Gallery; Wattisham Air Base celebrates achievements in Afghanistan with families’ day

Apache Attack Helicopters performing a flying demonstration at Wattisham Air Base as part of familie

Apache Attack Helicopters performing a flying demonstration at Wattisham Air Base as part of families' day - Credit: Archant

Soldiers who fly and maintain the Apache attack helicopter from Wattisham Air Base have marked an eight-year contribution to supporting British operations in Afghanistan by holding a day with their families.

The Attack Helicopter Force deployed on Operation Herrick in 2006, flying in support of the first British troops to enter Helmand until responsibility for the province was passed to Afghan national security forces towards the end of last year.

As well as precision strikes in support of ground troops, the Apache’s role was to escort helicopters and land convoys and provide a near all-weather surveillance capability.

Yesterday, the flying station held a day so soldiers and their families could come together to mark Wattisham’s contribution and achievements across a busy operational period.

Colonel Jason Etherington, Commander of Wattisham Flying Station, said: “Operation Herrick established the Apache as a fundamental part of the British Army. The aircraft provided excellent support to ground troops through its firepower, but often the deterrent effect of its presence was decisive.”

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In 2011, royalty was stationed on the base as Prince Harry – then fourth-in-line to the throne – undertook Apache helicopter pilot training at the base near Needham Market, as well as serving on the front line during a 20-week posting in the war-torn country.

Col Etherington said the day was also to thank families for their support during the eight years.

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Alongside equipment displays, music from The Band of The Army Air Corps and Wattisham Military Wives Choir and a display by 7 Air Assault Battalion REME’s field gun run team, the highlight was a demonstration by the Attack Helicopter Display Team.

The demonstration showcased the agility and speed of the Apache, with pyrotechnic explosions simulating gunfire and rockets and real time radio transmission between the pilot and simulated ground forces.

Col Etherington added: “An operational tour does not just mean a soldier being away from his family for several months overseas; it is time apart during the training period as well.

“The fortitude of our families back in Wattisham, supported by unit welfare teams, allowed our soldiers to focus on doing their jobs in Afghanistan.

“We have all enjoyed a fantastic day and, after a well-earned summer leave, will continue with our training to ensure the Apache and the soldiers who operate it are ready to serve on contingency operations.”

Jonathan Fields, aviation communicator at the base, said: “It’s good for the kids, to see the helicopters up close is amazing.

“It’s been really good to bring your family to where you work.”

When he was in Afghanistan, his wife Abigail had just given birth to their second child. They have two children, Isla, who is three, and Eden, who is one.

Mrs Fields said: “I wouldn’t say it was easy.

“I had a two-year-old and a three-month-old and I had to learn to juggle on my own.

“The welfare here was really good, we had monthly trips to places like London Zoo, we saw the Lion King.

“There was lots of support for my family but it was hard.”

Mr Field added: “It’s been a while since I got back (November) but to know it’s finished and everyone is having a good time it’s great.

“It’s brought everyone together – that means a lot to everybody.”

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