Gallery: Soldiers return home to their families

THE FIRST British troops to return from Afghanistan this summer arrived back in Suffolk to an emotional homecoming with their families.

Richard Smith

THE FIRST British troops to return from Afghanistan this summer arrived back in Suffolk to an emotional homecoming with their families.

Soldiers kissed their partners and swept up young sons and daughters into their arms as they returned to Rock Barracks, Woodbridge.

After six months in Helmand Province working as part of 16 Air Assault Brigade they were delighted to return to a more normal way of life.

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A buffet was laid on, the bar was open and the English football final scores were coming through when the happy but weary soldiers pulled up in the £80million barracks.

In today's modern world there can be instant email communication between families in Suffolk and the soldiers in Afghanistan.

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But Jason Hones, 37, said: ''You can write to them but it does not beat actually holding your children and wife, hugging them and having them in your arms.''

Maj Hones was commanding the 51 para squadron who were involved in building military bases and roads.

His two children, William, seven, and Rosie, nine, were thrilled to hear stories of life in Afghanistan which they can swop with other pupils at the Sandlings primary school on the base.

His wife, Peta, was overjoyed to have her husband home once more from his fifth tour of duty - ''Everyone is very supportive at the barracks and we have a strong network with other wives around and everybody pulling together,'' she said.

Daniel Hemmings, a 32-year-old staff sergeant, admitted that at times he did not know if the job was worthwhile. ''It is hard work and now it is just nice to be back home.

''My next tour will be in 2010, this is a very busy regiment so in the meantime there will be lots going on at the barracks,'' he said.

Seven-year-old daughter Annalise was looking forward to playing games with her father. Her mother, Lisl, said that after five tours of duty she was accustomed to her husband being away.

Mrs Hemmings said: ''You do get used to being on your own and you do have to reorientate when they are back.''

Jenny Martin was overcome with emotion when she saw her boyfriend Mickey Mooney alight from his coach which had come from Stansted airport.

She said: ''It has been such an emotional six months and I am just so happy for all of them, coming back today. They have done so well. It has been so hard without him.''

There are nearly 8,000 British troops in Afghanistan and of those 3,300 are based either at Colchester, Wattisham or Woodbridge.

More than 120 Royal Engineers from 23 Engineer Regiment at Rock Barracks returned home on Saturday with more soldiers coming before the end of September.

It can take four days for them to travel from Afghanistan to Suffolk, with a stop at Cyprus where they unwind and prepare for life back home.

One of their biggest responsibilities has been delivering a new turbine 180km by road to a hydro electric power station. This was one of the largest military operations since the Second World War and the road was constructed by 23 Engr Reg through the Afghan desert.

Today, as they adjust to picking up children from school, shopping in supermarkets and walking in Rendlesham forest, there will be new challenges ahead.

Maxine Cooper, unit welfare officer, stressed that the emotional homecoming inevitably gave way to the mundane practicalities of life within a relationship.

''We have homecoming briefings for the women so that they know what to expect because the partner has got used to having the remote control and now their guy walks back in.

''They have also had a social life with family barbecues, a trip to Jimmy's Farm, discounted tickets at the Suffolk Show and coffee mornings. Sometimes it is not so rosy after all,'' she said.

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