Reprint with permission of an article appearing in
The Western Sentinel on December 14, 2006
as written by Sgt Dennis Power, Army News
Master Corporal Collin Fitzgerald, 5 Platoon, Bravo Company, Second Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry
Medal of Military Valour
|Master Corporal Fitzgerald deployed with 5 Platoon, B Company, 1 PPCLI Battle Group in Afghanistan. He is recognized for outstanding selfless and valiant actions carried out on May 24, 2006, during an ongoing enemy ambush involving intense, accurate enemy fire. Master Corporal Fitzgerald repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire by entering and re-entering a burning platoon vehicle and successfully driving it off the roadway, permitting the remaining vehicles trapped in the enemy zone to break free. Master Corporal Fitzgerald's courageous and completely selfless actions were instrumental to his platoon's successful egress and undoubtedly contributed to saving the lives of his fellow platoon members.|
S HILO, Man. - "In a gunfight he's totally reliable, he's always trying to think one step ahead of the enemy to stay on top of things," said Warrant Officer Scott Young when asked about Master Corporal Collin Fitzgerald, a recent recipient of the Medal of Military Valour (MMV). MCpl Fitzgerald was unavailable to be interviewed for this article so WO Young, his Platoon Second-in-Command, and Sergeant Jason Pickard, his Section Commander gave accounts of what happened on the day that led to him being awarded the MMV. He is being recognized for his action during a brief moment in one of many firefights with his platoon, but it was a pivotal moment to the survival of the platoon.
T he soldiers of 5 Platoon, Bravo Company, Second Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, patrolled some of the most dangerous districts of Kandahar Province from January until August of 2006. During the last four months of patrolling, their company was routinely ambushed, or engaged in firefights with Taliban insurgents. Most attacks were initiated as ambushes against the Canadian troops. The Taliban are a fluid fighting force, lightly equipped, working in small groups, and able to take advantage of familiarity with the ground in setting up ambushes. The result of a well-laid ambush should be no survivors. The tactics and fighting spirit of Bravo Company and other Canadian troops in the area turned the tables during these attacks, resulting in very few friendly casualties.
E arly on May 24, 5 Platoon, affectionately known as 'Fightin' Five,' left a patrol base in the Panjwayi District west of Kandahar City, and crossed the Arghandab River into the Pashmul District to continue operations in search of the Taliban. Civilians had been observed leaving the area, and it was unusually 'quiet,' indicating to the soldiers that there would be fighting before the day was out. As expected there were 'troops in contact' (TIC's) early in the day. Platoons patrolling in the area engaged the enemy as they came upon them, or were ambushed as they made their way down narrow roads. Limited sight lines created by a maze of mud walls and fields of dense vegetation made the area tough to patrol, and even tougher to fight in. "We (Bravo) were in fire-fights most of the afternoon," said WO Young. "We were patrolling on foot, and using the trucks as gun platforms. Everything is really closed in, when we got ambushed, we'd fight our way out. By the end of the afternoon we moved back to consolidate with other elements of the company."
A fter receiving new orders, 5 Platoon began a move back to the company's main position a few kilometres away. The move would take them through an area where they had been fighting earlier in the afternoon. As they advanced the helicopters that had been providing additional protection left. They had been in the area most of the afternoon and were low on fuel. Shortly after the helicopters left the platoon came under fire again, but they continued to advance, slowly, making good use of the cover provided by the high mud walls. "Then all hell broke loose. There was a massive explosion right in front of me, the guy ahead of me dropped, I thought he was gone," said the Warrant Officer, "there was dust and rubble everywhere. Then about six Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPG's) and all kinds of small arms fire came in." The explosion was a rocket from a recoilless-rifle, much larger than an RPG. It had penetrated the mud wall and struck a G-Wagon just to the front of Warrant Officer Young. The rocket tore through the G-Wagon, shredding the legs of an interpreter sitting in the back seat. On impact, the driver jumped out, Junior, the interpreter, pulled himself out on the other side.
he platoon reacted immediately. The machine-guns mounted on the other trucks in the patrol returned fire to the three points of attack. Soldiers on the ground returned fire and threw grenades at Taliban fighters barely 30 meters away. The G-Wagon struck by the rocket caught fire as Junior was carried to the safety of a nearby ditch. Master Corporal Lizette Leblanc and Corporal Andrew Eykelenboom, a medic, applied tourniquets and stabilised his injuries. (The interpreter has recovered well under the care of Canadian military doctors at Kandahar Airfield, and will receive continuing care as required. The medic who saved his life, Cpl Andrew Eykelenboom, was killed in action a few weeks later, August 11.) "Private Barron, right behind the GWagon, he dropped down with the blast, I thought he lost his face. He covered it when he dropped. We thought he was done, but he got up, he was good to go," said Sgt Pickard.
A s the rest of platoon fought the Taliban, Master Corporals Fitzgerald and Alden exposed themselves to fire in an attempt to push aside the damaged G-Wagon that was now blocking their escape. Sgt Pickard said, "We're in an ambush, rounds are coming in, and we're at a standstill because of this burning vehicle on the road, we had to decide what we were going to do with it." He speculated that the Taliban may close in on them because of the downed vehicle. "Things were happening fast, that's when Fitz just jumped in and drove it into the ditch, that was something he did on his own initiative. Once that vehicle was in the ditch we got out of there."
A s the platoon continued down the road they came across a hastily-laid Improvised Explosive Device. A gap in the wall on the left side of the road gave them a way around, but they would need to breach the mud wall on the other side of the IED to get back onto the road. Six blocks of plastic explosive were placed against the wall, but the blast had little effect. Soldiers worked together to knock down some of the weakened sections, then the wall was rammed with a G-Wagon. After several hits the wall crumbled, and the troops continued down the road. Over their shoulders they saw smoke and tracer rounds in the air as the ammunition in the burning vehicle started going off.
R oughly 800 meters from the ambush area the troops set-up a secure perimeter for a helicopter coming for Junior, the only casualty in the fighting. WO Young said, "It was dark when the med-evac came, a Blackhawk with two Apaches flying security, we had a signal so they would know it was us. With Junior on the way to the hospital at Kandahar Airfield we pushed on to link up with the rest of Bravo, it took us about an hour to do the last 800 meters in the dark, the ground was really rough. When we reached the company we reloaded our ammo, got some water, then went to the center of the position and collapsed. The rest of the Company did security while we rested for a few hours, then we moved again."
T he soldiers of 5 Platoon look back on that day and wonder how it was possible to have been in so many firefights and none of their own were killed. That was one day in four months of continuous fighting. "I can't tell you what would have happened if Fitz hadn't moved that G-Wagon, we were only a platoon, less than 30 of us, stuck on the road in an ambush, going back was not an option," said Sgt Pickard. "Fitz has always used his initiative in firefights, it's part of his character, and it helped get us out of there that day."
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