Military honours for the only female winchman in RAF

A sea rescue in a Force 8 gale for which Sgt Rachael Robinson received the QGM (Queen's Gallantry Medal) Sgt Rachael Robinson battled a Force 8 gale to save a fisherman's life

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The only female winchman in the RAF has been named in a list of military honours for her part in a daring sea rescue.

Sgt Rachael Robinson, 37, from Devon, is among 117 servicemen and women recognised in the latest Operational Honours and Awards List.

She saved a fisherman's life in a Force 8 gale in March, 50 nautical miles west of Milford Haven.

Her Queen's Gallantry Medal is awarded "for exemplary acts of bravery."

The Queen will present the medals at an Investiture ceremony at Buckingham Palace later this year.

Taliban bullets

Sgt Robinson was repeatedly smashed against the deck of a French fishing vessel as she dangled from an RAF Sea King helicopter on March 21.

She and her pilot and handler Flt Lt Christian Wilkins, 28, from Port Talbot - who received the Air Force Cross for his part in the rescue - tried six times to reach a Portuguese crew member, who had cut his head open on a door and needed urgent help.

Sgt Rachael Robinson was awarded the Queen's Gallantry Medal for her part in a daring sea rescue Sgt Rachael Robinson was one of 117 to be named in the latest round of military honours

A lifeboat was unable to reach the 25 metre fishing vessel because of the terrible weather conditions, but after three further attempts Sgt Robinson was able to get onboard.

"It was like running into a wall," she said.

Her citation said that despite being "repeatedly battered against the boat", causing her "great pain", Sgt Robinson - who said she sometimes attracts quizzical looks doing such a tough "man's job" - "never once gave up".

Also among those honoured is Sgt Michael Catarall, who dodged Taliban bullets to run across 100 metres of open ground to save an injured Afghan.

Sgt Catarall, 32, of The Mercian Regiment, was a Fire Support Group commander in Kopak, central Helmand province, on November 5 last year when he risked his life to save a seriously wounded Afghan National Army (ANA) soldier.

The ANA soldier had been shot in the leg, clipping his artery, and was trapped with gunfire all around him.

Sgt Catarall, from Stockport, commanded his driver to drive through a suspected mine field to reach him before running the last 100 metres "with rounds landing at their feet and flashing past their heads".

"The first 10 metres we were just laughing our heads off at each other saying 'this is horrendous'," he said.

"We got to him and didn't have a translator and he just looked at us to say 'what happens now?' We put an arm under his legs but the small arms contact [gun attacks]continued. The casualty suddenly got the urge to hop."

Sgt Catarall, who was commended for showing "complete disregard for his own safety", was mentioned in despatches.

Capt Owen Davis was awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross in the latest Operational Honours list Capt Owen Davis, awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross, learned Pashto in Afghanistan
'Lawrence of Arabia'

Twenty-five-year-old Capt Owen Davis, from Swansea, a marine who spent a year learning Pashto so he could accompany the Afghan Local Police (ALP) as they took over from international troops in Afghanistan Helmand province, was also honoured for his service.

Capt Davis, who speaks six languages, was awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross - one of the highest military honours.

He worked as a cultural advisor in a fragile stretch of Nahri Saraj and the upper Gereshk Valley, which was being targeted by Taliban fighters.

He was recognised for feats of leadership in battle and overcoming cultural boundaries which saw him live and work with his Afghan officers for several months - even sharing a bed with them for weeks at a time.

"I went a bit Lawrence of Arabia," Capt Davis said, as he described how the men listened to Pashto poetry and music together.

Capt Davis was blown off his feet by a grenade in a raid on a Taliban stronghold on June 13 last year, just seconds after an Afghan colleague was shot next to him.

He managed to jump backwards over the compound wall and continue the assault, in which all insurgents were killed.

"During the incident you don't really think," he said. "You want to get the job done and prevent anyone else from getting hurt and all get out in one piece. Because any time you lose a friend or colleague it is the worst feeling on earth."

The names of military personnel from all three services are included in the latest operational honours list, published in the London Gazette.

Men and women are nominated by their commanding officers every six months in recognition of their bravery.

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said: "As we enter the final phases of combat operations in Afghanistan, British forces deserve our recognition and gratitude for their role in helping to keep us safe in the UK."

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