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Military Cross for Marine who charged at Taliban

Sam Alexander receives medal for one-man assault to protect injured comrade

Two Royal Marines, one who emptied his machine gun at the Taliban before charging at their position with his pistol to provide cover for a wounded colleague and another who rugby tackled a suicide bomber off a motorbike, are among more than 100 members of the armed forces awarded medals today.

Marine Sam Alexander, who received the Military Cross for his bravery, saved the injured leader of his section earlier this year in Afghanistan after the officer was shot twice during an ambush in the heart of Helmand as British troops engaged in two days of incessant fighting to expel the Taliban from the area.

While comrades came to the aid of the wounded corporal, 26-year-old Marine Alexander picked up a heavy machine gun and fired on the insurgents just 15 metres away in a high-walled compound. After running out of ammunition, he used his 9mm pistol until that too was empty. By the end of the ferocious one-man assault, which the Ministry of Defence citation points out took place "despite being completely exposed to heavy and accurate enemy fire", the Taliban fighters were forced to withdraw and found themselves being pursued by other marine units who came to the aid of the ambushed troops.

Marine Alexander's determination to confront the insurgents was made more remarkable by the fact that he had escaped death or serious injury just a few hours earlier when he was shot in the head, only for the bullet to become lodged in his helmet.

The ambush, which took place during Operation Abii Toorah, or Blue Sword, an offensive designed to interrupt the flow of Taliban reinforcements, was reported by The Independent in March. Marine Alexander's father, Stuart, who is the newspaper's sailing correspondent, spoke of his pride at his son's award.

Mr Alexander said: "Every father hopes to have a son who will excel and Sam has achieved that. He is anxious to underline that he regards this award as being as much for his comrades as it is for himself. He is part of a team and they look after each other."

A second Royal Marine received the Military Cross for saving the lives of up to 30 colleagues when his quick thinking prevented a suicide bomber on a motorbike from detonating his device.

Sergeant Noel Connolly, 41, from Manchester, tackled the bomber by hauling him from the machine packed with 150lb of explosive and wrestling him to the ground before he could set off an explosion. Sgt Connolly said: "I'm not brave at all. Someone had to stop him."

The awards, which cover a period from October last year to this March, are among 135 medals granted to service personnel for bravery in Afghanistan, Iraq and Britain.

They include Marine Steven Nethery, who twice ran unarmed across 250m of open ground in Helmand – once to retrieve a wounded colleague and then again to prevent vital military equipment from being captured. He is one of two awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross.