Monday, October 19, 2009
Soldiers from one of the worst hit Army regiments in Afghanistan have been reunited with their loved ones after six arduous months on the front line.
Troops from the Ballykinler based 2nd battalion The Rifles returned to their relieved families last night after finishing one the toughest tours of duty in Helmand Province.
The unit which was based in the Upper Sangin Valley — among the most heavily mined parts of Helmand Province — lost 13 men on operations including five during a bloody 24-hour period in July.
The first of the 2 Rifles soldiers arrived back at Ballykinler last week but their return was kept low key as a mark of respect to the family of Serjeant Stuart McGrath whose funeral was held at St Colmcille’s Church in Holywood on October 8.
Sergeant spelt with a ‘j’ is a tradition within the Rifles regiment.
Captain Mark Hale (42), whose family live in Dromara, Lieutenant Paul Mervis (27), Sjt Paul McAleese (29), Corporal Jonathan Horne (28), Rifleman Cyrus Thatcher (19), Rifleman Aminiasi Togue (26), Rifleman William Aldridge (18), Rifleman James Backhouse (18), Rifleman Joseph Murphy (18), Rifleman Daniel Simpson (20), Rifleman Daniel Wild (19) and Rifleman Joseph Murphy (18) also paid the ultimate sacrifice.
The battlegroup also suffered one of the highest casualty rates with 11 soldiers flown back to the UK for rehabilitation treatment at Selly Oak Hospital in Birmingham.
There were emotional scenes as the soldiers arrived home last night to grey skies and drizzle which came as a welcome relief after the searing heat of Afghanistan.
They were welcomed by their Commanding Officer Major Alastair Field, who had been sent home in July after he was hit by an improvised explosive device.
“It was very tough being back when the men were still out there serving,” he said.
Major Rupert Follett stepped up to take over the lead role, describing it as “a very intense, savage time”.
“It was incredibly difficult and we still had three or four months to serve,” he said.
“We lost five men and another five were injured in one 24-hour period. There was a huge sense of loss, it was almost humbling having to continue on.”
Surrounded by “Welcome Home Daddy” banners made by the families of the men, Major Follett was flanked by two of his children — five-year-old Samuel and three-year-old Hannah — but there was also a new face looking up at him, baby Toby who was born while he was serving in Afghanistan.
“I missed his birth. It was on my birthday as well but my wife Katherine had her mum and friends to support her,” he said.
The Rifles were formed in 2007 from The Devon and Dorset Light Infantry, The Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire Wiltshire Light Infantry, The Light Infantry and The Royal Green Jackets.