Operational honours for those who led Gulf peacekeeping efforts

Five Royal Navy officers have been decorated for their efforts keeping trade flowing through the Middle East.

The concerted efforts of the sailors singled out – and the men and women they led – helped to maintain peace and prevent disruption to global shipping.

Those efforts are recognised in the latest batch of Operational Honours awarded by the Queen to military personnel who have gone above and beyond the normal call of duty on the front line.

All five RN personnel are decorated for operations in the Gulf over a period of heightened tensions.

Commander Richard Hewitt receives the OBE for his time as Commanding Officer of destroyer HMS Defender, including a Gulf deployment where she faced “significantly increased enemy rhetoric and aggression” during 16 passages of the Strait of Hormuz.

He says the award is “a huge honour and privilege” and rewards “a collective effort” by the team on Defender, this week named the Navy’s No.1 destroyer.

“To have been in command of those sailors was an honour. That team reflected the very best traits of the Royal Navy in the way they conducted themselves,” Cdr Hewitt added.

“It’s a time of my naval career I will always look back on with huge affection and I am proud to be part of the ship’s company.”

The heat of the Gulf was intense and the operational demands during the period of exceptional tension in the region put extreme pressure upon us to deliver,

Lieutenant Commander Ben Martin, HMS Blyth

Lieutenant Commander Ben Martin is made am MBE for his “dynamic” and “resourceful” command of minehunter HMS Blyth during the highest tempo of operations for any minehunter in the last decade in the Gulf.

The 40-year-old from Portsmouth, who currently lives in Helensburgh with his wife Kim and two children Emily and Sam, was “selfless throughout his command and inspired others through personal example, calm leadership and utter resilience” all while operating in Middle Eastern waters without the protection of frigate or destroyers.

He says he and his crew were “tested and challenged almost relentlessly” from the summer of 2019 through to early 2020 and he is “filled with intense pride” at being decorated.

“The heat of the Gulf was intense and the operational demands during the period of exceptional tension in the region put extreme pressure upon us to deliver,” he added.

“I must thank my crew for their tenacity and spirit. I am deeply proud of them and how they all stepped up to meet the challenge with a professional and proactive approach.”

Commander Ben Keith receives the Queen's Commendation for Valuable Service for his “outstanding contribution” to the formation of the International Maritime Security Construct. It was established last year with the emphasis on ensuring merchant vessels pass through the Strait of Hormuz unimpeded.

He became Head of Naval Operations, managing the formation of the headquarters and trained a multinational team of watchkeeping officers capable of maintaining oversight of nearly 7,000 merchant vessels.

Cdr Keith said: "It is a real honour to receive this recognition for what I see as a team effort, and recognition for my family and their sacrifice as well.

"The highlight for me was working so closely with the US and being the link between our two nations. The team out there made a difference at a difficult time and the coalition is still going strong now."

Lieutenant Commander Alexander Szweda receives the Queen’s Commendation for Valuable Service for his “remarkable personal contribution” to minehunting operations in the Gulf.

When he left HMS Shoreham as her Executive Officer in April, he’d served longer at sea in the Middle East than any other sailor after two back-to-back tours of duty aboard the Sandown-class ship.

He spent 11 months continuously on operations in conditions which are physically and mentally demanding, sacrificing “personal time, relationships and leave” and demonstrating “phenomenal stamina and effectiveness” for the good of Shoreham and her important mission.

Many of the above efforts relied on the assistance received from the Royal Navy’s new support facility in Bahrain whose Commanding Officer Commander Suzy Conway receives the OBE.

She made sure Royal Navy vessels operating in the Middle East had the support they needed – whether they were in base or at sea – and juggled numerous issues and challenges, all with half the normal logistics team in theatre. Her citation describes her efforts as “nothing short of superb” and “simply outstanding”.