Squadron Leader Toby Sawbridge has been awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List 2013 for his services both to the Merlin Force and the wider community.
Toby, a Merlin helicopter pilot who is currently the Second in Command of 28 (Army Co-operation) Squadron at RAF Benson, has been honoured for outstanding contribution to the Royal Air Force and Defence before, during and after two demanding operational deployments to Afghanistan. In addition, the award recognises Toby’s sacrifice of much of his own time, despite personal tragedy, to co-ordinate the Station’s charitable efforts.
Prior to his first deployment to Afghanistan, Toby quickly identified that the Merlin helicopter’s advanced communications and navigational capabilities gave it the potential to lead counter-insurgency deliberate operations, during which he repeatedly demonstrated courage and tenacity of the highest order.
Further, to address the capability gap created by the withdrawal of the Sea King helicopters from Afghanistan, Toby inspired his crews to further develop their night capability, markedly reducing their exposure to enemy threat. In addition, his leadership and inter-personal skills ensured exemplary fusion between the engineering personnel and aircrew, resulting in an extremely cohesive and motivated unit. Together, his efforts generated a considerably enhanced capability in support of British and Coalition Forces.
His second deployment occurred over the Christmas and New Year period, where there was a need for inspirational leadership in maintaining the morale of his personnel. Married with two children himself, Toby personally arranged for the procurement of several thousand pounds worth of cricket equipment prior to his deployment, which resulted in the establishment of a full cricket pitch and training nets at Camp Bastion and the appreciation of his personnel who were separated from their families during the festive period.
Back at home base, despite his father Richard Sawbridge tragically being killed in a road accident in January 2012, Toby committed himself to taking on one of the most demanding voluntary duties on the Station: the Officer in Charge of the Station Charities Committee. Responsible for overseeing all fundraising duties and providing advice and assistance to all personnel who wish to undertake fundraising activities, Toby also partakes in numerous fundraising activities himself. One of the most notable in recent years was swimming a marathon with colleagues from the Merlin Force along the River Thames in aid of the Royal British Legion! In the first year alone the Committee coordinated charitable efforts that raised an unprecedented £83,000 for Service and local charities, with the total now standing at well over £200,000 since the Committee’s inception.
Toby commented, “My father was a stalwart of the community himself and I am certain he would have been very proud; both of the impact we have had on the local community and of course of the award of an MBE to his son!”
Toby joined the RAF in 1989 as a pilot and has previously conducted tours with the RAF Flight Safety Team and Headquarters Air Command. Aged 42, Toby is married with two children, Maddy aged 11 and Olly aged 10. He originally comes from Seaton in Devon and prior to joining the RAF attended Seaton Primary School and then Colyton Grammar School.
Not content to rest on his laurels, Toby is already preparing to join his Squadron in their next fundraising endeavour: cycling 1000 miles from RAF Benson to Milan! Further details on their feat can be found on the RAF Benson website1 and you can follow Toby’s adventure on Twitter @RAFBenson #Merlin1000.
Group Captain Nigel Colman, Station Commander at RAF Benson, commented, I am absolutely delighted that Sqn Ldr Sawbridge’s outstanding contribution to the Royal Air Force, and indeed the country, has been recognised through the award of the MBE. He has repeatedly demonstrated outstanding leadership and selfless commitment to the Service, including during 2 extraordinarily demanding deployments in command of the Merlin detachment in Afghanistan whilst also sacrificing much of his own time in co-ordinating the Station’s significant charitable effort. State awards are subject to a rigorous selection process and this is extremely well deserved, providing undeniable recognition for his remarkable achievements.
Photo – RAF/MOD Crown Copyright 2013
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