Video: Warriors return from war zone

SUFFOLK troops are returning home to their families after a gruelling four and a half month tour of duty in Afghanistan, serving with the Apache attack helicopters in some of the harshest terrains in the world.

John Howard

SUFFOLK troops are returning home to their families after a gruelling four and a half month tour of duty in Afghanistan, serving with the Apache attack helicopters in some of the harshest terrains in the world.

The 140 soldiers, from 654 Squadron Army Air Corps based at Wattisham Airfield, near Needham Market, include air and ground crew, engineers and senior officers.

During their stint with their nine Apaches in the troubled region the crews faced constant threats from the Taliban, soaring temperatures reaching 49C and plunging to minus 5C at night, and long working days which sometimes lasted 24 hours at a time.


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Their role was to provide the attack helicopter cover throughout southern Afghanistan, supporting not just British troops, but those from other countries.

The fearsome multi-million pound helicopters would be used for engaging the enemy when ground forces came under fire and needed assistance to regain control, provide protection and escorts for the large Chinook helicopters going into combat areas to rescue casualties from the dusty, arid country, and for major operations.

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Major John Taylor, officer commanding 654 squadron, was out there with his soldiers who he said had made him proud during their latest deployment.

The major, who trained as a Gazelle helicopter pilot when he joined the Army Air Corps about 15 years ago, said: “The Taliban are very aware of the Apache now and really fear it. We were very much in demand and were targeted actively throughout our tour.

“We had no injuries amongst our troops and the aircraft is great at surviving, is protected with armour and we have a lot of confidence in it. We can engage the enemy with little threat to ourselves.”

Troops had shelter ranging from buildings to tents and limited access to the internet and phones, although were restricted on what they could say to their loved ones for fear of revealing too much about the operations.

Staff sergeant Rob Drake, 38, who is married to Christie with two young children, was serving as a quartermaster and was responsible for providing kit, as he undertook his first tour of duty in Afghanistan.

Mr Drake, who lives in Ipswich and who has seen service in locations including Iraq and Bosnia, said: “You know what to expect, you are trained and that physical training is vital.

“It's very easy for people to knock the youth of today but our boys and girls were out there doing a fantastic job and that is quite humbling.”

Air trooper Steve Houlton, 22, from Merseyside, was part of a six-man team arming the Apaches, and said: “When you first arrive in theatre it is in the mid 40s and I have never experienced temperatures like it, but you do get acclimatized.”

The military personnel, who spent Christmas away and arranged quizzes and three legged challenges for entertainment, returned within the last few days.

They will now spend a week on duties in Suffolk before taking leave, in readiness for training for their next tour of duty.

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