Soldier under fire 20 times.
A MIDLAND soldier who saved the life of a comrade who lost both legs and severely damaged an arm in a blast in Afghanistan has been honoured for bravery.
Lieutenant Thomas Onion, of 2nd Battalion, The Mercian Regiment, attached to 5 Rifles in Helmand, braved an area littered with improvised explosive devices (IEDs) to help his fellow soldier and others who were hurt in the battles.
The 25-year-old, who led 75 patrols in just 12 weeks, coming under attack during 20 of them, was awarded a Mention in Despatches for immense courage in the face of repeated enemy fire and helping to save gravely injured comrades.
In the first of three attacks mentioned in his citation, Lt Onion was instrumental to the speedy extraction of a soldier who lost his legs after detonating an IED.
"There is no feeling like the devastation you experience when one of your soldiers becomes a casualty and you hear the words 'man down'. It is heartbreaking," he said.
"Equally, you know exactly what you have to do. Being in command, you have the responsibility to ensure he lives and has the best quality of life he can."
The patrol was driving into the heart of an enemy stronghold where a large cache of weapons was known to be stored.
"We were going across a ditch where there had been a history of IEDs and we had been told more were laid. Suddenly there was a huge bang and the front searcher was badly injured.
I reported what had happened and arranged a helicopter landing site," he said. "He was in hospital at Camp Bastion in 27 minutes. It felt like an eternity. Time moves so slowly in those situations."
The speed of his reactions to get the casualty to safety undoubtedly helped save the soldier's life.
Just six days later Lt Onion, from Derby, was again forced to react with speed and compassion when another IED was detonated during a patrol through a village seeded with the deadly devices.
The blast hit one of the soldiers who was providing fire support, blowing off both legs and inflicting massive injuries to his torso.
Narrowly missing two further IEDs hidden nearby, Lt Onion raced 40 metres to the casualty's side.
"I heard someone shout his name and I just went in. I thought about the threat of other IEDs but I needed to get to him, otherwise he was going to die," he said.
Dragged Lt Onion dragged the casualty to safety and administered first-aid while simultaneously organising a casualty evacuation, getting the casualty into surgery within 21 minutes of the blast - the quickest extraction yet. With little time to recover, he was on patrol again four days later in an enemy-dominated village when he came under attack from insurgents with automatic weapons.
Rounds flew past, hitting one of the soldiers in the arm. At the front of the patrol, and under enemy fire, Lt Onion decided to attack and advanced.
As they moved up the village road another member of the patrol was injured. Lt Onion put himself in full view of the enemy as he assessed the casualty and dragged him to safety before safely extracting the whole patrol.
"Despite the casualties, I resolved to press on to show the enemy we would not run away," he said.
"For the first four months of the tour we were constantly engaged.
After this, there was hardly a shot fired. The insurgents fled. Handing control over to the Afghan authorities is ultimately what we are aiming for and is what we achieved in this area."
IMMENSE COURAGE: Lt Thomas Onion.
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|Publication:||Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)|
|Date:||Sep 30, 2012|
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