Fireman Mark McKenzie praised for courage under fire while building road in Afghanistan
FIREFIGHTER Mark McKenzie faced fire of a different kind while building a vital road through a Taliban stronghold in Afghanistan.
Mark, 44, a sergeant in the Territorial Army, helped design, construct and maintain roads in Helmand province.
Often the married dad-of-two and the team he commanded came under Taliban fire in the Nahr-e-Saraj district.
Now, Mark – a Goole firefighter in civilian life – has received a Certificate of Commendation from his commanding officer for a job well done.
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He said: "It's always nice to get a bit of recognition.
"I was commanding a section comprising mainly lads in their early to mid-20s.
"Because of my age, a lot of them looked up to me."
Mark serves with specialist TA unit 299 (Parachute Squadron) Royal Engineers, based on Calvert Lane, west Hull.
However, he deployed from September 2010 to the following March with regulars from 23 Engineer Regiment (Air Assault).
The commendation was presented to Mark by Lieutenant-Colonel Frazer Ross, commanding officer of the regiment 23 Engineer Regiment, at his unit's headquarters in Wakefield.
An extract from the citation reads: "McKenzie took on a far greater responsibility than that normally expected of his rank.
"His role as a plant section commander and operator during the construction of a particular route was exceptional.
"Although only 550m in length, this road passed through a heavily contested insurgent stronghold, was heavily sown with improvised explosive devices, often under effective enemy fire and traversed some particularly challenging ground in engineering terms.
"MacKenzie rose to the challenges superbly."
Mark was in charge of a section of 12 engineers and second-in-command of a 30-strong troop.
The team's biggest task was constructing the road from the village of Charcoucha to a patrol base.
Mark said: "Road-building is vital part of our strategy in Afghanistan.
"It wins over the locals, gives them freedom of movement and, because the roads are tarmaced over, it stops the Taliban planting bombs."
But it makes Mark and his team top of the Taliban's hit list.
He said: "On one occasion we received intelligence to suggest an attack was imminent.
"Then the Taliban opened up on us from a compound about 80m away.
"On that day, there were only five of us on the ground."
Mark's team radioed the patrol base who pounded the enemy position with motor rounds.
"Eight Taliban bodies were counted," he said.
"But we think some escaped. We had come under a very heavy rate of fire."
Mark was also praised by his commanders for his role in constructing a checkpoint.
The commendation states: "McKenzie took significant risks in driving unprotected vehicles in support of the operation to provide improved protection for the infantry manning the isolated checkpoint.
"Despite the imminent prospect of danger, McKenzie remained steadfast and resolute.
"Through his rousing example and tremendous encouragement, he inspired his men to overcome their fears."
Mark, who lives in Hull, has two children, Luke, 13, and Keira, 7, and is married to Sam.