THE last tranche of soldiers from 1 Royal Tank Regiment returned home to an emotional welcome from family and friends last night.

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Some 100 soldiers from D Squadron arrived at RAF Honington to tears and relief from wives, girlfriends, parents and children.

It followed three months in Afghanistan where they provided Reception, Staging and Onward Integration (RSOI) training to 4 Mechanised Brigade who began a six month deployment in October.

They were met with eager faces from their waiting loved ones as they entered the Corporals’ Mess to the sound of a piper.

Sergeant Michael O’Connor arrived home to his wife Natasha and son Alfie. She said: “It’s really hard to describe how you feel – I’m excited and it’s a relief to see them.

“When they’re away it starts off as quite difficult but then you get into a routine and get your head down and then for the last bit you’re tired and you can’t wait – I’ve been counting down the hours.”

Her husband added: “It’s quite overwhelming to see everyone here, to be honest. I miss him and my wife so much.”

Lance Corporal Declan Costello was greeted by his relieved partner Zoe Charnock.

He said: “I’ve done a tour before which was six months so it was quite an easy brief, but being away from Zoe and my family is hard – the rest of it is the job.”

Jeanette Green had her hands full with four young children, aged eight, seven, four and 13 months, while her husband Sgt Aaron Green was away.

The mandatory RSOI training is the final stage of a six-month-long package to ensure that the soldiers have the most up-to-date tactics, techniques, procedures and intelligence at their disposal.

This was the second three-month tour for the troops which has seen them train more than 10,000 soldiers and civilians.

Squadron Leader Major J.J. Collins, whose partner Carla Hill was waiting for him, said the deployment had been a success. “It’s quite a routine job but we were training about 9,000 people and know how vital it is,” he said.

The regiment will now conduct a series of homecoming parades to mark its return from Afghanistan. These will take place in Glasgow on Saturday, Bury St Edmunds on November 28 and Liverpool on December 1.

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