Warm welcome home for soldiers

THERE were smiles and laughter, plus a few tears shed last night as families flocked to Colchester Garrison to welcome their loved ones homes from the Gulf.

By Sharon Asplin

THERE were smiles and laughter, plus a few tears shed last night as families flocked to Colchester Garrison to welcome their loved ones homes from the Gulf.

Troops from 13 Air Assault Support Regiment, Royal Logistic Corps, part of 16 Air Assault Brigade – the UK's rapid reaction force - were reunited with their families at Roman Barracks after serving in the Gulf for three months.

Most were looking forward to a bath, a cold beer and a well-earned rest.

They were among the first British forces to arrive in Kuwait in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. The regiment was responsible for meeting the logistic needs of 16 Air Assault Brigade, supplying their units with water, rations, ammunition and fuel.

But military duties were forgotten last night as sons clutched their tearful mothers, husbands kissed delighted wives and fathers hugged excited children.

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About 70 soldiers returned yesterday, flying from Kuwait to RAF Brize Norton. They were then taken on coaches to Roman Barracks where their families were waiting.

Two-year-old Tyler-Jade Mathias had been told by her mum Sara that daddy was in a helicopter. That way she managed to keep him in her thoughts as every time she saw one fly over she waved and sent him her love.

Yesterday, Lance-Corporal Frazer Mathias, 27, was amazed by how much she had grown.

"I am over the moon to be back," he admitted. "You never get used to going away from your family and having to let go with a big hug."

Mrs Mathias added: "But we do not have a choice – you have to get used to it or it rips you apart. My next-door neighbour was a great support and helped me through it all and the support from the families' officer and the unit has been great."

The lance-corporal, who was second in command of a section transporting goods to units, said reports that the British Army was badly kitted out were greatly exaggerated.

"Like everything there were teething problems but on the whole things were pretty good and nowhere near as bad as people were reporting," he said. "The Yanks took the mickey out of us but then they take everything with them!"

Lance-Corporal Darren Griggs, 26, also agreed that everyone he met was properly equipped, although he admitted sand got into "the weirdest places".

One of the biggest challenges the regiment faced was keeping water cold and he was quite proud to explain two methods used. One involved digging a hole and lining it with a poncho liner, like a pond liner, filling it with water half way up and then covering over the top to take the hot air away.

The second method was more basic – putting a wet water bottle in a sock and hanging it up to dry.

But last night L-Cpl Griggs, who is Colchester born and bred, was looking forward to some home comforts after being reunited with fiancée Angela Stancombe, mother Sandra Storrie and sister Pippa Wheat, 11.

Previously known as "Milky" for the pale colour of his skin, L-Cpl Griggs had a nice tan to show off to them and a new slim line figure – he has lost nearly two stone since leaving Colchester.

"I am ecstatic to be back and relieved," he said. "The build up to it was immense because we did not know when it was going to kick off and we were told we would follow the rockets in 24 hours which was exciting.

"We were just eager to get out there and get the job done and I do feel we got the job done."

Mrs Storrie added: "We would watch the news and see a lot of propaganda and did not always register with what we saw. But having him home and knowing he is safe is wonderful."

Corporal David Brown, 26, has already been home once since the conflict started – in March he returned on compassionate leave when his daughter Ella Louise was born three months prematurely.

Last night gave him the chance to see how much she had grown and be reunited with wife Sarah and son Luke, six.

He said: "It's lovely to be home. I really missed my family when I went back out to the Gulf but you know you've got a job to do. But I am looking forward to a bath and spending time with my family."

A further 300 soldiers from the regiment are due to arrive back in Colchester over the next few weeks.

As well as keeping the brigade well-supplied, 13 Air Assault Support Regiment helped set up a number of distribution points for humanitarian aid in their area of operations and helped guard prisoners of war.

After leaving Kuwait, the regiment moved up into Iraq and was initially based around the Ramaila oilfields before moving to an area outside Qalat Saliah in the Maysan Province.

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