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Heroic pair awarded highest honour for Afghanistan operations 18 March 2010

Staff Sergeant Kim Spencer Hughes and Mrs Christina Schmid

Staff Sergeant Kim Spencer Hughes and Mrs Christina Schmid

Two heroically brave bomb disposal experts - one of whom gave his life in the line of duty - have been awarded one of the most prestigious military honours in existence: The George Cross.

At a ceremony in London today (18 March 2010), Chief of the Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup confirmed that Staff Sergeant Kim Hughes and his fallen colleague the late Staff Sergeant Olaf Schmid are to have the gallantry award bestowed upon them. The honours are included in Operational Awards List 34, the remainder of which will be announced on Friday 19 March.

The George Cross ranks alongside the Victoria Cross as the nation's highest award for gallantry. It is awarded "for acts of the greatest heroism or of the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme danger." The George Cross is a plain, bordered cross in silver. The obverse of the medal bears in the centre a circular medallion depicting St George and the Dragon, surrounded by the words "For Gallantry".

SSgt Hughes and Mrs Christina Schmid, SSgt Schmid's widow, were today personally congratulated by Chief of the Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, and Secretary of State for Defence Bob Ainsworth MP. The George Crosses will be presented in a Royal investiture at a later date.

Chief of the Defence Staff Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup said:

"As one of our top two operational honours, the George Cross is awarded only rarely; its recipients must have displayed the very highest levels of gallantry. The actions of Staff Sergeant Hughes and the late Staff Sergeant Schmid meet this most demanding test in full measure. Their selfless commitment, unswerving devotion to duty and unsurpassed courage are both awe-inspiring and humbling. The nation will rightly take enormous pride in their service; it owes them and their families an enormous debt of gratitude."

SSgt Hughes's actions are describes in his citation as "the single most outstanding act of explosive ordnance disposal ever recorded in Afghanistan". SSgt Schmid's citation described how he personally dealt with 70 confirmed improvised explosive devices.

SSgt Hughes said: "When you look back you realise what you have achieved. When I was there, I can't say I was not thinking about it, but when you're doing the job, you're always thinking about the next step. It's slightly unnatural - it's just a task you get on with. It's amazing to receive the award. In our trade we don't get a lot of these awards on the whole."

SSgt Schmid's widow, Mrs Christina Schmid, said: "I am so proud of my husband - truly thrilled. It's a fitting tribute, a legendary award for my legendary husband. He was loyal to his trade. He wanted to apply his specialist skills and he was constantly challenged working in that trade. I am really happy. It's a massive award. I'm part of a massive family and I do feel completely supported. It's far from ideal but an award like this is a fantastic reminder of what he achieved. It brings back a lot of love."