James Button, London November 24, 2006 HE REMEMBERS every detail: a massive explosion in the helicopter, a smell of cordite, bullets ricocheting off the walls, his door gunner trying to get a shot at their attackers, and his co-pilot noticing blood pooling in his lap and realising he had been shot through the chest. "He was amazing," Scott Watkins says of his co-pilot that day in Iraq, Keith Reesby, whose heart escaped a bullet by two centimetres. "He dressed his own wound … didn't complain. I have nothing but praise for the way he behaved." When Major Watkins speaks of the incident, it sounds as if Captain Reesby was the only brave one. But the British Army did not agree, and yesterday the Queen was due to award the Australian soldier the Distinguished Flying Cross, Britain's third-highest military award for bravery. Major Watkins, whose two-year secondment with the British One Regiment Army Air Corps included a 4½-month stint in Iraq, is the first Australian to win the award since 1973. Major (then captain) Watkins remained "cool, calm and collected" as he flew the Lynx helicopter to safety while under fire just 15 metres above the ground, according to the award citation. Two days later, another helicopter he was flying also came under attack 50 kilometres south of Baghdad. Again, he didn't panic but followed his attackers as they sped away in a car, which led to their arrest and the discovery of a cache of grenades, shells and bomb-making equipment in the boot. The 35-year-old Brisbane-born soldier, who has a mild manner and a ready grin, says about the first incident: "It is always a question a soldier asks himself: 'How are you going to behave in that situation?' To be able to know that you are OK is a good thing." It was November 2004 and the British Army had sent troops from southern Iraq to the Baghdad area to assist the Americans, who were mounting their second assault on nearby Fallujah. After working in the "more benign" area of Basra, the Sunni triangle was a hostile zone, Major Watkins says. Insurgents firing AK-47 rifles from a ditch hit his helicopter as he flew supplies from Baghdad Airport to a military base 50 kilometres to the south. His gunner was preparing to fire back when the Australian realised his co-pilot had been hit. Getting Captain Reesby home alive was now paramount. That afternoon, as Captain Watkins inspected the damage on his helicopter, a piece of shrapnel from a rocket fired at the base hit the aircraft again, narrowly missing him. Still, he says, "I really enjoyed myself in Iraq. I flew 115 sorties and only on three occasions do I know I got shot at." The father of two young children is in London with his wife Karen, father Warwick and mother Dawn. After he learnt he had won the award, he got a text from Captain Reesby, who has fully recovered. Last night the two soldiers were getting together for a meal and a memory. DFCs are not easy to win, I would imagine there is a bit more to the story than this.