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Leon Smith to receive Charles Upham Award for Bravery

21 June 2012

**UPDATE - Leon's brother Darrell accepted the Charles Upham Award for Bravery, awarded posthumously to Leon, at a ceremony at Government House on Tue, 3 July 2012.  See related news for more information. ***

Darrell Smith and ‘Nana’ are household names at the Malaghan Institute. Darrell has successfully overseen the operations of the Malaghan Institute for nearly two decades. While his 90 year old Nana still volunteers one day a week to stuff tip boxes – she has been doing this for nine years now. Darrell’s younger brother Leon also joined the Malaghan Institute family in the early 2000’s, working in the animal facility and also as security at public events such as the official opening of our new Institute in 2004.

Following his work at the Malaghan Institute, Leon enlisted into the New Zealand Army in 2005 and by 2007 he had completed his NZSAS training, a goal he had been working towards all his life.

Tragically however, while on his second tour of duty for the NZSAS, Lance Corporal Leon Smith was killed in action on 28 September 2011. He was 33 years old.

In one particular NZSAS assignment, on the 19 August 2011, Leon’s Task Force responded to an insurgent attack on the British Council Office in Kabul, Afghanistan. During the response, with no concern for his personal safety, Leon exposed himself to insurgent fire in order to confirm the location of a fellow soldier who had been mortally wounded by enemy fire. Without hesitation, Leon then ran across exposed and open ground in order to reach the soldier’s location, and immediately started applying first aid until he could be evacuated. Leon then calmly returned to the fight and played a pivotal role in helping rescue five British Nationals that were hiding in the compound.

It has been reported that throughout the entire incident, Leon displayed “extreme calmness under pressure, tremendous personal bravery and the utmost professionalism whilst under continuous insurgent fire.” For those that were closest to Leon such as his family and friends, and for colleagues that worked alongside Leon, this doesn’t come as any surprise.

“Leon pushed himself to succeed in whatever he was doing,” says Darrell. “Whether it was lifesaving, tramping, or working in the navy and army, Leon was committed to helping others. The story of Leon’s heroism during the Kabul attack solidifies everything we already knew about him. He was brave in every facet of his life.”

In March of this year Darrell and his family were presented with the NZ Memorial Cross by the Prime Minister John Key, in memory of Leon. Next month Leon will be awarded the Charles Upham Award for Bravery – an award that is made to individuals who have risked their life to undertake an outstanding act of heroism. This is a particularly poignant recognition because it is a civilian award, and Leon is one of only four members of the NZ Defence Force to have received it.

While these awards cannot bring back Leon, the stories about the hero behind them will serve as a reminder of Leon’s sacrifice to save the lives of others.

On behalf of everyone at the Malaghan Institute, we offer our heartfelt condolences to the Smith family, and also our feelings of pride at having known such an extraordinary individual.


Image caption: The last photo taken of Leon, on a training exercise in Afghanistan.