SPEN SOLDIER'S OBE HONOUR

A Gomersal man who rose in the Army to command a Yorkshire battalion has received high recognition for his military service by being made an OBE in the Operational Honours List.

Lt Col Stephen Padgett, 43, who grew up in the village, is currently serving in Germany. In January this year he handed over command of the 1st Battalion, The Prince of Wales's Own Regiment of Yorkshire (1 PWO) after a successful two-year tour of duty in Northern Ireland which brought him the honour.

The son of Mr Geoffrey Padgett of Gomersal, Stephen was educated at Batley Grammar School and was commissioned into his Regiment in April 1980. Although his family had no tradition of military service, he decided against going to university and joined the Army as an officer straight from school.

"The lure of being a platoon commander at the age of 19 was just too much," he joked.

"It's a decision I have never regretted."

Stephen was promoted to Lieut Col in January 1999 and he assumed command of 1 PWO in May 2001, in advance of its move later that year to Omagh, West Tyrone, on a two-year residential tour.

When he arrived to take command his Battalion was 100 men under strength. In addition, many of his soldiers' families were not relishing the prospect of moving from Chester to the rural west of Northern Ireland.

"The Battalion had been in Chester for six years, an unusually long period for an Infantry unit," he said.

"The children were settled in schools, many of the wives had jobs and all the dogs had vets! On the face of it, persuading the PWO village to move was not going to be easy. I was convinced that, in addition to rigorous preparatory training, creating a strong sense of community would be vital for our professional effectiveness as our soldiers would feel able to concentrate on their duties, knowing their families were happy."

He gave high priority to the needs of the accompanying wives and children and his efforts, backed by the work of many others, paid off.

"We put in a lot of work to achieve what we did and it was very much a team effort," he said.

The Battalion's manning improved significantly during its time in Omagh and by the time it moved to Catterick in January it had a full complement of 630 men.

"We had one of the best retention rates in the Army and the effect of soldiers choosing to serve longer was matched by great success in recruiting," he added.

Stephen remains modest about being made an OBE.

"I feel slightly embarrassed that the system has recognised me as an individual when it was a team success," he said.

He also paid tribute to his wife Amanda and other wives who supported their husbands in the Battalion: "Many Army wives have their own careers these days, but the difference made by the support of our wives on accompanied service is enormous," he said.

"If my family had not been with me life would have been so much more difficult."

Stephen is now serving as acting Chief of Staff at Headquarters, UK Support Command (Germany) at Rheindahlen near Dusseldorf. He and Amanda have two children Georgina, 17, and Thomas, 15.

By Margaret Heward