A Lancaster soldier who repeatedly risked his life during a fierce seven-hour battle with insurgents in Afghanistan has been honoured with one of the oldest forms of recognition of gallantry in the Armed Forces.
Acting Sergeant Mark Stevens, of the 1st at Catterick Garrison in North Yorkshire, was patrolling with Afghan Uniformed Police in Surdegar in December when they came under attack.
Mark, 34, and his patrol had just left a police checkpoint when several heavy machine guns opened fire. With little cover, the patrol members threw themselves to the ground.
Despite the risk from improvised explosive devices, Mark ran in front of his men as bullets crashed down and led them to the safety.
As bullets rained down, the compound walls began to crumble and so, for five hours, Mark kept his men moving around the enclosure, encouraging and inspiring them and making a target of himself to draw the enemy out of cover.
As they moved back to the checkpoint the last man in the final group was pinned down under insurgent fire. Mark raced through the hail of bullets towards the stranded soldier, hurling a smoke grenade to shield his patrol.
He then raced ten metres across open ground, grabbed the stranded man and used his own body to shield his comrade until they both made it to safety without any casualties.
Now, he has been given a Mention in Despatches for his bravery. Mark said: “I was completely overwhelmed by it when the commanding officer told me. In my view I was just doing my job. I certainly wasn’t expecting anything like this. When I told my family they were over the moon and it makes me really proud.”