Aussie tells of heroic act in Iraq

Submitted by Editor on Sun, 14/11/2004 - 15:48

THE Sydney soldier who shepherded a helicopter to safety through one of Iraq's most lethal hotspots was yesterday credited with saving the life of a British pilot who is also his best mate.

Captain Scott Watkins has saved his best friend's life.

By Sarah Blake

November 14, 2004

Group Captain Scott Watkins, 33, was praised by his commanders for taking control of the Lynx chopper under heavy fire from rifles and rocket-propelled grenades on Wednesday, after his comrade was shot outside Bagdhad.

"It was extraordinarily unlucky that my mate was hit. We have Kevlar seats and Kevlar protection at the sides. There is a two-inch gap between and that is what one of the bullets went through," he said through the British defence ministry.

A soldier since 1992, Captain Watkins was raised in Baulkham Hills and has been attached to the air wing of the Black Watch regiment since starting a two-year exchange in September last year.

Much of that time was spent at a base in Germany with his wife Karen, who is four months pregnant, and daughter Brienna.

Captain Watkins' mother Dawn said yesterday the couple had become extremely close to the family of the British soldier who cannot be named and who is still in a serious condition after a bullet punctured his chest, narrowly missing his heart.

"He is his best friend, so he is still very worried about him," Mrs Watkins said.

"When the army rang and told us about it, they said it was through his quick actions that his mate will recover."

Captain Watkins rang his wife shortly after the attack to tell her he was all right.

"She is still very tender though, very easily upset, because of the pregnancy," Mrs Watkins said.

"And the truth is he is still over there. He is still not out of harm's way."

Captain Watkins' Iraq posting at the heavily fortified Camp Dogwood ends in January.

He was co-piloting a short flight 35km to Baghdad when the chopper was hit.

"There were two aircraft, us and a Puma, about halfway to Baghdad, when I heard some shots. I didn't realise at the time that my co-pilot had been hit," he said.

"The Puma was in front and radioed that it was under attack. I think, in fact, that we flew into the path of the bullets aimed at the Puma.

"I thought at first that the bullets had come through the floor. But what had actually happened was that we were banking hard to the right at the time, and they had come through the window. My gunner saw two guys in a trench firing up from 100m to 200m away."

Two more bullets damaged instruments in the helicopter and Captain Watkins flew the helicopter through "six furious minutes" of RPG fire before he landed.

"We fly low to avoid giving people on the ground too much time to prepare an attack. But I am afraid there are so many people on the ground with guns that something like this will happen," he said.

Camp Dogwood, south of Baghdad, is the base for the British Black Watch Battle Group, and has been under heavy fire for the past week, with rockets fired from up to 35km away striking the centre's helicopter pad.

Four Black Watch soldiers have been killed in hostile action since their deployment to Camp Dogwood, three in a suicide attack and one in a suspected roadside bombing.

Captain Watkins and his exchange posting were featured last week in a story in Army News, a newspaper produced by the ADF.

"Tasks range from flying people to different areas around the AO, to doing a bit of overhead protection for convoy moves and trying to provide eyes-on, on operations in Basra and other places," he said.

Captain Watkins said the exchange program has been running since the mid-80s. He is one of two Australian soldiers on exchange with Britain.

"We've got very similar backgrounds and we tend to do things in a very similar way, as our outlook on life is very alike," he said.

Captain Watkins' wife Karen said in a statement yesterday: "I am proud of what Scott has done but he was just doing his job well, as are so many other soldiers."

The Sunday Telegraph



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