The extremely rare to unit and very well documented Small Arms School Corps Afghanistan 2009 Op Herrick 10 United States Army Commendation Medal, Northern Ireland, Kosovo, and Op Herrick 14 group awarded to Warrant Officer 2nd Class G.J.R. ‘Gaz’ Latta, Small Arms School Corps, formerly Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment), who saw service out in Northern Ireland during the late 1990’s, and having been present in Hong Kong when the Black Watch became the last British battalion in 1997, was then in Kosovo during Operation Agricola in 2001. Having transferred to the Small Arms School Corps, he was then most unusually twice deployed with this unit to Afghanistan, on both occasions acting in some form of an advisory role instructing troops of the Afghan National Army. Latta’s first tour was during Op Herrick 10 between March and September 2009, when he deployed with the 19th Light Brigade as a Warrant Officer with the NCO Training Team (NCOTT) working closely with the American troops in training the ANA, and working with the NCOTT teams at Herat, Mazar eh Shariff, Gardez and Kabul. It was for his work in this role that he was awarded a scarce USA Army Commendation Medal in December 2009 by Lieutenant General Caldwell, Commanding US Army at Kabul. Latta made an immense contribution to the ANA in spite of difficult working conditions. Latta then found himself deploying to Afghanistan for a second time during Op Herrick 14 between April and October 2011, though he was part of the advance party on this occasion and in fact served there from February 2011. Surviving accounts detail Latta’s role whilst attached to the 3rd Battalion, Mercian Regiment (Staffords) within 3 Commando Brigade, and again serving in an advisory capacity with the ANA. Latta found himself heading up a two man Tolay Advisory and Training Team (TATT) embedded with an ANA Company during a partnership role, and as such came in contact with the enemy on a number of occasions, specifically during Operation Wild Cobra in May 2011. A fellow soldier, new to Afghanistan, Sergeant Dale of 3 Mercian recounted during a mixed company patrol around the village of Shooragas that ‘WO2 Latta and Lt Gun Mohammed - the ANA Baluck (Platoon) Commander - conducted a shura with the village elders. Whilst they were all sitting down I was with the ANA assisting in security… Once the Shura had been completed we started to move towards a compound that had been identified by the ANA Tolay Commander as worth a look. It was as we moved between two multiples (half platoons) from D Company we found we had moved into the killing area of a multi-firing point complex ambush as he insurgents opened fire. Both the ANA and D Company Commanders formulated a quick plan and set off the seize the upper hand. The company group was turned to face the firing positions and returned an aggressive initial rate of fire. As I lay in a firing position alongside the Afghan Tolay returning fire towards the now overwhelmed insurgent WO2 Latta informed me that I had now in fact lost my “Afghan cherry.”’
Group of 7: Campaign Service Medal 1962, 1 Clasp: Northern Ireland; (25031386 PTE G J R LATTA BW); Nato Medal for Kosovo; Operational Service Medal 2000 for Afghanistan, with clasp Afghanistan; (WO2 G J R LATTA SASC 25031386); Jubilee Medal 2002; Jubilee Medal 2012; Regular Army Long Service and Good Conduct Medal, EIIR Dei.Grat. bust; (WO2 G J R LATTA SASC 25031386); United States of America: Army Commendation Medal, officially engraved naming on reverse; (WO G LATTA). Mounted court style for display, together with the box of issue for the fifth, and the presentation case for the last.
Condition: Good Very Fine.
Together with the following:
The wallet for the recipient’s medals, this decorated with his combat ID patch giving first two letters of his surname, last three numbers of his service number, rank, blood type, nation and regiment, and additional patch for the Mercian Regiment to whom he was attached to from the Small Arms School Corps in Afghanistan.
Official Award Certificate for the United States of America Army Commendation Medal, issued to: ‘Warrant Officer First Class Gary Latta, Combined Security Transition Command - Afghanistan’, detailing the citation, and covering his service between 19th March and 16th September 2009 when he earned the award. Signed in ink by Lieutenant General William B. Caldwell IV, Commanding US Army at Kabul. This housed in its official wallet, and with the accompanying Defence Intelligence Agency list of those foreign personnel from various Allied nations who have been deemed suitable for a US award, listing 46 names in total, dated 9th December 2009, Latta’s name appears on the second page of awardees.
Warrant of Promotion to a Warrant Officer, as issued to Gary John Robertson Latta, dated 1st March 2007, when serving with the Small Arms School Corps.
