I did the button presses and when I felt the clunk of the weapon coming off my aircraft, I was ecstatic. It was a direct hit.”
He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his part in the attack – the high point of a stellar career.
But it could all have been so different. Roger’s life fell apart in 2010 after his mother, a nurse, killed herself, aged 54.
The airman found it hard to cope and speak about it. But then he confronted his anguish in a book, Speed Of Sound, Sound Of Mind, which gives advice to others going through similar trauma. He has also raised £16,000 for mental health charities such as Heads Together, co-founded by Prince William, who presented him with the DFC.
Roger says: “I remember watching William talking about mental health and thinking I have been trying to say that for years. I love the way he has spoken openly.”
SUPPORT TO THE ARMED FORCES
Network for ex-troops after friend took life
All Call Signs support network
Mates Dan Arnold, 33, and Stephen James, 31, set up the Portsmouth-based All Call Signs service after their pal Danny Johnston, 35, took his life in 2018 following a tour of Afghanistan.
The support network is made up of 500 former soldiers, volunteers and families of military personnel who are available 24-hours a day to chat to anyone who needs support.
Its Beacon alert system can also mobilise a search party anywhere in the country within 20 minutes if a soldier indicates he is in crisis. The team have been deployed 70 times in the past 12 months, coming to the aid of 66 veterans who might have ended up like Danny.
Stephen, who served for five years, and left the Army as a private, says: “Me and Dan have both had our own experiences of very poor mental health.
“We had lots of conversations over the years about how we could help others like us get through the tunnel and out the other side. But those chats never went much further than fag packet planning. Then we lost Danny.”
The pair both served in the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment and say civilian counsellors do not have the experience to deal with people who are talking about “RPG’s, ambushes, explosions.” They described being nominated for the award as “humbling”.
Fast cars help veterans ‘race, retain and recover’
Mission Motorsport charity
Founder James Cameron, a former Royal Tank Regiment Major from Newbury, Berks, had recently returned from a tour of Afghanistan determined to use his love of motorsport to help comrades.
The 46-year-old had commanded 168 men in Helmand Province in 2010 and saw 18 per cent medically discharged through injury.
Overwhelmed by the scale of the need, he decided to do what he knew best. He says: “I took them racing.”
Using his extensive connections within motorsport, which had been a lifelong hobby, he started up his charity with the motto, “Race, Retain, Recover”.
He says: “Motorsport is an incredibly powerful draw, but you’ve got to use it in the right and responsible way.
“You’ve got to use it in a way that is helping them on their recovery journey – not the shiny stuff.”
The charity not only gives veterans opportunities in motorsport, but has helped scores find work in the automotive industry.
More than 170 veterans have found jobs through the charity’s training and placement schemes – with 84 per cent of them still in employment two years later.
Mission Motorsport is backed by the MoD, connected to a host of other military charities and backed by industry.
On being nominated for a Millie, James says: “It’s ace.”
Going above and beyond with the Forces Covenant
Halfords support pledge
MANY companies have signed the Armed Forces Covenant – a commitment to support the military community.
But few have gone as far as retail giant Halfords to truly honour the Covenant in spirit as well as deed.
Andy McBride, Halfords’ group head of resourcing and people shared services, recognised the deep pool of talent ex-Forces bring and saw an opportunity to help former troops build new careers.
She says: “For us it’s been great. We’ve got lots of opportunities we can offer.
“I know what kind of skills those guys and girls have, and the resilience they have, working together as a team, facing challenges. You can’t buy those skills and they are all really valuable to us as an organisation.”
After signing up last February, Halfords has committed to offering veterans and reservists guaranteed interviews for all Halfords roles.
On top of that, it has gifted an extra ten additional unpaid days of leave to reservists.
The company now hosts a “Wear Your Uniform to Work” day to demonstrate the work of reservists at its nationwide range of shops and garages.
Their approach is already yielding success. Since signing up, the firm has filled more than 70 jobs with Forces leavers and reservists.
Andy adds: “This is a win-win for us and something we are very proud of.
“And to be nominated for a Millie is amazing. We’re all a little bit shocked but all really, really delighted.”
HERO OVERSEAS: UNIT
Turning the tide in troubled South Sudan
32 AND 39 Engineer Regiment, Op Trenton
The East African country has been riven by a bloody civil war which has raged since independence was declared in 2011. Around 300 British troops have been deployed on the United Nations mission to protect 150,000 displaced civilians living in UN protection camps in Malakal and Bentiu.
