Colchester paras return home from Iraq

THE first batch of troops from Colchester-based 2nd Battalion, the Parachute Regiment, have returned home from Iraq.And soldiers said yesterday that despite the hard work during their six-month tour of duty, they felt the good they had done for those living in the country had made it worthwhile.

By Roddy Ashworth

THE first batch of troops from Colchester-based 2nd Battalion, the Parachute Regiment, have returned home from Iraq.

And soldiers said yesterday that despite the hard work during their six-month tour of duty, they felt the good they had done for those living in the country had made it worthwhile.

More than 70 members of 2PARA arrived back at Meeanee Barracks at around 3.15pm yesterday .

Over 450 members of the regiment, which is part of 16 Air Assault Brigade, served in the Gulf state on its recent tour.

Their key mission was to help mentor the fledgling Iraqi Security Forces in the UK-controlled south of the country as they take over responsibility for their own policing.

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However, as well of this many helped the local populations, improving facilities such as schools, community centres, and amenities such as sewage, water and electricity.

The soldiers served in the Al Muthanna province, a largely desert area north west of Basra, although some were posted in other parts of southern Iraq.

The coalition worked with Iraqis to improve the security environment and build the capability of their security forces so they would become more able to take responsibility for delivering law and order without the help of foreign soldiers.

More than 235,000 members of the Iraqi Security Forces have been trained so far, and the number of Iraqi units capable of conducting effective counter-insurgency operations is increasing steadily, with a further 5,000 being trained each month.

As a result of the work 2PARA and other British Army units have carried out over the past six months, John Reid, Secretary of State for Defence, announced earlier this year that 800 fewer British troops would be replacing 2PARA and other British units in Iraq.

The remaining members of 2PARA's Iraqi deployment are due to arrive home in similar sized groups over the next 10 days.

Speaking shortly after arriving back at Meeanee Barracks, in Colchester, Lieutenant Sam Powell said it had been a difficult tour.

“The work rate was very high, and it was a tough environment. Personally I enjoyed it, but that doesn't take away from the fact it was very hard work.”

Lt Powell, 24, from Sevenoaks, in Kent, said one of the most difficult times had been when Captain Richard Holmes and Private Lee Ellis were killed in a roadside bomb attack in February while on a routine patrol.

“It was devastating for the whole battalion. But they died doing the job they loved and we are all very proud of them and what they have done.”

Private Russell Newton-Mason, from Stourbridge in the west Midlands, said he enjoyed his time in Iraq.

“I think our work there has been worthwhile. We spent a lot of time training the Iraqi police. I think you can see a marked improvement in the way they are going about their business.

“It was quite cold at the beginning of the tour, but that's all part of the job.”

Private Mark Stabler, from Milton Keynes, said: “A few times you asked yourself what the hell you were doing there, but overall it was good.

“I learned a lot. The public were generally very pleased to see us and the projects we were doing.

“We did work on community centres, which are a big thing in Iraq because people sort their problems out there, as well as sewage, electricity and water.

“I am not going to take the bad things away as my memory of Iraq. We met some very good people in terms of the training.”

Lieutenant Martin Baber, 25, from Amersham in Buckinghamshire, said: “The vast majority of the population out there were pleased to see us. There is an element of insurgency against coalition forces but 90% of the people were glad we were there.

“It was hard, but it is a job. It is what the guys want to do and it is what they expect.”

And Lance Corporal CJ Kotze, from Namibia, drew friendly laughter, whistles and applause from fellow soldiers when he became the first Para to be reunited with his partner.

Anel Booysen, 24, who is currently supply teaching at Lawford Mead School in Chelmsford, drove down to the barracks to pick him up.

Ms Booysen said: “It is excellent. I didn't expect to see him until tomorrow so it's been a nice surprise. It's really good.”

L-Cpl Kotze, 25, said: “It's brilliant to be back - it's a bit weird, and a bit surreal, but it's brilliant.”

roddy.ashworth@eadt.co.uk

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