Lance Corporal Allister Baker thought he'd been in a car crash, but seconds later was fighting for his life as he and two other Kiwi troops came under heavy gunfire in Afghanistan.
For the first time Lance Corporal Baker has spoken publicly about his efforts to rescue a fallen colleague, unarmed and with a broken ankle. Today he will be rewarded at the New Zealand Gallantry Awards.
On August 3, 2010, Lance Corporal Baker, a turret gunner, was travelling in a Humvee with Corporal Matthew Ball and Lieutenant Tim O'Donnell in the remote and mountainous region of Bamyan province when they came under attack. Insurgents launched rockets at the vehicle - one exploded against the driver's door and another against the bonnet.
"Initially for me it felt like a car accident, that was my first thought. I thought we'd rolled or something like that. I just remember getting thrown around in the vehicle," Lance Corporal Baker told the Weekend Herald. "And then once I came to I realised there were rounds flying past my head and realised what was actually going on. From there the training kicked in and I reacted. I looked for my weapon system ... and realised that had blown clean off the turret with the explosion."
His second weapon was too damaged to use.
"I went for my third weapon, which was there just in case something like this happened. But unfortunately I realised the vehicle was on fire and I couldn't get to that weapon either.
"I decided I had to react and get out of that vehicle, there were still rounds flying past my head and I was basically a target with no way of fighting back. I manoeuvred myself out of the vehicle, I felt pain in my foot then but I let that pass and carry on, there wasn't much I could do about it at the time. I just rolled out of the vehicle, looking for my comrades to see where they were."
He saw Lieutenant Tim O'Donnell, in his seat but unresponsive, and Corporal Matthew Ball was unconscious.
"Matty had his head down, I was thinking 'they're dead'. I yelled out to Matty in the hope that he would respond. Luckily he did, he popped his head up. I yelled to him to come around to my side of the vehicle and from there we basically worked together as hard as we could to try and get Tim out of that vehicle."
Corporal Ball, 25, had to pull his impaled leg free and climb out of the burning Humvee in full view of the enemy, who continued to shoot at him from only 45m away.
For five minutes, under continuous fire, they took turns to try and recover Lieutenant O'Donnell's body which was trapped in the front passenger seat.
"You've got to have a little bit of courage and commitment to get in and do something like that. You've got to have a bit of bravery I guess," Lance Corporal Baker, who was a private at the time, said.
Injured, the men crawled across open ground and in full view of the insurgent forces, to a dry creek bed about 40m away and called in help.
That help came in the form of 27-year-old Corporal Albert Moore, who is also receiving an award today.
He had been travelling in the rear vehicle of a New Zealand Provincial Reconstruction Team patrol when the front one was hit by an explosive device near the town of Chartok.
As commander of the rear vehicle he ordered the driver to pull back.
He then co-ordinated suppressing fire in order to help those in two other trapped vehicles, one of which was able to reach the base. The other was immobilised by small arms fire about 30m away.
At one stage he was hit in the shoulder by shrapnel.
After receiving word from Corporal Ball and Private Baker he drove to where they were and took them back to the patrol's base.
Lance Corporal Baker said he was shocked when told he would receive a Gallantry Award.
"In a way I might have expected it but I wasn't really ready for it," he said. "At the end of the day, when it all happened, it was just me doing my job - doing what I had to do. I didn't really expect any award for it or anything, but it is an honour."
Courage in wartime
* Corporal Albert Moore: NZ Gallantry Star for acts of outstanding gallantry in situations of danger.
* Corporal Matthew Ball: NZ Gallantry Decoration for acts of outstanding gallantry in situations of danger.
* Lance Corporal (then with the rank of Private) Allister Baker: NZ Gallantry Decoration for acts of outstanding gallantry in situations of danger.
* Warrant Officer Class Two Denis Wanihi: NZ Gallantry Medal for acts of gallantry.By Elizabeth Binning Email Elizabeth, Anna Leask @AnnaLeask Email Anna