WO2 (CSM) Benjamin Kelly was the Company Sergeant Major of B Company, 1st Battalion The Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment (PWRR) on OP HERRICK 9. The Company was attached to Battle Group (North West) and had responsibility for securing the southern half of the MUSA QAL'EH area of operations. On Wednesday l0 September 2008, B Company was tasked to provide a screen behind which Improvised Explosive Device (IED) search and clearance specialists could work. The area identified for the screen was known to contain a large number of IEDs and was the focus of insurgent small-arms and RPG attacks; it was also routinely observed by insurgent reconnaissance elements.
By first light B Company had pushed south along cleared routes to the KARLZ line that marked 'Taliban Crossroads', a known IED hotspot and the location for the screen. On arrival, the Warriors deployed east and west and Company HQ established an lncident Control Point in a nearby Patrol Base. With security in place and CSM Kelly providing intimate support from his Warrior, WO2 O'Donnell, the Ammunition Technical Officer (ATO), and his supporting Royal Engineer Search Team (REST) began to clear Route PINK between the Patrol Base and Taliban Crossroads. By early afternoon the team had cleared two devices and was moving towards a third when a blinding flash and cloud of smoke and dust obscured WO2 O'Donnell. It was evident immediately that the blast had killed the ATO but the REST remained in the danger area unmoving, and so CSM Kelly pushed south towards them. Almost immediately the cordon began to take accurate and sustained small-arms and RPG fire. On arrival at the bomb site CSM Kelly provide first-aid to the REST before moving them to Company HQ at the Patrol Base; the cordon remained in contact throughout this period. A confirmatory check on the condition of the search team established that shock had rendered them ineffective, but the body of WO2 O'Donnell required extraction so CSM Kelly sought and received permission to return to the blast site. On arrival he assessed that the residual threat remained high and so decided to minimise the risk of further casualties by ordering his crew to remain in their vehicle. He then took a VALLON mine detector and body bag and spent the next 30 minutes, alone, searching for and then clearing routes to the remains of WO2 O'Donnell. Throughout this process the cordon remained in contact; rounds landed in the area through which CSM Kelly searched; and the threat of further IEDs remained extreme. Eventually, having collected as much of WO2 O'Donnell as he could, CSM Kelly returned to his vehicle with the body bag before moving via the Patrol Base to the District Centre; Royal Engineer Search Teams subsequently found 2 more IEDs in the area through which CSM Kelly had searched.
Under intense pressure and the most traumatic circumstances, and in an area known to contain a significant IED threat, the selfless actions and exceptional bravery shown by WO2 Kelly on I0 September 2008 enabled the recovery of the body of WO2 O'Donnell and minimised the risk to all remaining ISAF forces while he did so. For his conspicuous gallantry under the most demanding mental and physical pressure WO2 Kelly was awarded the Military Cross.