Gallery: Prince presents medals to brave troops

MORE than 100 Suffolk-based soldiers have been presented with Afghanistan campaign medals by Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall.

Elliot Furniss

MORE than 100 Suffolk-based soldiers have been presented with Afghanistan campaign medals at their base by Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall.

The Prince of Wales, Colonel in Chief, the Army Air Corps, and the duchess presented helicopter crews and support teams with operational service medals at Wattisham Airfield yesterday.

The royal couple arrived at about 12.30pm and entered the large hangar where more than 100 soldiers had been waiting in anticipation of their arrival.

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The soldiers were all from 4 Regiment Army Air Corps, which held the responsibility for flying and maintaining the Apache attack helicopters in Afghanistan for 12 months starting in May last year.

The prince and the duchess were then introduced to the men and women before presenting them one by one with their campaign medals.

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The soldiers, the third and final group from the regiment to serve in Afghanistan, returned in May after a four month tour and are taking a summer break.

In a speech after the medal presentations, the prince praised the men and women for their bravery and commitment during their time in Afghanistan.

He said: “It's an enormous privilege to be able to give you your medals on this occasion today, particularly as I hear you are about to go off on leave when I depart.

“As far as my wife and I are concerned it is very special to be able to recognise the extraordinary level of commitment you display when you go off in these helicopters.

“I have never actually been to Afghanistan, not through want of trying. I have heard all about it from others of my regiment and those who report on it and its hazards and horrors.

“Your extraordinary ability to provide these attack helicopters when required by the troops on the ground is truly remarkable.

“I know that from talking to these troops who rely on your ability to arrive in the right place at the right time and deliver the fiendish amount of weaponry that these helicopters provide has made a huge difference to operations on the ground.”

He said the troops' performance had given everyone an “enormous sense of pride” and he also praised the “remarkable” contribution of the reserve regiment and their civilian employers.

The prince said the soldiers had had to adopt a “battle of Britain” style approach, waiting patiently until needed before springing into action.

He added: “We also owe a huge amount to all your families, many of whom are gathered here today, for the support and understanding they all show. I know all too well, having had my youngest son serving for a period in Afghanistan, just what it is like being a parent or as one of those left behind - and in my case it was even worse because I couldn't tell anybody.

“I do hope you can go away on your summer leave today feeling that you have contributed something and are making a difference at the end of the day to that unfortunate country. Thank you for your hard work.”

The royal couple then presented long-service medals and spent time mingling with the soldiers and their families, the prince enjoying a glass of Pimms and the duchess chatting with children.

As refreshments were served the couple met with the crew of one of the regiment's Apache attack helicopters, the prince even climbing into the co-pilot seat.

When they head back to Wattisham late next month, the soldiers will undergo more training to prepare them for their return to the war torn country next year.

AMONG those collecting their campaign medals from the royal couple yesterday was Lance Corporal Mark Brown, from Ipswich.

L Cpl Brown, a storeman, is a member of 4 Regiment Army Air Corps and said it was an “honour” to receive his medal from Prince Charles, Prince of Wales.

He said the recent tour of Afghanistan had given the regiment a range of challenges to overcome and he was now glad to be back home and preparing for a three-week summer break.

He said: “For me it wasn't that hard but then I have never found being stuck in a small space that hard. For others it was more difficult and they missed their families a lot more.

“You make your own entertainment out there because if you didn't you would go stir crazy. We organised quiz and entertainment nights - something silly just to break up the monotony of it.

“It's always nice to get a pat on the back and when it's people as important as the Royal Family who do it then it's just that bit more special. It's nice to know you're appreciated.”

L Cpl Brown, 31, of the Priory Estate, was joined at the Airfield by his father Norman, a former member of the Grenadier Guards and now a member of St John Ambulance.

Mr Brown said medal ceremonies were just “part and parcel” of being in the army, but he was proud to see his son pick up the campaign medal.

Mr Brown, who lives in Felixstowe, said: “As far as I'm concerned you have to accept what comes and goes around, but I'm proud of him because he's done a lot more than I have.

“I'm glad for him that he's been able to do something that he's set his mind to.”

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