Gallery: Soldiers welcomed back from Afghanistan with open arms at Colchester barracks

More than 150 brave soldiers have been given a heroes’ welcome as they returned home from a gruelling tour of Afghanistan last night.

Wives, girlfriends and smiling children cheered and cried tears of joy as the troops from the 2nd Battalion of the Parachute Regiment arrived back at Colchester Garrison.

The homecoming was the largest contingent of troops to return from 16 Air Assault Brigade’s deployment to Helmand Province.

The returning troops had been part of the 2 PARA Battle Group which was tasked with making the deadly Nahr-e-Saraj district secure.

It was a bitter-sweet return for the soldiers from 2 PARA, after three of their own were killed during the brutal six-month tour.

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Corporal Kenny Southwick, 32, was met by wife Amara Southwick, 41 and their daughter Imogen, 16.

Amara said: “It’s amazing to have him back – he is looking well.

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“He has already been asking me to cook him meatballs and mash – it’s his favourite.

“All of his mates are wanting Chinese or Indian and the like, but all he was talking about was getting his meatballs and mash.”

Cpl Southwick said news of Osama Bin Laden’s death had been greeted with cheers, but then it was straight back to work.

He said: “We were out at a check point where there was no television so we did not find out until we got back to base and found out via the TV.

“For us though it’s just a case of getting on with the job no matter what is happening out there in the world.

“Any tour of Afghanistan is tough but it’s getting better.”

The crack sniper said: “We have the right kit now – they have been listening to us – I have been in for 11-and-a-half years and its got dramatically better and that helps morale.”

Corporal Mark Saunders, 33, came home to a hero’s welcome from partner Kim Gibson, 28, and their 19-month daughter, Eliza who proudly wore the Parachute Regiment’s signature maroon beret.

Kim, of Peterborough, said: “It’s brilliant to have him home – it was his second tour but luckily it seemed to pass really quickly.

“Eliza was so happy to see her daddy. She had a massive smile on her face, especially when he pulled out some toys for her.

“She has missed her hero, even though she is only young, it really registered with her that he had been away.”

Cpl Saunders, a medic, said: “It’s good to be back.

“I have mainly been treating civilians for their injuries and it may sound harsh but I would rather be doing that than having to look after the boys when they have been hurt.”

Major Mike Shervington said his men were in good spirits following the hand over.

He said: “It’s wonderful being back – we are the final members of the 750-men battalion to come home and it’s wonderful for all the families and the children to have their loved ones home.

“I don’t think there is anything more that we could have done out there, these guys are known for giving 100% throughout all of the tour.

“We have driven the Taliban right back to the edge of the Green Zone – they are on their knees now.

“Of course we have paid a huge price and as a battalion we have lost three men and the battle group as a whole has lost three, so six in all.

“We will never forget the sacrifices of those guys.

“From the bottom of my heart I can tell you that there is progress being made out there – we shall see what the summer brings but I am confident it will hold.”

Among the men from 2 PARA who died during the tour were Pte Daniel Prior, 27, who suffered horrific injuries after stepping on a bomb in March.

After his tragic death it emerged his uncle, Steve Prior, had also been killed while trying to save comrades during the Falklands War.

In January Private Martin Bell, 24, died in an explosion as he tried to help an injured comrade in the “most dangerous combat circumstances imaginable”.

And Lance Corporal Kyle Marshall, 23, was killed by a roadside bomb in February just as his team discovered a bomb-making factory.

Before landing in the UK tonight, the paras had been flown into Cyprus to spend 36 hours in “decompression” – a way for them to unwind before they return.

An Army spokesman said that the soldiers were given briefings and guidance in Cyprus to help ease them back into “normal life”.

And last night it also emerged that the achievements of Colchester-based Military Police in Afghanistan will be honoured.

More than 100 soldiers from 156 Provost Company, Royal Military Police, will be handed their Operational Service Medals in a special ceremony on Thursday to mark their work in Helmand in the past six months.

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