DORSET soldiers returning from Afghanistan received a hero’s welcome this weekend in an emotional reunion with loved ones.
The 80 reservists from Corunna Company 6th Battalion Rifles returned from a six-month tour in Helmand Province.
Thousands of people lined the streets of Exeter as they marched through the city after greeting their family members and loved ones at the Wyvern Barracks.
All received an Operational Service Medal from Brigadier Steve Hodder in a ceremony attended by their Royal Colonel, HRH The Duke of Gloucester.
There was a special mournful round of applause for Serjeant Christopher John Reed who was killed in action on New Year’s Day.
Company Serjeant Major WO2 Darren Budden had an emotional reunion with his two-year-old son Jamie and his wife Julie.
WO2 Budden, 38, a lift engineer from Charminster, Bournemouth, was commanding 120 soldiers in Helmand.
He said: “This is my sixth tour and it was more demanding – it seemed to be a level higher than anything before.”
The father-of-three was looking forward to going home to hug his six-year-old daughter Scarlett and 13-year-old Tyler.
In 2004, he won the Queen’s Commendation for Bravery for helping casualties after a suicide attack during a previous tour of Afghanistan.
He used to serve in the regular Army in the parachute regiment but said that being in the TA is more suited to family life.
A family reception of 12 was waiting at the barracks for 29-year-old Matt Isom, from Lower Parkstone, Poole.
He said: “It’s fantastic to be back – I’ve been looking forward to it so much since I came home at Christmas.”
The reception for LCpl Isom included his father John, mum Silvia and his gran Winnie Wilson.
When at home LCpl works as a store manager in Marks and Spencer in Poole.
His six-year-old son Bailey was overjoyed to see his father in his desert combats.
Whilst watching his dad awarded the Operational Service Medal, he rushed to the front of the crowd shouting “That’s my dad!”
Corporal Adam Hughes, 35, of Bournemouth, came back a few months ago but marched alongside his fellow soldiers in the parade. He has served 14 years with the Devon and Dorset Regiment and is now planning to move to Edinburgh with 3 Rifles.
He said: “This tour, there was more proper war fighting going on in Afghanistan than I’ve ever seen in Iraq – everything moves very fast.”
In 2002 Cpl Hughes lost his brother Matt Hughes when he was killed on duty in Northern Ireland.
He said that it has not put him off fighting for the British Army.
“I believe in fate – when your time’s up it’s up, and nobody knows if we are going to end up in the wrong place at the wrong time.”