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Army October 1, 2009
By Sgt Andrew Hetherington
"I WAS lying on my stomach in an
ambush, watching poppy bulbs explode
around my head and heard bullets whiz-
zing past me. A crack and a thump
meant it was reasonably close to you,
but a whizz meant it was closer."
This was how Cpl Justin Huggett
recalled part of his service in Afghanistan,
in 2007, which has earned him the Medal
At that time, he served with the 1st
Battalion, The Grenadier Guards Battle
Group, working primarily from a patrol
base at Sangin in Helmand province.
NSW Governor Marie Bashir present-
ed him with the medal, the citation for
which recognised him for "the highest
standards of gallantry and personal cour-
age", on September 17.
The 2007 Hassett award winner said
he was shocked when he was nominated
for the medal, especially when he thought
about the soldiers he worked with in the
British Army, who "were doing exactly
the same thing as me there".
"They didn't get anything but a pat
on the back and a thank you very much,"
he said. "I had mixed feelings ... and I
thought, 'Here we go again -- I'll owe
more cartons [of beer].' "
He cannot remember exactly what
action earned him the medal, but Cpl
Huggett recalled one probable period of
intense combat, when his unit went out on
an operation to assist the Royal Anglian
Regiment from patrol base Sangin.
They were meant to be out for eight
hours, but it became five days.
"We ended up getting caught in three
ambushes in the first day, resulting in the
death of a couple of Afghan soldiers and
a couple who were working with us were
wounded," he said.
"We fought the whole five days, par-
ticularly on the first day, where we spent
most of the time in contact calling fast air,
mortars and artillery to keep the Taliban
off our backs."
There was a close call when he
thought his number was up. "Myself and
Cpl Perry [British Army] were taking
cover in a shallow irrigation ditch so we
could withdraw from the killing ground."
The men looked at each other and
said, "Right-o, on three we'll get up and
scamper around the side of this wall and
get out of here."
They stood up at the same time then
both slipped and fell back into the ditch.
As they fell, the ditch wall in front of
them exploded with machine-gun and
RPG fire. "We thought if we didn't slip
we would have gotten up into all of that
fire and copped it in the back," he said.
Cpl Huggett was also in danger when
he wasn't patrolling. "We were asleep in
our room at our patrol base and an SPG-9
rocket came through our wall and nearly
blew us to pieces," he said.
He praised the men he had risked his
life with. "The British soldiers I worked
with were brilliant and the battalion I
went with are back in Afghanistan now."
In his job as a section commander at
the rifleman wing, School of Infantry, Cpl
Huggett said he was now able to pass on
his operational knowledge and experience
to the trainee riflemen.
As an instructor with extensive opera-
tional experience, "we are told to ram it
home in the training, to get the guys keen,
be switched on and focused", he said.
Courage and luck
Close calls: Cpl Justin Huggett receives the Medal for Gallantry, recognising his service in Afghanistan,
from NSW Governor Marie Bashir.
Photo by Robert Tuckwell
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