Soldier's bravery recognised with Queens Commendation award
A soldier from Battle, who led his platoon through five months of almost constant attack by the Taliban, is to be awarded the Queens Commendation for Valuable Service.
A member of the 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment, Lieutenant Dan Benstead's troops were waging a war in which the enemy was prepared to use children to throw grenades at soldiers in the tight maze of alleys in the village of Khowshhal Kalay.
As a junior officer charged with leading 35 men in one of Helmand's most dangerous locations, Lieutenant Benstead's leadership and strength of character were tested to the full.
With his patrol base only 200 metres from a permanent Taliban frontline on one side and a hostile village on the other, his men had only their officer's example to inspire them to overcome their inevitable fear and leave the base to enter into what became their daily fire fight with the enemy.
On one occasion, Lieutenant Benstead and his men were pinned down for six hours in open ground by a far greater number of Taliban. It took 65 mortar rounds fired onto the enemy before Lieutenant Benstead was able to extract his men from danger.
The platoon spent days at a time in the neighbouring village of Khowshhal Kalay, swallowed by the numerous high walls and lanes.
The Taliban had coerced children to throw grenades at the soldiers and numerous fire fights erupted suddenly as the enemy tried to ambush the Anglians often at very close range.
Despite this, Lieutenant Benstead never lost sight of his aim to win over villagers terrified by the Taliban into cooperation.
Lieutenant Benstead said: "It had turned from a complete ghost town, where people could not come out their houses, and when we left, the mosque was being renovated, kids were playing football in the street and the shops were open again."
With his own men's morale constantly threatened by the unrelenting ferocity of their enemy, Lieutenant Benstead's official citation states that these harrowing conditions were "always met by Benstead's outstanding leadership, tactical ingenuity and bravery."
It concludes that "Benstead's exemplary and distinguished conduct is worthy of the highest recognition."
Speaking about receiving the Queens Commendation for Valuable Service, Lieutenant Benstead said: "I'm extremely proud.
"Although the award has been presented to me, I think it's a testiment of what my men achieved during an arduous tour."
Lieutenant Benstead is from a Forces family, which saw him living in a number of different places whilst he was growing up.
He boarded at Cranbrook School in Kent, where he met his future wife, and has lived in Battle for a number of years.
He began his military career at Sandhurst in April 2007, joining the First Batalion the Royal Anglian Regiment in August 2008.
Lieutenant Benstead is currently based at Pirbright in Surrey.
The tour of Afghanistan was his first operational tour.
He said: "It's a huge honour to have served there and to have made a tangible difference to the locals.
"There's not a lot said about innocent civilians and there's a lot of them there just wanting to get on with their lives."
He added: "I always 100 per cent believed in what we were capable of doing, but there are always low days.
"When you lose a soldier or a soldier gets injured, that's a low day, without a doubt.
"But seeing things begin to change, that kept pushing us on really."
Lieutenant Benstead and his men are due to return to the region in 2012.
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