Colchester troops to leave for Iraq

AROUND 500 Colchester-based soldiers have begun preparing for one of their most fraught missions – six-months in war-torn Iraq.The soldiers from 2nd Battalion the Parachute Regiment have served in the world's trouble spots before, including Kenya, Northern Ireland and Afghanistan, but officers readily admitted their next task is of an altogether different nature.

AROUND 500 Colchester-based soldiers have begun preparing for one of their most fraught missions – six-months in war-torn Iraq.

The soldiers from 2nd Battalion the Parachute Regiment have served in the world's trouble spots before, including Kenya, Northern Ireland and Afghanistan, but officers readily admitted their next task is of an altogether different nature.

As the early morning mist lifted at Meeanee Barracks in Mersea Road yesterday, sergeant majors drilled their troops in preparation for duties in Iraq's second-largest city, Basra.

On Tuesday, soldiers had observed a two-minute silence to six Garrison-based Military Police comrades killed near the Iraqi port earlier this year,

yesterday the barrack's parade ground was home to troops screaming and shouting as part of their riot training.

Elsewhere in the grounds, an Arabic interpreter attached to the training units dashed towards a mock century point with "explosives" strapped to his body.

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It is this threat of suicide bombers that taxes the minds of many soldiers, who are due to relieve the 1st Battalion, the Royal Green Jackets at Shaibah Logistics Base on 6 December.

With explosions seemingly ripping through the country's cities every day, the men and women of 2 PARA could be away from fretful families for up to six months.

Pte Darren Minns, 20, from Norwich, said: "I see the whole thing as just another job, but there's no doubt my parents are a bit more worried than normal.

"They see what's happening out there and, yes, they are anxious. But we've all been trained on how to deal with the different kinds of attacks.

He added: "As soldiers we just want to get stuck into the thick of the action."

As well as physical and medical training, the troops have also been briefed on Iraqi culture, religion and, to a degree, language.

Commanding Officer of 2 PARA, Lt-Col James Bashall, said it was this kind of approach that made his soldiers, who include some Muslims, a different breed to the Americans.

He said: "I hesitate to use the phrase 'hearts and minds', but we are British and there is something in our make-up that allows us to have a better understanding of people and how to interact with locals.

"They have all been briefed and they know the rights and wrongs and the various customs and we are all very excited about going out there.

"We know that we will find things tough at times, but we've got a worthwhile and important job to do in helping the Iraqi people take control of the running of their country to build an Iraq that is confident and secure."

Two PARA will work alongside 20 Armoured Brigade and will form part of the recently formed Multinational Division (SouthEast).

Their tasks will include training the Iraqi Civil Defence Corps and helping to rebuild the country's infrastructure.

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