Video & Gallery: Loving reunion for Suffolk troops

SOME of the last UK soldiers to return from Iraq arrived home to a welcoming crowd of family and friends at Suffolk's RAF Honington.

Naomi Cassidy

SOME of the last UK soldiers to return from Iraq arrived home to a welcoming crowd of family and friends at Suffolk's RAF Honington.

Around 30 soldiers from 1 Royal Tank Regiment (1RTR) who have spent the last six months in Iraq were reunited with their loved ones at the base near Ixworth.

About 70 troops in total were deployed to Iraq in November 2008 and were in charge of the UK Military Transition Team Group, which involved providing support, advice, training and specialist capabilities to the Iraqi army. They also helped them plan and conduct dozens of successful major search operations. Some returned earlier this month.

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The regiment has been present in Iraq since the start of the operation in 2003.

Commanding Officer, Lt Colonel Gavin Thompson said: “A transformation has occurred in Basra that is bringing peace and the first real signs of prosperity.

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“At the heart of this transformation were our proud young men. They proved themselves to be consummate professionals - determined and tough when required, but also compassionate, humane and sensitive to the Iraqi civilians they were there to help. They can all be proud of what they have achieved. They were really looking forward to coming back. The main thing is everyone who went out has come back. There were no casualties.”

Pipe Major Jason Sumner played Highland Laddie as the troops got off the coach to mark the regiment's Scottish history and emotional scenes were played out as families were reunited.

Private Lee Watson had just two weeks to get to know his newborn son Ryan when he was deployed to Iraq.

His 20-year-old wife Nikky also had to cope without her brother Dan Herschell for six months, as he was on the same deployment.

She said: “It was very tearful saying goodbye. Lee has been ringing and there have been lots of emailing pictures of Ryan. It has been ok coping with the baby as he is very good.

“I'm worried for my brother now because he goes off to Afghanistan in a few months.”

Pte Watson said: “I cannot believe how huge my son is now. It feels really good to be back. It was a good experience out there but now I'm looking forward to this new experience of being a father.”

Hayley Thompson, Lt Col Thompson's wife, said: “It is really great for all the families to have them back. It is a big relief. It is so nice to see the excited look on the children's faces when they realise their daddy is home. Most service families are used to this but it doesn't make it any easier.”

Regimental Sergeant Major Pete Rooney, was delighted to be back with his wife, Laura, and children Tilly, one, and Ryan, four.

He said: “I have got a young family so it is great to see them. It is amazing how quickly children that age change.”

Sergeant Major Steve Hodson was also looking forward to spending some quality time with his wife, Sarah Pettersen, and nine-month baby Eve.

He said: “A lot of guys have waiting to come back for the last three or four weeks. It is fantastic to be back.”

After a period of leave, 110 soldiers from the regiment will be gearing up to head to Afghanistan in October.

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