AN Army major who grew up in Heathfield has been awarded the American Bronze Star, the highest honour that can be bestowed on foreign nationals serving with the US Forces in areas of conflict.
Kevin Billinghurst, a major in the Canadian Forces, received the medal recently – American president Barack Obama had to give his approval – for heroic and meritorious service.
The citation reads: 'For outstanding service while deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom as a Future Operations Planner, Combined Security Transition Command – Afghanistan from June 26, 2008 to June 25, 2009.
'His personal example determination and commitment to duty have had a significant and lasting effect within the command and he has brought great credit on himself and the Canadian Army'.
Maj Billinghurst, 47, whose parents Merv and Maureen live in Newton Abbot, was based in Kabul working with the Americans for a year.
He was assigned as the Afghan National Security Forces Operations Chief, Combined Security Transition Command - Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
During the 12 months, Maj Billinghurst's outstanding professional skill, leadership, dogged determination and perseverance resulted in the significant contribution of the implementation of Operations Control Centres (OCCs) across the Afghanistan theatre.
He helped set up more than 30, assisting in the reconnaissance for suitable buildings, often in non-permissive areas and with the minimum of security force support.
In Wardak he located an appropriate building and supervised its equipping, all during a two-and-a-half-week deployment.
It was one of the many similar deployments where he demonstrated great leadership, tenacity and patience, and also developed outstanding personal relationships with the Afghan Regional Security Integration Command, Regional Commands and the Afghan National Security Forces.
He is renowned and widely respected as the OCC expert.
A summary of his Bronze Star award says: 'Often exposed in dangerous locations, Major Billinghurst showed no concern for his own personal safety and remained totally focused on the job'.
The major has also been involved in other high profile projects such as the Dual-Hat initiative combining US Forces in Afghanistan under one theatre commander, all benefiting from his pragmatic approach and wealth of military experience.
In particular, he assisted with the establishment and deployment of the Counter Narcotics Infantry Kandak, and as an experience bomb disposal officer he often provided assistance in Explosive Ordnance Disposal.
The award summary also stated: 'Major Billinghurst's performance of duty in a combat zone reflects great credit upon himself, the Canadian Army and is worthy of the award of the Bronze Star'.
The Bronze Star was originally made available by President John F Kennedy.
Maj Billinghurst attended St Catherine's Primary School, Heathfield, before the family moved to the Isle of Wight – his father was serving in the Army.
From school he went straight into the Junior Leaders Royal Engineers, later serving in the Falklands conflict.
While in the British Army he also served in Northern Ireland, Germany and Canada and it was while he was serving in the latter that he met his future wife Susan – the couple now have two children.
In 1987 he was transferred to the Canadian Forces and was posted to Vancouver. Down the years he served under the United Nations guise with the Canadian Forces, served on the Afghanistan/Pakistan border, taught Afghans how to dispose of minefields, and in the early 90s served in the Gulf War in Kuwait, as well as the Bosnia conflict, and Cyprus.
In 1998, after reaching the rank of warrant officer, he was awarded a commission as second lieutenant, and in 2001 went to the Ethiopian-Eritrea border with the UN in a peacekeeping and humanitarian role.
Now back in Canada he has taken up a command in New Brunswick Province.
Next month Maj Billinghurst has been invited to Arnheim for the 65th anniversary commemorations of Operation Market Garden.