Infantry Training Battalion Combat Infantryman’s Course - Ouston Group photograph with full list of annotated names for ‘A’ Company, Intake April 1994 for the course lasting from 11th April to 24th June 1994. Latta, then a Private, is back row sixth from right.
Infantry Training Battalion Combat Infantryman’s Course - Ouston Group photograph with full list of annotated names for the Rhine Platoon Course from April 1994, for the course lasting from 11th April to 24th June 1994. Latta is back row first from left.
Infantry Battle School - Infantry Weapons Division Permanent Staff annotated group photograph for April 2004, with Latta then a Sergeant and Staff Instructor being back row fifth from left.
Unidentified group photograph, Latta then a Private shown front row second from left.
A small quantity of supporting accounts, including the recipient’s personal account of his first tour of Afghanistan during which he gained the USA Army Commendation Medal.
Gary John Robertson Latta, known as Gaz, was born on 20th June 1976 in Scotland, and having joined the British Army as a Private (No.25031386) with the Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment), then passed through the Combat Infantryman’s Course at Ouston as part of Rhine Platoon in ‘A’ Company from 11th April to 24th June 1994. Latta almost certainly saw his first tour of Northern Ireland when his battalion deployed there between April and November 1995, and would then have been posted to Hong Kong for a sixth month tour between February and June 1997, when with the handover to China, it left, and therefore became the last battalion to serve in Hong Kong. Another tour of Northern Ireland followed between 1st December 1998 and 3rd June 1999 when it operated as the Rural Roulement Battalion.
In July 2000 it was posted to Germany and garrisoned at St Barbara Barracks, Fallingbostel, where it joined the 7th Armoured Brigade and converted to Armoured Infantry operating in Warrior AFV’s. Latta was then with it when it deployed to Kosovo during Operation Agricola from April to October 2001. Around this time Latta, by then a Sergeant transferred units to the Small Arms School Corps, and therefore missed his old regiment’s deployment to Iraq where it took part in the invasion in 2003. By April 2004 he was a Small-arms Instructor with the Permanent Staff of the Infantry Weapons Division at the Infantry Battle School.
Latta was promoted to Warrant Officer 2nd Class on 1st March 2007, and was then fortunate to be given a Brigade Advisor’s Post with the 19th Light Brigade at Lisburn in Northern Ireland, which was then undergoing Pre Deployment Training for Afghanistan, and he joined this position at the end of January 2009, fairly late in the training cycle, and ended up instruction troops in the use of the Combat Shotgun. As he would later recount in Man-at-Arms - The Journal of the Small Arms School Corps in 2011 in an article titled ‘From Dust to Deutschland’, ‘the shotgun appeared amid strange looks from the staff officers, so I set it as my first priority, firstly heading off to TAG (UK) for initial training on the weapon. Then followed a tour of Northern Ireland, training up instructors ready to cascade before getting on the plane. Visions of Hollywood style blowing doors off the hinges had started to make their way around the Brigade. The SO2 and I went on a fact finding mission, visiting specialist units for advice on employment and to answer the big question of “Can I blow locks off, with this”. The findings were straight forward enough, NO!! The employment was clarified and that one was put to bed as was the training requirement. I was then asked to deploy early to assist and liaise with the RSOI unit, so there conduction of daily phone calls from the theatre could be toned down. So on 7 Mar 09 I jumped in a minibus and headed for a flight to Afghanistan.’
Latta then found himself one of a very small number of men from the Small Arms School Corps to deploy to Afghanistan, when he formed part of Operation Herrick 10, and deployed with the 19th Light Brigade on 7th March 2009. His tour with Op Herrick 10 lasted from 19th March and 16th September 2009.
Latta continues: ‘I arrived in Camp Bastion and met up with WO2 (QMSI) ‘Snowy’ Snowdon, who was covering the Relief in Place (RIP), and was concurrently ripping his hair out with certain individuals! I began to act as the point of contact for the brigade and was able to reduce the phone calls and dispensation requests, when teamed up with QMSI Snowdon we were able to reassure the under pressure OC that every single training item was not in Pam 21. When we offered advice his instant reply was “Show me where that is written”. The Reception Staging and Onward Integration (RSOI) ship sailed forward and I had to part company to join my deployment job, for which I was now running behind.
