RAF pilot who saved Iraqi soldiers fighting IS awarded DFC for bravery

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An RAF fighter pilot has been decorated for bravery after saving the lives of Iraqi soldiers fighting Islamic State.

Squadron Leader Roger Cruickshank went into action with his unit in May last year, helping soldiers who had been pinned down by extremist fighters, despite having little fuel left in his Typhoon fighter.

He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his actions in saving two different groups of soldiers and received the medal from the Duke of Cambridge at Buckingham Palace on Tuesday.

The Scotsman, based at RAF Lossiemouth in Moray, said he and his unit had been in “the right place at the right time”, adding: “I’m fortunate that I made the right decision in what was a couple of seconds to make the right call.

“They were very much cornered and in a place where they just couldn’t escape from Daesh and they were taking casualties. We had to do something and do something very quickly.”

He added: “I made a big judgment call on whether we (the Typhoons) could attack and get to the (refuelling) tanker.

“It was a big call but we got there and it was a really successful day. Although it was also quite a stressful day in the office I’m glad it all went well.”

Before becoming a pilot in a supersonic fighter, self-confessed lifelong “adrenaline junkie” Mr Cruickshank represented Great Britain at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, competing in the downhill and Super G events just a year after he suffered a horrific injury, shattering his left leg.

Writing for Press Association Sport shortly after the games about training to fly the Typhoon, he said: “I know how hard it is for many sportsmen who end their careers and are forced to take up office jobs.

“For them it is a big anti-climax because they miss the buzz and the big-time competition.

“But there is no danger of that happening to me because I have got my Olympic substitute waiting for me.”

Receiving the medal was an additionally special moment for Ballater-born Mr Cruickshank, who also campaigns around mental health in memory of his mother Ann, a nurse who took her own life in 2010.

William, the Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry had become high-profile campaigners in the same field in recent years, launching their Heads Together campaign.

Mr Cruickshank said he had been inspired by the princes to support Heads Together, saying: “I was raising money for different charities but then I watched Harry and William speak at different events.

“What they were saying about their view on mental health and how they were attacking the stigma was exactly what I had been thinking and trying to do myself.

“I think they are doing a fantastic job, I said that when I received the award. I mentioned my mum and how proud I was that he was presenting the award because of his fight for mental health, and I thanked him for that.”

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