THE COLERAINE TIMES is throwing its weight behind a campaign to have “Purple Heart” style medals awarded to all Royal Irish soldiers killed or maimed on active duty in Afghanistan.
A petition demanding recognition for those who made the supreme sacrifice was started by Margaret McCormick, the grieving mother of a Coleraine soldier who died defusing a roadside bomb in Helmand province on Remembrance Sunday nearly a year ago.
Now the mother of 22-year-old Ranger Aaron McCormick, who she believes was “ignored” in last month’s MoD honours’ list, has secured an assurance from Prime Minister David Cameron that he will personally intervene to examine the disparity between the posthumous honours’ systems in the UK and the US.
DUP MP Gregory Campbell raised the matter during Prime Minister’s question time two weeks ago and received a commitment from the PM that he would arrange a meeting with veterans minister Andrew Robathan and, himself and Mr. Campbell to discuss the matter.
Currently the UK does not automatically recognised any soldiers who die for their country relying instead on commanding officers making personal recommendations based on whether or not they believe a soldier committed an “act of bravery” and is worthy of a medal.
“What more do they want from these young people,” said a disappointed Margaret whose son was overlooked in the 140 name list of soldiers honoured by the Ministry of Defence. Ten of those went to Royal Irish soldiers.
“What really angers me is that Aaron volunteered to go up that lane in the wee hours of the morning, knowing that there was an IED (improvised explosive device) at the end of it.
“He chose to lie down on his stomach and put his face next to this thing to try to defuse it. How much braver can you get?”
This was Aaron’s second trip to Afghanistan and when another explosion sounded in the distance, he just laughed and made light of it to put the other, less experienced soldiers at ease. A few minutes later he was dead, caught in the blast of a secondary booby trap device underneath his body.
“The coroner said he didn’t stand a chance,” said Margaret, who revealed that his commanding officer later rang her in distress to express his sadness at Aaron’s death and to confirm the bravery of her son’s actions.
Angry at what she sees as “the shameful treatment” of Aaron’s memory and the commitment of all young soldiers who serve their country, Margaret has now enlisted the help of a number of local politicians, including independent MLA David McClarty and Coleraine Mayor, Alderman Maurice Bradley.
In Limavady, DUP MLA James McCorkell has helped her set up an online petition to demand “recognition for Royal Irish Regiment soldiers who make the supreme sacrifice.”
Already the petition has been signed by more than 200 members of the public but Margaret is hoping that by highlighting the campaign in the press, Coleraine Times readers will lend their support and give her cause more weight.
“I have already contacted Owen Patterson and David Cameron and I have received a personal letter from the Prime Minister telling me how brave he thought Aaron was and to contact him if there was anything he could do.
“Now I intend to call him on it and hold him to his promise,” added Margaret.
Anyone wishing to add their support to the e-petition can do so online at http://epititions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/19048.