I was given the job of CSM of NCO Training Team (NCOTT). A few days into deployment I was told by the OC NCOTT that was no longer the case and I was now a Team Commander. However on arrival I found all the slots were full as TA Officers had arrived and had to be employed. The NCOTT was based in Kabul and had teams in a number of locations, Herat, Mazar eh Shariff, Gardez and Kabul. The job entailed mentoring the Afghan NCO’s instructing on their own courses. Finding myself slightly out of a job I set about creating my own, then transition of the NATO weapons package for the Afghan National Army (ANA) was looming and stress levels were high, so I sensed an opportunity.
I set about developing a short instructor course to train the ANA NCO’s on the NATO weapons, and improve basic instruction from classroom to battle lessons. It was only a week long but anyone who has trained them will know getting an agreement with the ANA is a battle. A week was agreed at the locations and a trial course was held at Kabul, the OC invited the civilian contractor to teach the M16 rifle during the trial course. Myself and CSgt ‘Bucky’ Buchanan (Black Watch) 3 Scots ran the main part and the civilian came in for the M16 lessons. Basic EDIP was tried, but as Bucky and I watched the lesson we saw the contractor using living ammunition in the classroom to demonstrate the ejection of a round! Once I had picked myself up off the floor we uninvited the contractor from future instruction.
The course was approved for use and I then moved around the various locations to run a demo course for the training teams to mimic in the future when the opportunity arose. Getting to some locations proved a challenge in itself and getting to Gardez took nearly two weeks. These were all US AOs so I had to basically thumb a lift and in most cases they were very accommodating.
As the tour came to its end and I was then offered an opportunity to join in with (Black Watch) 3 Scots, who were looking for additional manpower as they were the last unit to leave from Herrick 10. I stepped in as 2IC Fire Sp Group covering the heavy weapons and direct fire piece, this was a great experience and I loved every minute of it even if my ageing body did not.
Latta’s tour came to an end on 16th September 2009, and he was put forward for an award by the Americans, being awarded the Army Commendation Medal on 9th December 2009.
The citation for this reads as follows: 'For meritorious service while deployed in support of operation enduring freedom as part of the combined security tranistion command - Afhghanistan. As a Warrant Officer with the NCO Training Team, Warrant Officer Latta has surmounted innumerable challenges to achieve all required of him. He has played a key part in training NCOs of the Afghan National Army, which bears testament to his leadership, dedication and professionalism. He has made an immense contribution to the ANA in spite of difficult working conditions. Warrant Officer Latta's conduct is a great credit to himself, The Small Arms School Corps, 19 Brigade and the coalition mission in Afghanistan.’
Latta was on post deployment leave when his next job offer came through. ‘I was offer the QMSI slot at 3 Mercian in Fallingbostel as the Battle Group Warrant Officer (BGWO). I then did some quick packing not being overly upset at leaving the rain in Lisburn and my tiny box room in the mess, found myself on my way to Germany, well my kit was. I went on an Armoured Infantry Platoon Commanders Course (AIPCC) in Lulworth. WO2 (WSM) Trev Byrne squared me right away and left me with my squad and his parting words of “Watch your fingers on the rammer.” Shortly I became well aware of the nature of that part of the 30mm Rarden Cannon all to well. I found that it was one of my ex SCBC (Section Commanders Battle Course) students was to be my instructor (take heed those who treat their students badly). I spent 10 weeks in all including the D&M phase building my knowledge ready for my new employment.’
Having left Lulworth he joined the 3rd Battalion, The Mercian Regiment at a busy time, as it was then preparing for Exercise Prairie Thunder, and Latta found himself stepping in as Warrior Sergeant Major (WSM) for A Company during the first of two exercises he was to undertake. He then headed off to Canada and began 28 days of training out on the prairie. On returning from Canada, the 3rd Mercian’s immediately began focusing on Operation Herrick 14 for which they were to be deployed. For his the battalion was to be given both a ground holding role and a new partnering role for the ANA as well as supplying the AI Company who would deploy on Herrick 13. For Herrick 14 they were to deploy under 3 Commando Brigade. Further training occurred in both Germany and the United Kingdom, and Latta then found that he was to be giving the position of the Commanders advisor for the heavy weapons Tolay (Company) ANA, under the new partnership scheme. In essence he was to be embedded with an ANA Rifle Company and to partner the ANA Commander and guide him during operations. It was a two man team who would do so.
