We live in a curiously black and white world. The Information Age has given us unprecedented insight into people’s private lives. If something is ever published on the Internet it is there forever. This allows those who don’t actually accomplish a great deal to sit back in a position of comfort and pick apart the actions of those who do.
Cancel culture is the woke term. Like texting, sexting, dope, Gucci, sick, lit, or the term woke itself, these are words that meant something totally different a generation ago. This deep into the Information Age all it takes is a single errant comment online to disqualify a person from a position of prestige or responsibility. This is based on the flawed assumption that folks are all either innately good or innately bad.
Reality is rarely that clear cut. Not all nuns are angels, and not all Nazis were bloodthirsty psychopaths. We are all of us broken. It is simply that some strive for the light, while others embrace the darkness. However, there does yet remain some weird intangible that attracts certain personalities to certain camps. That ethereal stuff tends to drive some of the most extraordinary behavior.
In some rare quarters you can indeed find a few moral absolutes. I think we can all agree that ISIS, al Qaeda, and the Taliban are reliably bad people. Their sick oppressive ideology attracts aberrant abusive personalities and then cultivates the worst in them. In the West, an errant online comment can be an unforgivable sin. Meanwhile in Afghanistan people have been executed for listening to music. If anybody cares about my opinion, I think we could use a little perspective over on this side of the pond.
Regardless, in the aftermath of 9-11 the free countries of the world banded together to battle the forces of darkness. This was an old school righteous fight. The egregious behavior of our radical Islamist enemies served as the catalyst to unite free peoples in a common cause against tyranny, oppression, and rank terrorism. That single shared mission brought out the very best in some. One of the finest examples extant was that of a young British paratrooper named Joshua Leakey.
Joshua Leakey was born in 1988 in England. His father is a retired RAF officer, while his mom is an Occupational Therapist. He has one younger brother. Leakey attended school in Horsham, West Sussex, before starting a military history program at the University of Kent. Dissatisfied with his studies, Leakey dropped out of school to join the British Army.
There is a certain brotherhood among those of us soldiers stupid enough to jump out of perfectly good airplanes. We are typically somewhat full of ourselves and more than a wee bit arrogant. Joshua Leakey was cut from similar stuff. He ended up with the 1st Battalion of the British Parachute Regiment.
Joshua Leakey did three combat tours with the Paras in Afghanistan and was promoted to Lance Corporal. In August of 2013, Leakey was part of a joint multinational operation in Helmand Province. Fighting alongside US Marines as well as Afghan soldiers, Leakey and his mates were moving into a village to search for illegal weapons. Leakey’s team inserted via CH47 Chinook helicopters and immediately found themselves deep in the suck.
Leakey’s element was tasked to provide fire support for the troops assaulting into the village. As such, they set up on the reverse slope of a nearby hill protected from the bulk of the enemy fire. Despite their position of relative safety, they soon found themselves subject to withering automatic weapons and RPG fire.
The command group was pinned down on the exposed front slope of the hill by around 20 heavily-armed Taliban fighters. American Marine Captain Brandon Bocian was subsequently hit and badly wounded. The Taliban insurgents were so close and so ferocious as to negate the effectiveness of the two friendly machineguns as well as the organic mortar section that was collocated with the command group.
Despite being the most junior NCO present, LCPL Leakey rightly assessed the situation as dire and took action. He ran some 100 meters down the hill under heavy enemy fire to get to the command group and render aid to the downed US Marine officer. LCPL Leakey then took charge of the chaotic situation and initiated casualty evacuation procedures.
All the while Taliban forces were suppressing the two automatic weapons in overwatch positions at the top of the hill. LCPL Leakey then ran back up the hill across rugged terrain and under heavy fire to retrieve one of the guns and get it back in action. In the process, the machinegun he was carrying was itself struck by enemy fire though not disabled. LCPL Leakey got the gun working and began pouring fire back onto the attacking insurgents.