Our soldiers have constructed roads, bases, hospitals and helped civilians rebuild a primary school in Malakal, where children are now able to learn in safety.
And they have run English lessons and given the women vital self-defence classes. Capt Beth Easingwood, 25, from Newbury, Berks, is an operations officer and led the self-defence training.
She says: “We have civilians who work within both camps and you build up a close bond with them when you see them day in and day out.
“We talk to them on a daily basis, and they are very appreciative of our presence.
“We’ve heard some of the harrowing conditions they have lived in and how much the lessons would have helped them in previous times if they had known how to protect themselves.
“We wanted to give women a safe environment where they could feel comfortable to approach the subject.
“It’s very satisfying, especially the self- defence classes, because we are having a direct impact with the local ladies. It was a really rewarding, personal experience for us.”
Around 250 have been through the classes, thanks to the Brits.
Reacting to the Millies nomination, Capt Josh Cartwright, 30, from Croydon, South London, says: “It’s fantastic for the troops. It’s recognition for their hard work. It’s nice to be recognised back home for the work they’ve done.”
Battling storms and the night to rescue merchant ship crew
HMS Argyll’s hero sailors worked through the night in the midst of a ferocious storm to rescue the crew of a blazing merchant ship.
Stricken 214metre-long merchant monster the MV Grande America was engulfed in an inferno and sinking when the Royal Navy frigate found her in the Bay of Biscay last March.
Commander Toby Shaughnessy, HMS Argyll’s captain, was steaming home after a nine-month mission to the Far East when they stumbled across the crisis.
He says: “I got a call from my team on the bridge saying they think they can see a ship on fire ahead of us.
“The conditions were pretty poor – we had high seas of six to eight metres, rain, poor visibility, obviously very windy and it was pitch black.
“It was almost directly ahead of us, we’d had no call for help, or anything on the radio.”
At first the merchant ship said it did not need assistance and was planning on calling a French tug to save the crew.
But as HMS Argyll moved away, the Mayday sounded out. The entire crew of 27 piled into a lifeboat and launched. But to their horror, the crew of HMS Argyll, just 600 yards away, watched the lifeboat crash into the water and pound into the side of the boat, causing it to lose power.
The captain immediately launched his sea boat, which tied a line to the lifeboat and pulled it clear of the burning ship towards HMS Argyll.
They then pinned the lifeboat to the side of HMS Argyll with the seaboat then lowered a rope with a loop and hauled the bedraggled crew clear one by one. The operation took six hours.
Cdr Shaughnessy, said: “The behaviour of sailors absolutely astounds me.
“They leapt out of bed and got to it for many hours on the upper deck in a storm. The way they threw their all in – I was hugely proud of my team.”
The crew of MV Grande America were dropped off in France the next day – their vessel later sank.
Destroyer seizes drugs worth £145m in the Gulf’s ‘Hash Highway’
THE Royal Navy Destroyer seized more drugs in one six-month tour at sea than the UK’s entire police forces managed in a year.
The warship and her crew – operating along the so-called “hash highway” in the Gulf of Oman – made eight drug seizures, now dubbed the “great eight.”
Across the raids, the crews confiscated 18,000kg of hash, 455kg of heroin and 9kg of crystal meth, with a combined street value of £145million.
Current captain of HMS Dragon, Commander Giles Palin, says: “It just shows you how prevalent it is.
“The money made from these narcotics goes to fund lots of illegal activity such as terrorism.
“Every element of my ship’s company were involved, from the air crew to intelligence teams to the chefs, who not only feed the crew but form some of the boarding teams.
“Dragon was incredibly proud of the ‘great eight’ – the eight successful drugs hauls – which was a record.”
HMS Dragon’s tour began in September 2018 and continued until last April, working to stop the drug flow from Pakistan to the Horn of Africa.
Crews found and raided fishing vessels which were smuggling drugs headed for streets across the world including the UK.
All the seized drugs were destroyed.
Cdr Palin revealed the crew were ecstatic with their Millies nomination, saying: “It is a great honour – when I announced it to the ship’s company it went down really, really well. It’s a real boost to morale.”
Mapping path to safety in flashpoint Hormuz Strait
Lieutenant Commander Tracy MacSephney, Marine Component Command, Royal Navy
AFTER a British-flagged ship was seized by Iranian forces in the Gulf, Lt Cdr MacSephney was sent to Bahrain where the UK runs an intelligence cell monitoring shipping in the hostile Strait of Hormuz.
The eyes of the world were on the developing crisis, with the threat of war between the West and Iran.
