Troops prepare to fly out to war zone

PUBLISHED: 05:32 18 February 2003 | UPDATED: 16:18 24 February 2010

AS troops prepared to leave behind their families and friends to deploy to one of the most dangerous places on earth, JOHN HOWARD spoke to them about their feelings about heading for the Gulf and a potential war zone.

AS troops prepared to leave behind their families and friends to deploy to one of the most dangerous places on earth, JOHN HOWARD spoke to them about their feelings about heading for the Gulf and a potential war zone.

FATHER-of-two staff sergeant John Cocks, a Gazelle helicopter pilot, knows how hard it is to leave behind his family.

The experienced soldier and family man is among soldiers heading for the Gulf as part of the military build up in the region. They were yesterday making final preparations before their departure.

More than 100 troops from Three Regiment, Army Air Corps, based at Wattisham Airfield near Stowmarket, are due to fly to Kuwait today and the troops provide ground support and fly Lynx and Gazelle helicopters.

They are part of the 5,500 member contingent from 16 Air Assault Brigade, Colchester, which is expected to have completed deployment in the Gulf by the end of the week.

Staff Sgt Cocks, 35, a veteran with 17 years experience in the Army, has had postings including two tours of duty in Bosnia and three in Northern Ireland. Married to Jan, the Stowmarket couple have two children, Alishia, 11, and Liam, nine, and finds it never gets easier to leave them behind during tours of duty.

He said: "We are separated quite often, it's hard and never gets any easier. We had a good weekend together, took the kids out. I do not know how long I will be out there, but morale is upbeat, people are looking forward to doing their job. The Government of the day have made their decision.''

Lance Corporal Grahame Searle, 27 from Hadleigh, and who works in communications, is leaving behind his wife Jessica and their son Harry, one.

He said: "My wife is a bit upset, naturally, and are anxious not knowing how long I will be gone for. We will be writing to each other, I am not really worried, we just have to get on with the job in hand.''

Aircraft technician L Cpl Andrew Temple, who has been with the Army three years, will be attached to logistics as a lorry driver.

The 22-year-old from Wattisham said: "I got called back early from Christmas to get the aircraft ready, it's been non stop. I am not nervous and will just do what I am told.''

Warrant Officer Mike Cundy, 36, a Lynx helicopter pilot, served in the previous Gulf war as an aviation technician.

He said: "Last time it was quite boring and a lot of hanging around and then a lot of action at once. It is different now because I was single last time, and now I'm married with kids, so it's a bit heart-rending leaving them behind. It wasn't pleasant leaving home this morning.''

WO Cundy, who has two children, three-year-old Benjamin, and Tamsin, aged one, added: "The mood is apprehensive. It's always nice to do what you have trained for but when the reality hits it's different. I have got mixed emotions.

"There's a lot of people who have been there before who think 'here we go again'. There's also a lot of younger troops who are looking forward to going out.''

Father Mark O'Keeffe, a 34-year-old Catholic priest stationed at Wattisham, said he felt privileged to be accompanying the troops.

Fr O'Keeffe, who will be a confidant for troops serving in the region, said: "I think people with families are feeling slightly emotional at leaving, but generally there's a feeling of being optimistic about what they are going to do.

"These guys are professional, there's no doubt about that. There is a sense of trepidation, my role as chaplain is to be a listening ear.''

Fr O'Keeffe said he felt the anti-war protests were a good thing, allowing people to have their say in a democracy, and he did not believe the Government would be sending troops in without listening to people's views.

The troops are due to fly from RAF Brize Norton, Oxfordshire, today(Tues18).

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