Canadian Navy clearance diver humbled by award for courage

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Navy clearance diver humbled by award for courage
by Darlene Blakeley

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PO 1 Paul Walsh, bottom, in Afghanistan with Sgt Wayne Vickers of the Royal Australian Army.
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PO 1 Paul Walsh (centre), is presented with a Mention in Dispatches from CFCWO, CWO Gregoire Lacroix, left, and Gen Rick Hillier, CDS.
The dusty roads of the Pashmul region of southern Afghanistan are a strange place to find a Navy clearance diver from Shearwater, N.S.

More used to salt water and cool temperatures, Petty Officer, 1st Class Paul Walsh found himself instead in the incongruous environment of guns, bullets and armoured personnel carriers.

However, as an elite professional from Fleet Diving Unit (Atlantic) trained in the risky business of underwater bomb disposal, the difference is not as big as you might think. In fact, PO 1 Walsh was so effective during his tour of duty from August 2006 to February 2007 that he has just been awarded a Mention in Dispatches from the Chief of the Defence Staff.

Presented to him during a ceremony at the Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, Que., on October 11, the citation notes that PO 1 Walsh is recognized “for his courage and dedication to duty while deployed as 23 Field Squadron’s explosive ordnance disposal chief within the 1st Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment Battle Group, in Afghanistan”.

It also states that during Operation MEDUSA in September 2006, he risked his life to assist combat engineers in clearing a section of Route Vancouver in the Pashmul region. “He personally identified five improvised explosive devices and a 450 kg unexploded bomb within a 150 m stretch of road, and systematically disposed of them. Petty Officer, 1st Class Walsh’s professionalism and commitment to his mission potentially saved the lives of many fellow soldiers”.

PO 1 Walsh is quick to deflect attention away from himself however, insisting that his “unbelievable” team of 17, three of whom were also clearance divers (Petty Officer, 2nd Class Jim Leith, Master Seaman Scott Elson and Leading Seaman Keith Bruce), and the rest engineers from 23 Field Squadron, deserve just as much recognition.

“It is very humbling to receive this honour,” he says, “but my team deserves as much credit, if not more. While we were part of Op MEDUSA we lost 26 guys. It took a lot of blood and guts, and I was just a small part of that. Everyone who was involved can hold their heads high—I am accepting this award on behalf of the whole team.”

During his six-month tour, PO 1 Walsh’s team was involved in over 100 IED/EOD (improvised explosive devices/explosive ordinance disposal) events, many of which involved hand-dismantling explosive devices at great personal peril. Part of that included post-blast responses, which involved making the first approach after explosions made by roadside IEDs and suicide bombers, to ensure there were no secondary blasts.

Since returning home to his fiancée and young children, PO 1 Walsh has been speaking about his tour in Afghanistan to school children. “I tell them that we don’t worry too much about politics, we just worry about the job at hand and the guy next to us on the ground. We sleep, eat and fight with each other. We have a commitment to each other that forms an incredible bond.”

Mention in Dispatches is a national award created by Her Majesty the Queen in 1992 to recognize valiant conduct, devotion to duty or other distinguished service in combat or near-combat conditions.



An excellent example of a great leader and soldier, ;) even if he's a sailor.
 
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