But shipping still had to pass through the maritime choke point right under the noses of the Iranians, who had vowed to seize more British ships.
Maritime Trade Operations specialist Tracy, from Southampton, who joined the Reserve in 2004 after five years in the Royal Navy, was plunged into the heart of the crisis.
Her job was to find a way to map every British ship in the waterway and link it with a British warship that could guarantee its safety. The day before Tracy arrived in Bahrain, the British ship Stena Impero had been seized by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.
The 44-year-old says: “It was such a volatile situation. One minute you’d be mapping a British ship then it would change hands and be flying under a different flag. My job was to analyse and interpret what was going on and work out which ships needed group transit. We had to work fast but with accuracy, but we got a system in place which ensured safe passage for British interests.”
The first expert in her field on the ground, Tracy was on deployment for seven weeks, often working 16-hour days.
Senior commanders say she “transformed” the way the UK Armed Forces protect merchant shipping in the Gulf.
Commodore Dean Bassett, UK Maritime Commander in the Middle East, says: “Without Tracy being here I would not have had the information needed to position my ships according to the threat.”
Suicide of a pal inspires campaign for homeless
Captain Karl Stone, A Squadron, Royal Yeomanry
SGT MAJOR Stone retired after 26 years with the 9th/12th Lancers – and signed on as a reservist the very next day.
But it his charity work with the homeless that has earned a Millies nomination for the veteran of Ulster, Bosnia and both Gulf Wars.
Now a full-time reserve Captain with A Squadron the Royal Yeomanry, Karl, right, says: “My former regiment had a few guys who ended up on the streets and a good friend became homeless and took his own life, so I decided to help in whatever way I could.
“At first I was looking for homeless veterans to help. Tracy Dickinson, a remarkable woman who runs a local street kitchen, made me see the light.
“She told me you cannot differentiate between veterans and the rest of the homeless. It quickly dawned on me that she was right.”
Karl regularly helps at Tracy’s Street Kitchen in Nottingham, where they feed up to 100 people on a Friday night.
He also organised and led a number of charity events including sponsored sleep-outs. And he welcomed homeless people at the reserve centre in Nottingham, where they are offered showers, clean clothes, haircuts and a hot meal.
Karl, 51, whose partner Selina Smith is also a reservist, has raised thousands of pounds for mental health and cancer charities, too.
He says: “To be nominated for a Millies award is really humbling.”
Reservist’s science skills helps hurricane relief
Lieutenant Imogen Napper, HMS Vivid
And as a Royal Navy reservist she was sent to the Caribbean to help charity Team Rubicon in the wake of Hurricane Irma.
Imogen, 27, says: “I expected I’d be on the ground making shelters and helping food supply lines. But once the people in charge knew I was a reservist and understood military language, I was put to work attending command briefs and liaising with different agencies.”
Acting as a military liaison officer between the British Armed Forces and the humanitarian charity, she helped coordinate the UK’s efforts with the UN and aid organisations. Imogen, from Plymouth, Devon, says: “It was like slotting together pieces of a huge puzzle to make sure everything ran in a streamlined way, ensuring the people in remote areas got the help they needed”.
Lt Napper is from a military family. Her dad Michael served in the Royal Navy, her uncle was a Royal Marine and her grandfather was in the RAF.
She says: “I joined up in 2015 and can’t imagine a time that the Royal Naval Reserves won’t be a part of my life.”
Imogen was on an expedition in India monitoring the amount of plastic in the River Ganges when she learned she had been nominated.
She says: “While science and the environment are a huge passion for me, serving is something I feel equally strongly about.
“My dad was so proud of me when I told him. I follow the Millies every year so getting a nomination for something I’ve done in the Reserves is a huge honour.”
Research charity aims to end scars torment
SCAR-free healing could be a reality within a generation.
That is the aim of The Scar Free Foundation — a charity funding research into eradicating the lasting skin damage that affects some 20million people in the UK, including combat casualties.
The charity — which was set up in 1999 and has raised more than £20million for its life-changing work — has now been nominated for a Millie. Chief executive Brendan Eley says: “We’re delighted, it’s thrilling.”
Scars not only affect appearance but also impact on body-temperature regulation and can be painful. The Scar Free charity has also forged close links with military groups.
It set up The Scar Free Foundation Centre for Conflict Wound Research, led by Prof Naiem Moiemen at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham.
There, it is developing a wound dressing impregnated with a protein called Decorin which speeds up and improves healing. It is also trialling laser treatment that improves the function and comfort of damaged skin.
