Female UK soldier dies in hospital after Afghan blast

Capt Lisa Jade Head Capt Head served in Iraq and Afghanistan

A female UK soldier has died in hospital from injuries suffered in an explosion while clearing roadside bombs in Helmand province, Afghanistan.

Capt Lisa Jade Head, from 11 Explosive Ordnance Disposal Regiment, Royal Logistic Corps, died at Queen Elizabeth NHS Hospital, Birmingham, on Tuesday.

The 29-year-old, of Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, had been injured on Monday.

She becomes only the second female member of the UK armed forces to die in Afghanistan in nearly a decade.

Her death takes the number of British military personnel killed in Afghanistan since 2001 to 364.

'Extremely proud'

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) said she had been taken to Camp Bastion in Helmand before being evacuated to the UK.

Lt Col Tim Purbrick, spokesman for Task Force Helmand, announced the death of Capt Head - who was born in Huddersfield and studied at the town's university before going to the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst - "with much sadness".

Capt Head commissioned into the Royal Logistic Corps (RLC) and initially trained as an Air Transport Liaison Officer, deploying to Iraq in 2006 and Afghanistan in 2007.

Lt Col Purbrick said: "(She) was neutralising a complex set of IEDs (improvised explosive devices) which had been sown in an alleyway between two compounds when one of the devices detonated.

"Immediate first aid was provided and a helicopter medical emergency response team recovered the casualty to the military hospital in Camp Bastion."

Analysis

Though women are not allowed to serve on the front line as infantry troops, they are still there, in harm's way, doing a number of specialist roles.

There are female medics, intelligence officers, members of the Royal Military Police and bomb disposal experts.

High-threat explosive ordnance disposal or EOD operators have already been described as the "bravest of the brave". They're the small, elite group of highly skilled soldiers trained to tackle the single biggest killer of British troops in Afghanistan - the roadside bomb.

Much has already been written about the men who've carried out the task - including those who've died in the process like Staff Sgt Oz Schmid. The death of the first female operator is a reminder that women as well as men are putting their lives on the line. About 10% of army high-risk EOD operators are women.

They include Capt Judith Gallagher, who last year was awarded the Queen's Commendation for Bravery. On her first day in Helmand province in 2010 she defused 14 bombs during a marathon 30-hour shift. On one occasion she tried to clear a minefield while under enemy fire. At the time she said: "It's my job and I just get on with it."

Capt Head was in that mould. It's understood that when she began dealing with the minefield a bomb was triggered, and the force of the blast knocked her off her feet. Uninjured, she returned to her task only to be severely injured by a second blast. She never recovered from those wounds, and died in hospital.

Capt Head, who was based in Didcot in Oxfordshire, deployed to Afghanistan on 27 March and was based in Patrol Base 4 in the Nahr-e-Saraj District.

Her team was called to dispose of a bomb found by B Company, 2nd Battalion, The Parachute Regiment in an alleyway used by both civilians and International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) troops.

Having successfully made the device safe, Capt Head was fatally injured while dealing with a second.

Her family - which has appealed for their privacy to be respected by the media - issued a statement through the MoD: "We wish to say that we are extremely proud of Lisa.

"Lisa always said that she had the best job in the world and she loved every second of it. Lisa had two families - us and the Army. Lisa had a fantastic life and lived it to the full. No-one was more loved."

'Tragic moment'

Capt Head's regiment is the British army's specialist unit responsible for counter-terrorist bomb disposal, explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) and the recovery and safe disposal of conventional munitions.

It employs about 500 specialist soldiers selected from five individual corps within the British army.

It has been hard-hit by the Afghanistan war - she becomes the sixth member of the regiment to be killed there.

Her commanding officer, Lt Col Adam McRae, described her as a "passionate, robust and forthright individual who enjoyed life to the full; be it at work, on the sporting field or at the bar.

Lieutenant Col McRae pays tribute to Captain Lisa Jade Head

"She was totally committed to her profession and rightly proud of being an Ammunition Technical Officer. She took particular pride in achieving the coveted 'High Threat' status which set her at the pinnacle of her trade.

"Lisa deployed to Afghanistan with the full knowledge of the threats she would face. These dangers did not faze her as she was a self-assured, highly effective operator and a well-liked leader. Methodical and professional in her work, she was always eminently pragmatic and calm under pressure.

"Her potential was considerable and she will be an enormous loss to us all.

"The Regiment, her colleagues and friends will miss her infectious smile and dry wit. She sits proudly along side our recent fallen, several of whom were her close friends which I know inspired her to deploy to Afghanistan.

"Our heartfelt thoughts and prayers are with her family at this tragic moment. We mourn her loss; she is gone but will never be forgotten by her Regiment who I know she was proud to be part of and whom are immensely proud of her.

"Her sacrifice will inspire others to follow her example."

The only other female member of the Armed Forces to die in Afghanistan was Cpl Sarah Bryant.

The 26-year-old was killed along with three colleagues when their Snatch Land Rover was blown up by a roadside bomb as they crossed a ditch in the Lashkar Gah area of Helmand province in June 2008.

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