A little-known group of 14 civilians from across the South East has been honoured with campaign medals earned during multiple trips to Iraq and Afghanistan in support of the UK’s Armed Forces.
The presentation, held in London, recognises the work of staff from Albin International Repatriation, based in Bermondsey, SE London. Albin's personnel provide specialist repatriation services for the Ministry of Defence (MOD) when members of the Armed Forces die whilst serving overseas, including those who make the ultimate sacrifice for their country on military operations.
The teams always travel at short notice and personally take care of the dead servicemen from theatre all the way through to the moment when they are returned to their families.
Air Commodore Chris Bray OBE RAF, Head of Military Operations at the Service Personnel and Veterans Agency, the MOD organisation that co-ordinates repatriations, presented the 14 personnel with the Operational Service Medal Afghanistan with Clasp Afghanistan for deployment to theatre between 2006 and the present day. Three of the group also received the Iraq Medal recognising deployments to Iraq between 2003 and 2009.
Air Commodore Bray, said: "It gives me great pleasure to be presenting these medals today. Our Armed Forces undertake a very demanding and at times dangerous job around the world and it's important they know that should the worst happen, a professional support system will be put in place to look after both them and their families. Today we recognise the vital element of that support provided by these 14 dedicated individuals."
"gratitude and respect"
Barry Albin-Dyer, Chairman of Albin International Repatriation (A.I.R.) said at the presentation:
"Working with my two sons Simon and Jonathan, A.I.R.'s managing Director Emerson De Luca and the team is a special privilege. As Chairman I have been personally in theatre both in Iraq and Afghanistan. Together our staff have spent over 2000 days on operations and I pay tribute to them all. It is stressful and often difficult because we are required at very short notice, such is the nature of our work.
"Today acknowledges the excellent work our team have been undertaking for the Armed Forces and the bereaved. I would also like to thank the remaining members of staff who give constant base support to those who deploy. They are not eligible for a medal, but my gratitude and respect and that of the MOD goes to you all, please be assured of this. Today I am so proud. It represents an important moment in our history."
Dave Wallace from Orpington, has deployed on the highest number of days, some 230. He received both the 'Operational Service Medal Afghanistan with Clasp Afghanistan' and the 'Iraq Medal'. Dave said:
"Having spent many periods in Iraq and Afghanistan, often at the most difficult of times, to receive this medal overwhelms me and my family. To serve those who serve us is humbling. Thanks so much."
Dave's dedication to his work was further demonstrated when he and a colleague commenced a further deployment to Afghanistan immediately after the medal presentation to care for those tragically killed in last week's explosion.
Graham Cook from Hemel Hempstead, who received the 'Operational Service Medal Afghanistan with Clasp Afghanistan', said:
"A true honour to receive this acknowledgement of our long standing work in Afghanistan, but it is the heroes that have given the ultimate sacrifice we must remember and will. I am truly proud and grateful."
"dignity and respect"
Danny O'Callaghan from Bermondsey, who received the 'Operational Service Medal Afghanistan with Clasp Afghanistan' joined A.I.R. following the loss of his brother, Lee, who served in The Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment, in 2004.
Danny said: "It is strange how events in your life change you forever. The loss of my brother Lee in Iraq was a life changing moment for me and not surprising you may think, a dreadful experience for our family.
"Yet seeing how Albin's brought my brother home, the care, warmth, dignity and respect shown to my family and how Barry and the boys allowed me to participate in my brother's care, left me with a drive to become a funeral operative and Director.
"I served a full three year apprenticeship, passed out and entered the firm full time. I have never regretted this and today is one of pride. My medal will join my brother's in pride of place at Mum and Dad's home."
All the recipients became entitled to their medals following a change to the entitlement rules for the Iraq and Afghanistan campaign medals announced by the MOD in 2010. In addition to those who serve for 30 continuous days in theatre, the medals are now also awarded to those who have served for an aggregate period of 45 days or more.