Honington heroes welcomed home

GUNNERS who have spent the past six months in the searing Iraqi heat were yesterday welcomed back to Suffolk and praised for their work.

Laurence Cawley

GUNNERS who have spent the past six months in the searing Iraqi heat were yesterday welcomed back to Suffolk and praised for their work.

The 140-strong 2 Squadron RAF Regiment, based at Honington, near Bury St Edmunds, flew back into the UK on Sunday morning via RAF Mildenhall.

Yesterday, at a special medal ceremony, the squadron was praised by the base commander at RAF Honington for their efforts during the tour.


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Despite the scorching heat around Basra and the occasional indirect fire they encountered from Iraqi insurgents, every member of the squadron made it back safely.

And while many people in Suffolk have been complaining about the weather, for Flight Sergeant Roger Hopper the rain and grey skies back home were nothing short of “beautiful”.

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The 40-year-old told how despite undertaking four tours to Iraq - the first was in the first Gulf War in 1991 - being away from his wife and two daughters had not become easier.

He did, however, appreciate them all the more when he returned home, he said.

Explaining the purpose of the regiment's tour, Flt Sgt Hopper, said: “We were there to make sure our aircraft did not get shot out of the sky. All the stuff we did was off-base.”

He said he was proud to be treated as a “father figure” by some of the younger gunners: “Some of them went out as boys and have come back as men.”

He told how much had changed in and around Basra since he was last sent to Iraq. He said previously the Basra airbase would come under attack on a daily basis. Now, he said, it was attacked once a month.

SAC Michael Roberson, 20, from Brandon had never been on a tour before and said the main shock for him was the heat.

“It is really hard being in the heat with all the kit you have to carry. You just have to get on with because that is what all your mates are doing.”

SAC Roberson, who joined the regiment two years ago, said he expected to be sent to Afghanistan next which, he said, would be “completely different challenge”.

Members of the regiment were praised by RAF Honington's commander, Group Captain Russ La Forte, who presented service medals to those who had not been to Iraq before.

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