Gallery: RAF servicemen honoured for Iraq duty

GUNNERS from a history-making Suffolk squadron spoke of their relief today after being the last British troops to finish combat operations in Iraq.

GUNNERS from a history-making Suffolk squadron spoke of their relief today after being the last British troops to finish combat operations in Iraq.

More than 100 members of 15 Squadron RAF Regiment marched into an aircraft hanger at their home base at RAF Honington, near Bury St Edmunds, to receive their operational medals after a challenging six month tour at Basra airport.

Thirty servicemen from the same unit were also given NATO service medals after being seconded to help bolster forces protection at Camp Bastion military base in Afghanistan.

Families and friends gathered at the Jimmy James Hanger at RAF Honington - the home of the RAF Regiment - to celebrate the field squadron's efforts in helping to maintain peace in Iraq.

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Members of the support weapons flight division of 15 Squadron also strengthened airbase security for British, US, and NATO forces in Helmand, Afghanistan.

Station Commander Group Capt Nick Bray said the squadron had made history by being the last from the RAF Regiment to be deployed to Iraq and forged a new way of working at Camp Bastion. He added that the gunners did an “excellent job” and he was “pleased” to see everyone return safe and well.

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“I am terribly proud of what has been achieved by 15 Squadron whether that was in Iraq or Afghanistan. It has made two bits of history and we leave with our heads held high,” he said.

Gunners from the Suffolk-based squadron are looking forward to a few weeks off before resuming training for another tour of duty protecting Kandahar airfield, in Afghanistan, in late 2010.

Sqn Ldr Chris Berryman, squadron commander of 15 Squadron RAF Regiment, said the tour of Basra was “difficult” because of the withdrawal of British troops and equipment.

“We were the last UK combat troops in Iraq, but we came out in good order and with our reputation intact. We had quite a few difficulties. We were a bit short of equipment, but the lads rose to the challenge.”

“We did not speak about the tension, but we were always conscious at the end of the tour having been a success that the closer we got to home we were always a bit nervous. It was quite a relief when the last patrol came back safely,” he said.

Flt Lt Rob Wynne, who was one of the 30 members of 15 Squadron that went to Afghanistan, added that the pressure on the RAF Regiment had been eased by the formation of an eighth field squadron that will give gunners an 18 month break between deployments.

“Our tour was pretty benign, which was a good thing and the locals were pretty positive. We were 15km from the green zone and there was always the threat of death and injury. We went out and did our job and we were very lucky,” he said.

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