On Wednesday, 14th January 2009 Tom Sawyer and Danny Winter were both killed in an explosion while taking part in a joint operation with a Danish Battle Group and the Afghan National Army north east of Gereshk in central Helmand. They were members of a fire support team that was engaged in an operation to clear compounds in a known Taliban stronghold. Two other members of the patrol were injured in the explosion.
Tom Herbert John Sawyer was a Captain in the Royal Regiment of Artillery serving with 7 (Sphinx) Commando Battery, 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery. He was in Helmand province deployed on operations as a Fire Support Team Commander attached to Zulu Company, 45 Commando Royal Marines.
Capt Sawyer, from Hertfordshire, was born on 20 January 1982. He was educated at Watford Grammar and Rickmansworth schools and, as a teenager, was a cadet with the Air Training Corps in Watford. A keen sportsman with a passion for outdoor pursuits, Tom decided at an early age to pursue a career in the Armed Forces. Settling on the Army, he was selected for training as an officer at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, and successfully passed out earning the Queen's Commission as a Second Lieutenant in April 2002.
The next step in his career saw him selected by the Royal Regiment of Artillery for Young Officer training. On completion, he was posted to 32 Regiment Royal Artillery (subsequently 39 Regiment) as a Troop Commander. After this tour, Tom was posted to the Army Training Regiment at Pirbright where his flair for instruction and ability to communicate with all ranks were assets that helped him to excel. His final posting, to 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery, came in September 2006, just in time for deployment to Afghanistan on Operation Herrick 5.
On Operation Herrick 5, Capt Sawyer was given command of an Afghan National Army outstation with a remit to oversee and facilitate Afghan Army mentoring and training. This responsibility again played to his strengths and he received a Brigade Commander's Commendation for his performance under incredibly testing circumstances. On returning to the UK, he immediately passed the All Arms Commando course and in so doing earned the right to wear the Green Beret of Commando forces. Assigned to 7 (Sphinx) Commando Battery based in RM Condor, Arbroath, Capt Sawyer was appointed Battery Training Officer and charged with preparing his unit for its return to Afghanistan in October 2008.
As the training officer, Capt Sawyer organised and delivered a first class pre-deployment training package that ably prepared 7 (Sphinx) Commando Battery for operations; the high standards achieved by the men of the battery since bear testament to his endeavours.
Robust, fit and ever determined, Capt Sawyer was a keen sportsman who recently organised and led the Regimental Telemark Ski Team to compete at Army level in Austria. Looking to the future and the welfare of the men under his command, he had also planned to take his soldiers adventure training in Cyprus on completion of Op Herrick 9.
Socially, Capt Sawyer was a dynamo of good humour and fun; his company being thoroughly enjoyed by officers and soldiers alike. His intelligent wit and pleasant persona made him approachable by all ranks and one of life's great characters. His death is a huge loss to the men of his Battery, his Regiment, 3 Commando Brigade and the Royal Regiment of Artillery.
Capt Sawyer is survived by his wife Katy, whom he married in March 2008, his parents Martyn and Susan and sister Wendy.
Tom's family paid the following tribute:
"Tom was the best husband, son and brother we could ever have asked for. He deeply loved his family and friends and his infectious personality touched all those who knew him. Dedicated to the army and his lads; he was loyal, loud and loving. He will leave a big hole in all of our lives but will always be remembered as our hero."
Lieutenant Colonel Neil Wilson Royal Artillery, Commanding Officer, 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery, said:
"Captain Tom Sawyer died a hero, doing a job he loved and whilst taking the fight to the enemy in the only way he knew. He was a first-class officer with a natural flair for command and was hugely respected by all his fellow officers and by the soldiers he commanded. He excelled as an instructor and mentor, and the time he took to impart his knowledge and uncompromising professional standards to his battery will undoubtedly be remembered as one of his greatest gifts.
"On operations, this selfless legacy, though immeasurable, has undoubtedly helped save the lives of both Afghans and British servicemen alike. He was a very proud and capable Commando Gunner with an exceedingly bright future. He had aspirations to achieve so much more in the military and, with the determination and strength of character he possessed, would undoubtedly have achieved his goals.
"Utterly courteous in all that he did, I will forever remember Tom as a gregarious, fun-loving, universally popular character with a ready smile and a joke. The great loss I feel as his Commanding Officer is incomparable to that which I know his wife and family will be feeling as a result of his death. My thoughts and prayers are with them all at this tragic time."
Major Jackson Docherty Royal Artillery, Battery Commander, 7(Sphinx) Commando Battery, 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery, said:
"Tom Sawyer was the senior captain in my battery and also a great friend. He was extremely ambitious and had plans to pursue a career in the Special Forces for which he was well-suited and in which he would undoubtedly have succeeded. Receiving the Brigade Commander's Commendation for his performance during his last tour of Afghanistan, he was keen to replicate this performance which he did with courage, honour, and humility, always putting his team's interests before his own.
"He was passionate about his job and the battery could ask for no more from him. However, an Adjutant's nightmare, Tom was notorious throughout 45 Commando Group for his shenanigans and his desire to look cool whilst wearing the latest military fashion - if it was different, Tom had it. He also had a knack of getting away with it!
"He will always be remembered within commando forces and his passing is felt by us all. He has paid the ultimate sacrifice in the service of others. His wife Katy has lost a wonderful husband and we, in the battery, have lost a great officer. Our thoughts and prayers are with his newly wed wife Katy and his parents at this time."
Captain Sam Hewitt Royal Artillery, Fire Support Team Commander, 26 Regiment Royal Artillery (attached to 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery), said:
"Tom was a true friend, one, who no matter the circumstances, would help anyone, often putting himself out so others were not disadvantaged. I am a much better person for having known him. Tom had an enthusiasm for life paired with an overwhelming kindness which always seemed to brighten up a room. He worked hard and possessed a natural ability to lead, gaining respect from the soldiers under his command throughout the Gunners.
"Tom always worked hard for his men and commanded with style and panache. He lived for his family and friends and died doing the job he loved. He was an officer in every sense of the word with qualities such as honour, selflessness and courage in abundance. The world will be a sadder place without Tom and I will miss him greatly.
"My deepest condolences are with Tom's wife Katy and his family. Mate, it was a pleasure to have known and served alongside you. You paid the ultimate sacrifice and you will not be forgotten."
Captain Rob Cooper Royal Artillery, Fire Support Team Commander, 7 (Sphinx) Commando Battery, 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery, said:
"Tom was an outstanding officer, an outstanding Fire Supporting Team Commander and an outstanding husband to Katy. Tom was a true inspiration to me as a friend and those that he served. His devotion to his wife, Katy, was unrivalled and my heart goes out to her and Tom's entire family who he never stopped talking about. You will be sorely missed mate."
Lieutenant Colonel Jim Morris Royal Marines, Commanding Officer 45 Commando Group, said:
"The tragic loss of Captain Tom Sawyer has been deeply felt throughout the whole of 45 Commando Group. A stalwart member of 7 Battery and 29 Commando RA, he has served with 45 Commando Group throughout two operational tours to Afghanistan and has lived and worked with us at home in Arbroath and abroad for the last two-and-a-half years - he is truly considered to be one of our own.
"Over the last year in which I have known Tom, we have had the opportunity to talk often. On every occasion I have been struck by his zest for life, the enthusiasm and commitment that he showed for his profession and his humility and preparedness to listen to advice.
"He had every quality that could be expected from a Commando Gunner Officer and I have no doubt that he had a very bright future ahead of him. All ranks of 45 Commando Group and, in particular, Zulu Company, join me in sending my very deepest condolences to his wife, Katy, and his close family and friends."