And it is working with the Casevac Club, which was set up two years ago by a small band of people who have suffered rare combat injuries — and who now offer themselves as subjects for medical research and trials.
Former Royal Engineers Captain Dave Henson, 35, a married dad of two, from Southampton, lost both legs to a buried bomb in 2011 in Afghanistan.
He helped found the Casevac Club and says: “The work that the Scar Free Foundation is doing is unique. They are a group of people who are incredibly passionate about achieving the objectives they set themselves. They are an incredible bunch of people.
“Our membership has a tendency towards service because of our background. The chance to work together like this means a genuine, life-changing positive is now coming out of the things that have happened to us.”
Linking camera and mobile phone to make landing craft safer
The Mexeflote, or Mexe, is used to transport aid, machinery and vehicles from larger vessels on to beaches.
In recent years it has been used to offload kit on remote beaches in the Caribbean hit by catastrophic storms.
But options for directing the Mexe, often piled high with hardware, have remained basic – with two engineers operating its two engines, guided by a coxswain at the front using hand signals.
Now Cpl Claude Keogh, 40, a married dad of one from Southampton who serves with the Royal Logistics Corps, 17 Port and Maritime Regiment, has come up with the Mexe 360, a novel idea to make the process safer.
Cpl Keogh, who spent eight years training to be a Mexe coxswain, says: “The Mexe is a very simple craft – it’s been around for about 60 years.
“But there are no navigational aids on there. It’s just your eyeballs and your experience.
“So what I did was take a commercially available camera and stuck it up high on the Mexe so that I could see to the left and the right of the boat when I am travelling around. This could assist us spotting debris and things we can’t usually see.”
The camera links to a mobile phone and allows the coxswain to see all around the craft.
It has been designed to operate like the onboard cameras and small dash screens in cars that help drivers park.
The invention is now being looked at for future development.
Claude’s commanding officer, Lieutenant Jamie Martin, 28, from Elgin, Moray, has backed the concept and helped pitch it to the wider Armed Forces.
He says: “It’s great to be nominated for such an award.”
Perfecting sniper rifles and beach assaults in ‘Dragons’ Den’ pitches’
Operating from a small hub at the Royal Navy’s Portsmouth HQ, they are nicknamed Dare, which stands for Discovery, Assessment and Rapid Exploitation.
Captain Jules Lowe, 53, from Guildford, Surrey, who commands the unit, says: “We explore innovative ways of providing cutting-edge technology and operational prototypes to shine a light on where we can go in the future.
“We do this so we can make life better at sea and for the Royal Marines.”
The team spend around £15million a year on “good ideas” for emerging new kit.
One of their innovations is sniper equipment to help calibrate rifles quickly. Another is related to beach assaults.
Currently, swimmers go out with a lead line to take soundings to spot the right place for Commandos to land.
But a Royal Navy sailor, who is a sports fisherman in his spare time, discovered that a sonar fish finder device could also live-map the depths to chart the beach.
The idea has now gone to Navy headquarters to seek funding to make it a “core capability”.
Another idea was to use fibre cables on warships to identify vibrations in machinery to show when they are wearing out.
Some of these ideas are now pitched at Dare Lair – a Dragons’ Den-style format.
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Lieutenant commander Matthew Cox, 36, a married dad-of-two from Portsmouth, says: “Guys pitch up to a captain or a colonel with their case and we can give them funding there and then to make it happen.”
Jules adds: “There is a contagion of innovation going around. We’ve already clocked up more than 200 ideas from sailors, marines and airmen in the last year. And some of them are saving us millions of pounds.”
On being nominated for a Millie, he adds: “It’s a tremendous privilege.”
OUR TEN JUDGES
THE winners in each Millies category were selected by our panel of judges, made up of former Top Brass, celebrities and Armed Forces champions.
A tenth award has been selected by the panel for special recognition, which will be unveiled tonight. The members of the judging panel are:
- Sir Roger Carr, chairman of BAE Systems
- Air Chief Marshal Sir Andrew Pulford, former Chief of the Air Staff
- TV presenter Kate Silverton
- Broadcaster Chris Evans
- General Lord David Richards, former Chief of the Defence Staff
- General Sir Richard Barrons, former Commander Joint Forces Command
- Television host and Sun columnist Lorraine Kelly
- Special forces veteran and star of SAS: Who Dares Wins Ant Middleton
Also on the judging panel are SAS hero and best-selling author Andy McNab and Sun Editor Tony Gallagher.
- GOT a story? Ring The Sun on 0207 782 4104 or WHATSAPP on 07423720250 or email [email protected].
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