Emotional scenes as paras return
PARATROOPERS from Colchester returned home to cheers from friends and family last night after completing a tough six-month tour in Afghanistan.More than 150 troops returned to the town's Hyderabad barracks on four coaches, which pulled in to a chorus of “heroes, heroes”.
PARATROOPERS from Colchester returned home to cheers from friends and family last night after completing a tough six-month tour in Afghanistan.
More than 150 troops returned to the town's Hyderabad barracks on four coaches, which pulled in to a chorus of “heroes, heroes”.
The troops, from 3 Battalion, the regiment's battle group, were led home by commanding officer Lieutenant Colonel Stuart Tootal , who was met by Defence Secretary Des Browne as he arrived.
Mr Browne said: “What these men have accomplished is truly outstanding. They have worked in the most difficult, extreme and hazardous of conditions.
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“But sadly this success has been at a cost. A number of soldiers from the battle group have not returned and others have been seriously injured. This country owes them all an immense debt of gratitude.”
Lt Col Tootal said the past six months had provided the sternest of tests for the 3 Para battle group and they had risen to the challenge magnificently.
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He added: “I think we did make a difference. The moral of my soldiers is absolutely sky high and that probably suggests we got it about right.”
The Paratroops are part of 16 Air Assault Brigade, who have lost 16 members during their six-month tour, with many more injured.
One young soldier from Essex who returned last night said he only joined the army in January, but would go back into combat straight away, if asked.
Pte Simon King, 19, from Rochford, said: “What we were starting to find out there was that the Taliban were changing their tactics so they didn't come out and fight anymore. I didn't have to fire a shot.”
While the troops were away, a number missed the births of their children and one soldier last night was reunited with his baby son, after missing his first birthday during the six-month tour.
Major Huw Williams, the Battalion's second in command, embraced one-year-old Ieuan as he arrived at the barracks, and said that it was a relief to get home.
He said: “I'm just glad to be back now and that I get to see my family. Everyone's glad to be back but this is what we train for, we train for it to be tough.
“I'm thinking about the guys still out there and those who won't be coming back.”
There are still troops from the Colchester based regiment out in the troubled Helmand province, who are handing over to the Royal Marines, who will continue the fight against the Taliban.
Also at the base yesterday were members of the 51 Squadran 23 Engineer Regiment Royal Engineers, who are based at Woodbridge, Suffolk, and have recently returned from Afghanistan.
The troops have been at the forefront of the action, providing explosive entry for infantry and playing a vital part in the campaign.