Commander Rachel decorated for Afghan peacekeeping efforts

Seven months supporting peace efforts in Afghanistan come to an end for Isle of Wight naval officer Rachel Smallwood on Sunday.

The 44-year-old commander returns to Ryde with an American medal in recognition of her outstanding efforts serving with US Forces having “worked her socks off” in Kabul.

Her time in Afghanistan has left its mark on the country’s defence and security forces, making them more effective and better value for money, as well as training political advisers.

The main focus of Rachel’s time in Afghanistan has been making Afghan National Defence Security Forces both more effective and more affordable.

That’s meant synchronising training and advising personnel across three ministries: the Office of National Security, the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of the Interior; leading a new department to co-ordinate security operations and plans with Afghan ministers; helping to plan and run a national conference to plan the future of the country’s security forces; and introduced new training for ministerial advisers.

All of which not only left its mark on the host nation’s security forces and leadership, but the senior US officer in the headquarters, Lieutenant General John Deedrick.

I gain immense satisfaction from making a positive difference to the lives of others, whether they be my fellow servicewomen and servicemen, or people in countries where conflict and instability makes life very challenging for them

Commander Rachel Smallwood

He presented the naval officer with the US Meritorious Service Medal – typically awarded to American personnel including Gulf War I leader ‘Stormin’ Norman Schwarzkopf and Vietnam veteran and US senator John McCain. According to the citation:

“Her outstanding leadership, expertise and dedication to duty significantly enhanced the success of the command’s mission during military operations and set the standard for others to emulate.

“Her distinctive accomplishments reflect great credit upon herself and the Royal Navy.”

The medal was, she says, “a lovely surprise”. 

Rachel continued: “I feel privileged to have been part of the Royal Navy’s contribution to the NATO mission to bring peace and security to the Afghan people, and honoured to have been presented with the US Meritorious Service Medal.

“I joined the Armed Forces 24 years ago, with the plan of serving four years.

“I’m still serving because I gain immense satisfaction from making a positive difference to the lives of others, whether they be my fellow servicewomen and servicemen, or people in countries where conflict and instability makes life very challenging for them.”

Originally from Ventnor, Rachel started her military career as a Royal Marines musician – she performed in the Isle of Wight Youth Concert Band and Symphony Orchestra before joining up in 1996, then subsequently becoming a Royal Navy training officer.

Once back in the UK she’ll resume her work helping to chair the Naval Servicewomen’s Network which champions the work of females in the Royal Navy, and enjoying family time with her son and husband, a retired Royal Marines Director of Music.