Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Heroes' welcome for Afghan troops - BBC

The last group of soldiers from a battalion which lost eight men during a tour of Afghanistan received a heroes' welcome arriving back in the UK.

B Company of 1st Battalion The Rifles has spent the last six months in Garmsir, in Helmand Province.

The 124 soldiers were mobbed by family and friends as they arrived back at Beachley Barracks, near Chepstow

Their commanding officer said Helmand was a dangerous place and the troops have to come to terms with that.

Lt Col Joe Cavanagh said: "Just south of where these chaps have been doing their work becomes a fairly lawless, difficult and dangerous place.

"These men have been exposed to some of that in one of the more difficult parts of Helmand.

'Hard for everyone'

"They've been doing the full range of normal security tasks, patrolling in vehicles and on foot to enhance security and, when they get the chance, doing a bit to support development and other assistance to the community.

"B Company itself didn't have anybody killed, but had some serious casualties, men injured who were brought back to the UK. Two of them I would describe as serious and others had less life-changing injuries."

Armed with banners and balloons, around 250 family and friends cheered their loved ones as they arrived at the barracks on Saturday, just over four hours behind schedule.

Rifleman Richard Robinson, 20, from Swindon, had an enthusiastic welcome home from his seven-year-old brother Robbie.

Putting his helmet on Robbie's head, he said: "It's been hard for everyone, physically and mentally, but we got through it."

Rifleman Dale Bishop, 28, from Wiltshire, was reunited with fiancee L/Cpl Kelly Duddy, 27, who only returned from Afghanistan herself last month.

He said: "It was my second time out there and it was a tough time, it was hot carrying a lot of heavy kit. I've been looking forward to coming back to this beautiful woman."

L/Cpl Duddy, from Birmingham, added: "We were out there at the same time which was brilliant. We're getting married on December 22."

Martin Tudor, from Stroud, was there to welcome home his son, Rifleman Mitchell Tudor, who is 18.

He said: "We've been on Facebook and mobile phones and now we've physically got him home we can relax a little bit more. It's difficult to put the feeling into words really."

A celebratory welcome home parade through Chepstow is planned for 21 May.

A memorial event to remember the eight who lost their lives in Afghanistan - Rifleman Stuart Nash, Cpl Richard Robinson, Cpl Daniel Nield, L/Cpl Stephen Kingscott, Sgt Chris Reed, Rifleman Jamie Gunn, L/Cpl Paul Upton and Cpl Tom Gaden - is also being organised.

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