A St Albans soldier, who miraculously cheated death against odds of "a trillion-to-one" after a bullet tore through his neck yet fought on to save his comrades, has been awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross.
"By rights, I should be dead now," says Lance Corporal Simon Moloney, 23. "At the moment I was shot, there was blood pouring from my neck and I thought I had about thirty seconds to live."
However, due to a combination of incredible luck, the bravery and ingenuity of his best friend Lance Corporal Wes Masters, who has been awarded a Military Cross for his gallantry during this episode and an extremely unfortunate goat, he is here to tell the story.
LCpl Maloney of The Royal Horse Guards and 1st Dragoons (Blues & Royals), Household Cavalry, was part of a troop who, with Afghan Army partners, landed by helicopter deep in the insurgent stronghold of Yakhchal as part an operation to gather intelligence and disrupt the enemy.
At first light they broke into an enemy command compound but soon came under fire. The former Sandringham School pupil and a machine gunner were tasked to provide over watch from the domed roof to allow the troop to move on to a second target.
With attack helicopters moving away, the enemy increased their weight of machine gun fire, using it to mask the accurate fire of a sharp shooter, whose bullets regularly came within a metre of LCpl Maloney. Knowing his troop were now in contact and that cover was vital he held his nerve and position despite the increasing threat to his own safety.
However, the insurgent sharpshooter found his target and a bullet ripped through his neck, miraculously parting his trachea and carotid artery, missing his vital arteries and voice box by millimetres and hurling him from the rooftop with the force of the impact.
LCpl Maloney explained: "It felt as though I’d been punched. I was half-thrown and half rolled off the roof. With the amount of fire coming in, if I had stayed up there I would have taken more bullets." The surgeon who treated him later said he would struggle to make such an incision on the operating table and that the odds of the bullet taking that path were a trillion-to-one.
In a further slice of fortune for LCpl Maloney, his fall from the 8ft-high roof top was broken by a goat. Unfortunately the animal didn’t fare as well, the impact of all 100kg of LCpl and his protective gear killing it. As the machine gunner dropped from the roof to race to LCpl Maloney’s aid the severity of enemy fire increased, engaging the troops from three sides and pinning them down.
Small arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades smashed into the compound walls and flew overhead from around 15 firing points. The situation worsened as communications with the supporting artillery failed, leaving LCpl Maloney’s section isolated and surrounded by an enemy proving difficult to locate.
He was then forced to climb back on to the roof with to retrieve the radio and call in his own injuries while the gunner, who had given him initial treatment provided covering fire.
As LCpl Masters, a Private at the time, who had run 400-metres under fire after hearing his friend had been shot, arrived and applied improvised first aid to LCpl Maloney due to the unique nature of his injuries, multiple under-slung grenades began exploding inside the compound, landing within four metres of the troops.
LCpl Masters said: "You aren’t supposed to survive that sort of bullet wound and so I needed to fashion a bandage that would stop bleeding and infection but not block Si’s airway."
Aware of the severe danger they were now in, without prompting, LCpl Maloney re-occupied the position in which he had been shot 10 minutes earlier, identifying and engaging the enemy positions. Setting an inspiring example he immediately brought the fire support under control, suppressing the insurgents.
"I was angry one of them had shot me," he said. "But I didn’t feel relief that I hadn’t died for one second. Because of the amount of enemy fire we were under. If anything, I thought my time was up."
Shouting through the effects of his throat injury and over the crackle of enemy sniper rounds repeatedly hitting the roof and walls around him, he passed vital target information to win the firefight.
LCpl Maloney only broke contact when ordered to so the medic could check his dressings. Once done, he immediately returned to his position on the roof, still under accurate fire and continued fighting for more than 90 minutes in temperatures exceeding 40ºC until, against his will, he was extracted by helicopter.
LCpl Maloney and LCpl Masters, already friends before, have become inseparable since.
LCpl Maloney said: "I owe him my life and have complete trust in him and he knows he can trust me. We have spent every single day since then together.
"And we both have the courage and professionalism of everyone who fought with us that day to thank as otherwise we would never have survived."
In a further twist of fate, it was LCpl Maloney’s last operation half way through his tour before he was due two weeks back home. As it transpired, he was allowed three to recover.
LCpl Maloney’s citation states: "Moloney’s actions in the face of a determined enemy and with little thought for his gunshot wound, was an inspiration to his troop.
"In his utter determination to protect others and in total disregard for his own life, he displayed extreme valour.
"Without his gallantry and skill in the ruthless suppression of the enemy it is likely that this troop would have sustained multiple casualties."
The Conspicuous Gallantry Cross has been awarded since 1993 in recognition of an individual act or acts of conspicuous gallantry during active operations against the enemy.