Video & Gallery: Army boss honours 'invaluable' troops

MORE than 100 Suffolk-based soldiers were honoured by the head of the army today, who told of the “invaluable” support they offer to the on-going war in Afghanistan.

Anthony Bond

MORE than 100 Suffolk-based soldiers were honoured yesterday by the head of the Army, who told of the “invaluable” support they offer to the on-going war in Afghanistan.

Apache helicopter crews from Wattisham Airfield received medals following their first tour of Afghanistan from General Sir Richard Dannatt, Chief of the General Staff, in front of family and friends.

Speaking to the EADT afterwards, Sir Richard, who lives near Norwich, paid tribute to the soldiers from Wattisham Airfield - the only Apache base in the country.

“I feel enormously proud,” he said. “I am proud to be the person giving the medals out and hugely humbled and privileged that guys and girls have joined the Army and want to serve and give their dedication and quite rightly the nation responds to that by giving them a medal.

“The work from Wattisham is absolutely critical because the Apache crews provide invaluable support to the soldiers on the ground. We know that the confidence levels of the soldiers on the ground go up when the Apache's appear and it really changes the battle in our favour and I think the enemy are fearful of them too.”

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About 111 pilots and ground crew from 4 Regiment Army Air Corps (4 Regt AAC) received medals yesterdayincluding 41-year-old Staff Sergeant Iain Ross, from Ipswich, who is an Apache pilot.

The former Northgate High School pupil said: “It is not always about getting the medal, although when it is given from somebody as high as Sir Richard it shows that there are people willing to come out from the Ministry of Defence and it shows the level of importance that they put on you.”

Father-of-three Sgt Ross was proudly watched yesterdayby his fianc�e Anita and his 15-month-old daughter Phoebe. And he admitted that being away from his family while in Afghanistan was difficult.

“With Phoebe I have noticed such a difference,” he said. “It is only three months but it seems like a lifetime when you are away and it makes you realise that they put their lives on hold.”

Also honoured yesterdaywas Lance Corporal Clare McMaster, 34, who received an award for outstanding contribution to flight safety.

In August last year she noticed a fuel leak on an Apache which was refuelling at Camp Bastion, Afghanistan. She informed the crew and directed them to shut down the aircraft. She was praised for preventing a serious aircraft incident which could have led to a serious fire on an armed aircraft.

Speaking yesterday, L/Cpl McMaster said: “Lots of people's families have never seen an Apache and it is good for them to come down and see where we work and see people on parade.”

4 Regt AAC took over from its sister regiment at Wattisham, 3 Regt AAC, in May last year with responsibility for flying and maintaining the Apache helicopter in Afghanistan for a year.

The two regiments are the only two regiments within the British Army to fly and operate the Apache Attack Helicopter.