3rd Battalion, The Mercian Regiment (Staffords) deployed to Afghanistan on Operation Herrick 14 between April and October 2011 as part of 3 Commando Brigade. Latta’s personal account ended just before the deployment when the article went to press, however he features in other accounts of this tour. Latta then found himself heading up a two man Tolay Advisory and Training Team (TATT), having arrived a few weeks prior to the main battalion, and took over the role from 2 PARA - during which period he had already gained experience on the ground and under fire. Latta in fact arrived out there in February 2011 to begin the handover period.
An account written by CSM Elliot Hughes, 3 Mercian Kandak Advisory and Training Team (Dragon Company) updated on 18th May 2011 revealed that ‘In PB 1 WO2 “Gaz” Latta has been grafting since arriving in Feb as part of the advance party. He has already made some good friends with the ANA who he drinks chai with on a regular basis. He also proves to those out there that the SASC do deploy out on the ground in forward locations.’
A Sergeant Dale provided an account of working under Latta during this period when in May 2011 they took part in Operation Wild Cobra. Dale recounted: ‘The first day of Operation Wild Cobra saw the joint company pushing South from our Patrol Base (PB) in Nahr-e-Seraj South District towards the village of Akhonzada - an area which WO2 Latta was keen to inform us was an insurgent breeding ground. He went on to say that every time he had been to Akhonzada he had ended up being in a fight with the insurgents. As we pushed through a wadi and stated to head west towards the village, we started to get reports of movement from fighting-age males in an around various compounds in the village. When we finally for into the village, without any indecent, we started to notice that the local population were going about their normal daily business. I through at this point WO2 Latta was trying to employ scare tactics about the area because it was my first patrol here. The second day of the operation passed very quickly and with no incidents. She did however have reliable intelligence stating insurgents knew we were there and that they were too. On the third day we pushed the joint company towards the Abposhake Wadi where we conducted the same patrol in a village called Shooragas. From the moment we starting crossing the wadi we had intelligence that we were being watched and our movements were being reported back to the insurgents. At this point everyone was a little more anxious than normal.
Once in Shooragas, WO2 Latta and Lt Gun Mohammed - the ANA Baluck (Platoon) Commander - conducted a shura with the village elders. Whilst they were all sitting down I was with the ANA assisting in security. It was then that I noticed something not looking quite right. Before I knew it I was on my belt buckle brushing away dirt to see what I had found. Fortunately all was clear. Once the Shura had been completed we started to move towards a compound that had been identified by the ANA Tolay Commander as worth a look. It was as we moved between two multiples (half platoons) from D Company we found we had moved into the killing area of a multi-firing point complex ambush as he insurgents opened fire. Both the ANA and D Company Commanders formulated a quick plan and set off the seize the upper hand. The company group was turned to face the firing positions and returned an aggressive initial rate of fire. As I lay in a firing position alongside the Afghan Tolay returning fire towards the now overwhelmed insurgent WO2 Latta informed me that I had now in fact lost my “Afghan cherry.”
During the contact the ANA dispelled quite a lot of the myths and horror stories that I had picked up from pre-deployment training. They reacted exceptionally well, were well spaced out, and made excellent use of the minimal cover that was available. Their rate of fire was as I would expect from any British rifle company, and their certainly were not just ‘brassing up’ the area to their front as I feared they may do. The only observation I would make would be an RPG gunner who fired off four RPGs with the safety pin fitted with outstanding accuracy but to no avail. Fortunately WO2 Latta, from the Small Arms School Corps, was quickly on the scene to advise the gunner and ensure further engagements were successful. The contact soon died down and the insurgents blended back into the Green Zone. We moved forward but were unable to confirm the success of the contact. For us however we had no casualties and were able to continue on with our mission.
A 3 Mercian update publish on 25th June 2011 noted that: ‘Captain Mick Whillock and WO2 Gaz Latta are well established in PB1 and have forged good relationships with the ANA Tolay and ground holding company. Day to day business has patrols of the local area partnered between the ANA and the ISAF, this partnered multiple scheme has had great success and as it remains the same multiple the soldiers learn how to work with their ANA counterparts during patrols and operations. The PB is well furnished and has good welfare facilities for its size. Recent operations have seen the insurgents pushed back and the area has improved dramatically which has also included the clearing of many IEDs. This improvement has been well received by the locals.’
Latta’s second tour of Afghanistan came to an end in October 2011.