Suffolk soldiers presented with medals

SOLDIERS from a Suffolk barracks walked tall yesterday as they paraded in front of their proud family and friends to pick up medals for a tour of duty in Afghanistan.

Richard Smith

SOLDIERS from a Suffolk barracks walked tall yesterdayas they paraded in front of their proud family and friends to pick up medals for a tour of duty in Afghanistan.

They troops took part in a medals' parade at Rock Barracks, near Woodbridge.

Their equipment was spick and span, their uniform was clean and did not hint of their battles in the notorious Helmand province, and the military brass gleamed in the winter sunshine.

This was a very special moment as it signified the first time that the Army's state-of-the-art £80million Rock Barracks had witnessed such an event.

The barracks opened two years ago and it is home to 23 Engineer Regiment (Air Assault). But some of the soldiers hardly had time to get used to their base several miles away from Woodbridge before they were called on six-month tours of duty.

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The soldiers live for the tours, giving themselves the opportunity to put into practice all that they have learned on training exercises.

As a bitter wind swept through the Woodbridge Airfield, the intense heat and drama of Afghanistan seemed a long way away.

However, the soldiers could still recall their triumphs, their heartaches and their joy at representing their regiment on behalf of the British people.

Yesterday's events also included the unveiling of a statue to commemorate the late Lt Col John Rock, after whom the barracks are named, and the opening of a garden where people can remember those who have died in service.

Major General Keith Cima, governor of the Tower of London, presented the parading soldiers with their Operational Service Medals and opened the new Garden of Reflection.

Lieutenant Colonel Dave Wilson led the 360 parading troops in front of Maj Gen Cima and an audience of hundreds of serving and retired soldiers, VIP guests, friends and families. More than 600 people watched the parade.

The centrepiece of the garden of remembrance is a bust of Lt Col John Rock, a former Royal Engineer who, in June 1940 at Winston Churchill's request, founded the first British Parachute Corps.

A Sapper from the outset, not only was he the first parachute soldier but also the first glider soldier and the bust in the memorial garden is a symbol of the regiment's proud airborne traditions and of the sacrifices that have been made by soldiers throughout the regiment's history.

23 Engineer Regiment (Air Assault) consists of 16 Air Assault Brigade's engineering and infrastructure specialists and played a key role in preparing and clearing the route for delivery of the 200-tonne Kajaki Dam turbine in Helmand province. The regiment also managed all the reconstruction and development projects in the Southern Afghan province.

The day's activities finished with a marching display by the Band of the Corps of Royal Engineers.

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