Remembering the Fallen: on this day in 2006, Corporal Mark William Wright GC, 3rd Battalion, The Parachute Regiment, was killed in Afghanistan while attempting to save the lives of soldiers who had encountered an unmarked minefield in the region of Kajaki.
Corporal Wright had joined the Army in 1999 and served three tours in Northern Ireland, and also deployed to Iraq, where he served with distinction. His cousin described him thus: “Mark was a lovely, cheery, easy-going guy and he had always wanted to join up with the Army all his life”. He is remembered as an outstanding soldier, and a quiet, confident and unassuming man. He was a well-loved and inspirational leader, professional and dedicated, and his skill was known to have saved many lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. Corporal Wright’s role was as a Mortar Fire Controller; and in 2006 in Helmand province he controlled mortar fire for sub units who relied on mortars as their only form of indirect fire. He was continuously in the field on high intensity operations.
On the day of his death he was on patrol when one of his team stepped on an unmarked mine, losing a leg. Corporal Wright attended to his injured colleague and called for a helicopter fitted with a winch, but was told there were none available - a Chinook without a winch was dispatched. The paratroopers had realized that they were in an unmarked minefield, and tried to wave the helicopter away as it approached, but to no avail. It landed, but as it subsequently took off the downwash triggered another mine which caused serious injuries to Corporal Wright, who had recognized the danger and had lain on top of the injured man in an effort to save him. Six paratroopers in total were injured, three losing limbs. Corporal Wright maintained command and he tried to keep his men’s spirits up until they could be rescued. Two U.S. helicopters, with winches, arrived three-and-a-half-hours after the first explosion. Sadly Corporal Wright died from his injuries before he could be returned to base. For his actions that day he was awarded the George Cross.
The Coroner recorded a narrative verdict on the death of Corporal Wright, which he said could have been avoided were it not for “a lack of equipment, the availability of British helicopters in Afghanistan, an administrative delay and training methods.” He praised Corporal Wright as an exceptional soldier: “This selfless courage forms part of a tradition within our armed forces and Corporal Wright will continue to be an inspiration for those who follow. That a brave soldier is lost in battle is always a matter of deep sadness but when that life is lost where it need not have been because of a lack of equipment and assets, those responsible should hang their heads in shame." The Coroner went on to state that three factors had contributed to Corporal Wright's death: the lack of appropriate British helicopters fitted with a winch, the downwash from the Chinook sent to the minefield, and the administrative delay in sending a suitable helicopter. He also referred to other failures: insufficient batteries for radios at observation posts, failure to provide information to soldiers about the threat of mines in the area, the teaching methods used to train soldiers to locate and mark mines, and the training that failed to take into account the technology available for the detection of mines. He added, "This tragedy has its roots in the expectation that a small force of dedicated professional soldiers would be expected to extend the scope and number of their operations without the necessary support”.
Lieutenant Colonel Stuart Tootal paid this tribute: " Corporal Wright died attempting to save the life of a fellow paratrooper…he did so in complete disregard for his own safety whilst fully aware of the dangers to himself. His actions were typical of the type of man Corporal Wright was. Quietly determined and passionate about his profession, he possessed exceptionally high moral and physical courage. Due to attend an advanced promotion course, he had a very bright future ahead of him and had already been identified as someone who would go far. Unfortunately his promising career was cut tragically short. With the loss of Corporal Wright we have lost a trusted and valued friend. He set and maintained the highest of standards in accordance with being a Paratrooper. He will be very much missed by all of us.”
Mark, from Edinburgh, was 27 years old and engaged to be married.