The first British officer to command UK troops on NATO’s latest and high profile enhanced Forward Presence mission in the Baltics and Poland has been rewarded with a top honour in the Queen’s birthday operational honours and awards.
Major Noel Claydon-Swales, 39, was the Squadron Leader of A Squadron the Light Dragoons, based at Gaza Barracks, Catterick Garrison in North Yorkshire, who was deployed to Orzysz in Poland on Operation Cabrit in March of last year.
Embedded as the Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance element of a United States Army cavalry unit, he had just seven weeks to deploy and integrate with his US hosts.
After a month, he had completed a 1,500 kilometre tactical road move to Poland while facing cold weather, unfamiliar terrain and a new chain of command. Yet his squadron achieved full combat readiness in good time.
The tour lasted eight months with the squadron of 147 soldiers returning to Catterick Garrison in October and Major Claydon-Swales, who hails from Aldborough, near Norwich in Norfolk, said:
“It was genuinely demanding. We did not know what the expectations were other than to do the job and do it well which we, as a team, did very well. We did everything to make sure that as the first British element to deploy we laid solid foundations for those that were to follow.”
He said the aim of the mission alongside the US 2nd Cavalry Regiment was part of wider initiatives designed to enhance Euro-Atlantic security, reassure our Allies and deter our adversaries.
On one occasion, his squadron crossed the border into Lithuania when his numbers were boosted by a platoon of US soldiers taking his total to almost 200.
“This was mission command at its very best within NATO and it was a rewarding experience. To have had 147 British soldiers working with me was wonderful but, in addition to that, I had a platoon of 30 American soldiers who showed just how professional and well organised they were. It was certainly one of the highlights of the tour."
Other highlights included meeting American President Donald Trump, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and Prince Harry who wore the Light Dragoon cap badge in memory of his mother, Princess Diana, who had been Colonel-in-Chief of the Regiment until her death.
On being awarded the Queen’s Commendation for Valuable Service, Major Claydon-Swales said:
“I was completely taken aback. I was never expecting anything at all. I was genuinely surprised but that was mixed with great honour.
“It’s not just me, it is we. It is recognition of what we achieved as an organisation out there. I am deeply humbled that somebody recognised the job that we had done and grateful that somebody took the time to recognise that.”