Soldier from Northamptonshire recognised for bravery in saving his men

Capt Mark Cripps, from Badby, led an advance on the enemy under fire, and saved the lives of his troop. Picture by Sergeant Adrian Harlen
Capt Mark Cripps, from Badby, led an advance on the enemy under fire, and saved the lives of his troop. Picture by Sergeant Adrian Harlen

An army captain from Northamptonshire has been awarded his second Mention in Despatches (MiD), the British Army has announced today, after foiling an ambush while on patrol in Afghanistan by advancing on the enemy under fire and saving his men’s lives.

Captain Mark 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 by insurgents in a compound surrounded by open ground and without air support.

Realising the risk of becoming out-manoeuvred by the planned ambush, Army bosses have revealed that Capt Cripps led a small team under heavy fire up a shallow drainage ditch to a neighbouring compound 150 metres away “as bullet 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.

Capt Cripps, who is from Badby, near Daventry, 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 actually the best way to break an engagement is to advance on it.

“So that’s what we tried to do.”

The Mention in Despatches is one of the oldest forms of recognition for gallantry within the UK Armed Forces. Since 1993 the Mention in Despatches has been reserved for gallantry during active operations.

The announcement was made on Friday with the release of the latest operational honours and awards list which includes 106 personnel.

The awards are for actions roughly during the period September 2011 to March 31 2012 during Operation Herrick 15.

Capt Cripps’ 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 carefully planned ambush happened in November last year.

Capt Cripps and his 15-man team of advisors were the only troops from the international force to patrol alongside the Afghan army in the area just north of Lashkar Gah, where the Army described the enemy were “defensively robust”, adding “the threat was constant, with almost every patrol he accompanied being attacked.”

Capt Cripps 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 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, in 2009, up in Sangin so I had had quite an aggressive tour, and all of my soldiers with me were experienced non-commissioned officers, so we were quite used to it in a way.”

The Afghan soldiers have had some negative press from media in the UK after sporadic incidents of them turning on, and in some instances killing, British soldiers.

However, Capt Cripps said soldiers at the front of the patrol immediately returned to support him and his soldiers.

“The Afghans are very brave people and they came rallying around us to give us as much support as they could,” he said. “They are the boys who need more awards than we do, because they really do just walk into fire. They came and supported us.”