Home and away for area's servicemen

One East Anglian squadron said goodbye as another was welcomed home yesterday as the region's “revolving door” supply of troops to the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan continued.

One East Anglian squadron said goodbye as another was welcomed home yesterday as the region's “revolving door” supply of troops to the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan continued.

RAF Honington's 1 Squadron held its final parade before departing on an operational tour to Kandahar, Afghanistan. Later in the day 3 RAF Force Protection Wing returned to RAF Marham from a six-month tour in Basra, Iraq.

Both deployments by the RAF Regiment are vital as they provide protection to airbases and support for air operations.

Group Capt Russ La Forte, station commander at Honington, admitted the RAF Regiment faces an unprecedented demand on its resources, with at least one squadron from Honington alone on tour at all times.

He said: “It is true to say we have something of a revolving door situation. For example 1 Squadron has barely been back from Iraq for 12 months and they are already returning to conflict, this time in Afghanistan.

“A lot of our men are accumulating a huge amount of operational experience in very challenging circumstances.

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“But if you ask any service man or woman what the worst part of their job is, they'll say it's the boredom when they're not active. They are doing what they joined up for and are glad to be doing their bit.

“However it inevitably places a strain on both them and their family and, while they are away, it is important that we play an almost parental role to make sure their loved ones have the support they need.”

Flt Sgt Robert Williams will be among the troops deployed to Kandahar. “The hardest part will be adapting to the climate and the terrain,” he said.

“But also we have a role to play in winning the hearts and minds of locals and that brings with it certain cultural sensitivities.”

The parade also saw the squadron awarded a trophy after they were selected as the outstanding RAF Regiment field squadron of 2007. This recognised their work during last year's tour of Iraq where, Group Capt La Forte said, they faced as “relentless and determined enemy” and showed great courage in the face of some of the most vicious fighting since the second world war.

Meanwhile at RAF Marham there were tears of joy as servicemen were reunited with their families, in some cases for the first time in five months.

The wing, made up of regulars and reservists from Norfolk's 2620 Auxiliary Squadron, was awarded with Operation Telic medals for their part in protecting the vital airbase at Basra.

Among them was senior aircraftsman Andy Stephenson, who normally works in the post room at Norwich City Council. He was reunited with his wife, four-year-old son and 18-month-old daughter.

He said: “I've previously served in Kuwait so had a rough idea what to expect. But this was the most intense experience I have had so far.

“It is a great feeling to be back with my family and I am just looking forward to spending time with them and getting back to my normal life.”

Senior aircraftsman Christopher Graver, from King's Lynn, added: “When you're out there you try to stay focussed on the task at hand,

but the thought of seeing your

friends and family again keeps you going.”

The men will now enjoy leave before returning to duties at Marham or, in the case of reservists, their civilian jobs.

The 2620 (County of Norfolk) Squadron of the RAF reserves are looking for new recruits. For more information contact 0800 7831915