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Royal Navy explosives expert and Hayling Island freemason, Lieutenant Commander Alan Nekrews, who defused a series of complex improvised explosive devices (IED) in Afghanistan, has been awarded the Queen’s Gallantry Medal. An Advanced Explosive Ordnance Disposal Operator, Al as he is known, led a four-man team in one of the busiest districts in Helmand Province, Nahr-e-Saraj. His citation reads:
“Lt Cdr Nekrews was tasked to exploit the scene of an explosion that
had injured a British soldier investigating a blanket draped over a fence
protecting a culvert on a key route. On arrival, Nekrews deployed his remotely
controlled vehicle (RCV) which broke down in the harsh conditions, leaving
him with no choice but to make a more dangerous manual approach in the
face of the threat from further devices in the area. Whilst conducting the
initial stages of his approach to the blanket, Nekrews noted that it contained
what appeared to be two devices linked by detonating cord. He then took
action to disrupt them remotely and then removed the blanket from the
wire using the repaired RCV. Believing the device to now be safe, Nekrews
made a manual approach and discovered the complexity of the device was
significantly greater than first considered as he was standing next to another
entirely viable device. Standing over the device, Nekrews acted immediately,
reducing the threat by calmly continuing the task of rendering it safe. The
complexity of the task was such that the operation took 16 hours over two
days. A newly trained advanced operator, Nekrews was operating at the limit of his technical training and experience. Working alone in temperatures approaching 40°C and under threat from further devices and insurgent attack, Nekrews bore the risk with stoic determination and courage, successfully neutralising and making the device safe whilst also facilitating intelligence collection to target those responsible. This is just one example of the numerous devices he has disarmed on this demanding tour.”
Asked to describe what happened, Al said: “Inside the rug were two devices configured in an unusual manner. My number two, Leading Diver Craig Waghorn, was responsible for operating the robot but due to the harsh operating conditions the remote actions were extremely challenging. When Craig had done all he could with the robot I had to make a manual approach to defuse the devices. It took 16 hours to defuse it over two days; we got around three hours sleep and then were back out again. I was completely absorbed in what I was doing but it was extremely high pressure. It was just me at the target end and it was about 40°C.” While the road was protected by soldiers to the North and South, Lt Cdr Nekrews was vulnerable to attack by insurgents from the East and West, which could not be covered due to threat of further buried explosives. “We regularly operated under accurate enemy fire while defusing devices,” Al went on to say, “so we were expecting some kind of attack. The Army’s infantry did an exceptional job of protecting us throughout the tour but it can still feel rather hairy.” Once the devices were defused, they were handed over for intelligence gathering purposes.
A clearance diver by trade, Al, who is from Wythenshawe, Manchester, joined the Royal Navy 24 years ago as a rating before being commissioned in 2002. Divers are the RN’s maritime explosive ordnance disposal experts, and can also be deployed on land operations such as Afghanistan to hone their experience in the joint service environment.
As the Navy’s first High Threat IED Disposal Operator, Al joined the ranks of Army experts who are trained to work on highly complicated, sensitive devices. “I am particularly proud to have been the first RN High Threat IEDD Operator and the RN Clearance Diving Branch contribution to the joint Explosive Ordnance community. Afghanistan was my first land tour but the outstanding training we received from the Army made the transition into a tactically demanding environment seamless. I found out I was to be awarded the Queen’s Gallantry Medal when I was called in for what I thought was
a meeting with Admiral Alan Richards, and instead he read out my citation and we had a glass of champagne to celebrate. It was quite surreal. I am really proud of what I have achieved and my family are obviously all delighted as well. I should also praise the efforts of my team, Leading Diver Craig Waghorn and Sergeant Craig Simpson; I always trusted their judgement and it was invaluable to have that support.”
The Queen’s Gallantry Medal is one level below the George Medal and is awarded to military personnel for acts of exemplary bravery that were not in the presence of the enemy. The announcement was made in the operational honours and awards list.
Nearer home, Al has been an active and progressing member of Hayling Island Lodge since 2005. His voyage up the ladder has been slower than usual due to several military operational tours. Now a warden he is closing in on the chair and he is particularly grateful to the members for their forbearance in his enforced absences but looking forward to more regular freemasonry.
Ken Day
Insight • Issue 6 8 Twitter @HantsMason

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