West Yorkshire, England, UK
Captain, 11 Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Regiment, Royal Logistic Corps
4/19/2011, Helmand Province, Afghanistan
A bomb disposal heroine was killed when she fearlessly returned to an Afghan alleyway in an attempt to save lives by defusing a Taliban device, an inquest heard yesterday.
Captain Lisa Head – who told her family that she had the ‘best job in the world’ – was commended by a coroner, who said her courage ‘cannot be praised too highly’. He also hailed her brave comrades, who ignored the threat of further improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and dashed into the alleyway to reach the mortally-wounded 29-year-old soldier.
Captain Lisa Jade Head of 11 Explosive Ordnance Disposal Regiment, the Royal Logistic Corps, lost her limbs in the blast in an alleyway in Helmand Province on April 18. Their actions and the immediate first aid they gave her meant she survived long enough to be evacuated to a specialist military ward at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham.
Her devastated family were able to be at her bedside to say goodbye before she succumbed to her catastrophic injuries the following day. Capt Head’s unit performs a similar job to the U.S. bomb disposal team in the Oscar-winning film The Hurt Locker.
Recording a verdict that she was unlawfully killed in a war zone, the coroner, Professor Paul Marks said: ‘I cannot praise too highly the courage of Lisa Head and her colleagues.
‘The reason for this is because they are all volunteers deployed in a theatre of war far from home and family for our continuing benefit and security.’
Capt Head, from Huddersfield, was among a handful of women soldiers trained to save the lives of countless troops and civilians by finding and disarming IEDs. She had deployed to Afghanistan with the specialist 11 Explosive Ordnance Disposal regiment, the Royal Logistic Corps, to tackle hidden roadside bombs. Capt Head defused one Improvised Explosive Device (IED) before retreating to a safe distance and moments later was hit by an explosion (file picture of soldier defusing bomb)
On April 18 last year, she was sent on an operation in Nahr-e-Saraj, a Taliban stronghold in Helmand Province, after British troops spotted a suspicious wire protruding from the ground.Capt Head risked her life to coolly defuse one IED before retreating to a safe distance. She returned to the alleyway to take photographs of the device when a second booby-trap partially detonated, resulting in no injuries. Instead of cancelling the mission, Capt Head made a joke and nervelessly re-entered the narrow alleyway to neutralise the device.
Her comrade, Corporal Adam Tucker, told Bradford Coroner’s Court: ‘She had a few cigarettes and made light of the situation.
‘I asked Captain Head over and over again if she was happy to continue and being a stubborn Yorkshire woman as she was, she was quite happy to continue.’
Tragically, a third bomb exploded, inflicting terrible injuries. Experts said insurgents had sown a complex cluster of devices to catch out bomb disposal specialists. Cpl Tucker said he grabbed a weapon, medical kit and metal detector to search for IEDs as he approached Capt Head. But when the dust thrown up by the 5lb explosive cleared he realised there was no time to search safely. He said: ‘We took the risk and ran down to Captain Head. On arrival we realized she was a quadruple amputee and time was limited.
‘She could not speak but her eyes were open and she was responsive. I was breathing and telling her to do it with me. I helped put her on a stretcher and that was the last time I saw her.’
Capt Head was airlifted to Camp Bastion and then flown to the UK. She was the second female British soldier to be killed in Afghanistan. In 2008, Corporal Sarah Bryant, 26, of the Intelligence Corps, died when a roadside bomb struck her Snatch Land Rover.
Professor Marks told Cpl Tucker: ‘At potential risk to your own lives, you went to the help of one of your fallen comrades and did your absolute best. I commend you on that.’
Colonel Gareth Collett, an Army bomb disposal expert who investigated Capt Head’s death, said the first IED had a high metal content and was placed as a ‘come on’ for coalition soldiers who found it with metal detectors. But the enemy then laid two low metal content devices nearby to hit troops dealing with the first device.
He told the inquest: ‘Why did she decide to go back? The simple answer is that she is a professional soldier. If the alleyway had not been cleared properly local nationals would have been killed.’