Gallery: Emotional scenes as medics depart for Afghanistan

EIGHTY army medics of an Essex-based regiment bid an emotional farewell to family and friends as they left for a six-month tour of Afghanistan.

The personnel, from 16 Medical Regiment, left their Colchester barracks last night.

They will be based throughout the war-torn country and provide medical care to 16 Air Assault Brigade, of which the regiment is a part.

Private Chris O’Connell, one of around 40 on their first tour of Afghanistan, was leaving his pregnant girlfriend Charlie Smith behind.

“I’m nervous,” said the 19-year-old from Cambridge. “And I’m sad to not be seeing Charlie because she’s pregnant and I might miss the birth.”

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Miss Smith, 22, from Devon, who is due in April, said: “I’m nervous too, I know he’ll be alright but I’m just a bit worried because I’ll be on my own.”

Laura Bunkle, a community psychiatric nurse at Colchester Garrison, was there to wave off friend Lieutenant Colonel Richard Ayers.

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The 37-year-old said: “I hope he’ll be safe and come back well-adjusted.”

Lt Col Ayers added: “I just need to get out there and get on with it.

“I’m concerned about possible casualties because I think that’s what everyone’s concerned about.”

Sergeant Emma Jolliffe, one of just three community mental health nurses among the 80 medics, was on her first tour of Afghanistan.

The 29-year-old from Bude, Cornwall, said: “I’m a bit apprehensive about what it’s going to be like. But I’ve friends who have been out there and they have given me some good tips.”

Lieutenant Colonel Jez Hair, commanding officer, said: “We’re up for it and ready to go. We have been training since January and it’s a long old time.

“Some people will take to it but then others won’t, but those that need some support will get it from a variety of sources.”

16 Air Assault Brigade, the largest in the British Army, has already completed three tours of the war-torn country - in 2001, 2006 and most latterly in 2008.

The regiment will also help with providing medical training to the Afghan National Army.

In September the first group of Afghan nurses passed a training course as part of a continuing initiative to establish an ambulance service in Lashkar Gar.

Lt Col Hair added: “It’s widely reported that there will come a time when we hand over security to Afghanistan and if we can play a part in speeding that up, then we will.”

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