While this helped it still did not tip the balance of the engagement in the favor of friendly forces. As such LCPL ran the gauntlet a third time, this time carrying more than 60 pounds’ worth of ammunition and equipment. He retrieved a second machinegun from the pinned down command group and sprinted to a more advantageous position with it, siting it against the enemy before turning its operation over to a subordinate.
With two belt-fed MGs finally working on the enemy, LCPL Leakey returned to the downed Marine and coordinated his evacuation under fire. Along the way, friendly forces killed eleven insurgents and wounded another four. The entire battle lasted some 45 interminable minutes. The fighting did not stop until friendly close air support rolled hot to teach the Taliban a stark lesson in the salient aspects of tactical overmatch.
British forces in action in Southwest Asia most frequently carried the SA80 bullpup assault rifle. The SA80 was a thoroughly inspired but badly flawed design when introduced in 1985. Since then the SA80 has undergone several product improvements. In 2000 HK redesigned the weapon into the SA80A2, rectifying many to most of the rifle’s documented deficits. The subsequent SA80A3 first saw issue in 2016 and focused primarily on making the weapon more modular and adaptable. Today the SA80A3 enjoys reliability rates comparable to other modern assault rifles.
I could not find a specific reference to the machineguns LCPL Leakey humped up and down that godforsaken hill in Afghanistan. However, balance of probability these were L7A2 GPMGs (General Purpose Machineguns). The British soldiers I have known all referred to the L7 guns as “Gimpy’s.”
The L7A2 is an evolved version of the original Belgian MAG (Miltrailleuse d’Appui General) gun. Designed in the early 1950s by Ernest Vervier, the MAG gun has subsequently seen service with more than 80 nations and has been license-produced in ten countries to include Argentina, Canada, Egypt, India, Singapore, Turkey, the US, and the UK. The Chinese naturally make an unlicensed copy of the gun they call the CS/LM1. In US service the MAG gun is designated the M240.
The US military first adopted the M240 in 1977 as a coaxial machinegun for main battle tanks. With the well-documented shortcomings of the M60 being made ever more painfully manifest as the guns began to age, some legit rocket scientist realized that we had perfectly good M240’s in storage. Uncle Sam bought the buttstocks and fire controls to convert those early coax guns into ground weapons and fell in love with them. The M240B weighed 28 pounds while the lightened M240G tipped the scales at 24.2 pounds. The more recent M240L dropped the weight to 22.3 pounds by using titanium in certain critical components along with a short barrel, polymer fire control unit, and collapsible stock.
The Rest of the Story
Though LCPL Leakey likely did not know CPT Bocian well, he risked his life multiple times to save the man. LCPL Leakey fully appreciated the desperate nature of the engagement. He selflessly took action to get the injured American to safety and ultimately defeat the Taliban fighters who were so intent upon killing them all. His courageous actions under fire are a study in combat leadership and reflect that weird secret sauce that separates heroes from normal folk on the modern battlefield.
In February 2015, LCPL Joshua Leakey received the Victoria Cross directly from the hand of Queen Elizabeth II. The Victoria Cross is Great Britain’s highest award for bravery in combat. Like most true heroes, LCPL Leakey was humbled by the honor. He had this to say to the BBC, “In that particular incident I was in the best position to do that. If it had been any of my mates they would be in this position now…I don’t look at it about being about me in particular, I look at this as representing everyone from my unit, from my battalion, who was involved in the campaign in Afghanistan.”
LCPL Leakey comes by it honestly. His second cousin, Sergeant Nigel Gray Leakey, earned the Victoria Cross himself in 1941. The elder SGT Leakey was awarded the decoration posthumously for valor while fighting the Italians in North Africa. LCPL Leakey is only the third British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross for combat action in Afghanistan. He is the only one of the three who lived to tell the tale.
The Victoria Cross was introduced by Queen Victoria in 1856 to recognize acts of exceptional valor during the Crimean war. Since then it has been awarded 1,356 times. LCPL Leakey is only the fifteenth soldier so recognized since the end of WW2. Each physical medal is formed from the bronze of Russian guns captured at the Siege of Sevastopol during the Crimean War. In military circles, it’s quite the big deal.