Royal Irish Regiment soldiers Afghanistan bravery awards

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Media captionThree soldiers received the Military Cross

A soldier who dived on a colleague to protect him from a grenade blast is among five honoured for their bravery in Afghanistan.

The men, from the Shropshire-based 1st Battalion The Royal Irish Regiment, were given their awards at Buckingham Palace.

Lt Paul McFarland, 28, was one of three to receive the Military Cross.

Their commanding officer was awarded the Distinguished Service Order and a major was made an MBE.

The men, all based at Clive Barracks in Tern Hill, were decorated for their service in Afghanistan, between October and March this year, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) said.

Lt McFarland, from Belfast, received the Military Cross for his courage in saving the soldier from a Taliban grenade.

'Done the same'

The medal is given for exemplary gallantry during active operations.

He was on patrol when he saw the grenade come over a wall, landing near his colleague.

He said: "He would have done the same for me if he'd have seen the grenade first - we were there as a bunch of guys just looking after each other."

The pair were uninjured, somehow managing to avoid the shrapnel from the blast which also blew a hole in the ground, the MoD spokesman added.

Sgt Peter Keogh, 30, received the Military Cross after he led a patrol which completely overran seven enemy positions in a single afternoon.

At one point, he deliberately drew enemy fire to allow wounded soldiers to be safely carried away.

Image caption Major Jamie Humphries led his men in fire fights in Afghanistan

He said: "I just wanted to get everyone back - my actions weren't a conscious decision, I just followed my instincts and acted without hesitation."

L/Cpl Ratu Qalitakivuna was also be awarded the Military Cross.

Lieutenant Colonel Colin Weir, commanding officer of the regiment, was presented with the Distinguished Service Order for his courage and leadership during six months in an area of intense insurgent activity in Zarghun Kalay and Saidabad, in Helmand Province, southern Afghanistan.

The 40-year-old from Portadown in County Armagh, who has been in the Army for 18 years, said he was surprised and delighted to receive the medal, and paid tribute to his fellow soldiers.

'Sheer persistence'

"I'm very proud of my men," he said. "I think they are awe-inspiring and a privilege to command."

His citation said Lt Col Weir was "everywhere; guiding, chivvying, supporting, always leading by example and personally frequently exposed to danger".

Maj Jamie Humphreys, 37, was given an MBE for leading a daring night patrol and facing heavy enemy fire during a three-month battle for Saidabad.

He said: "The biggest challenge we faced was trying to convince the people that we were there for their benefit.

"The way we did this was by sheer persistence and relentless day-to-day engagement with the population on patrols; showing them what their own government could offer them under stabilisation."

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