There were tears of joy and relief at RAF Honington as family and friends gathered to welcome home the first wave of troops from Afghanistan.

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Twenty-one soldiers from 1 Royal Tank Regiment’s G Squadron returned to their Suffolk base last night (Wednesday) after being deployed in the Helmand Province on Operation Herrick for the past six months, as part of the 12th Mechanized Brigade.

Wives, girlfriends, mothers and children watched proudly as their loved ones, led by three pipers, marched along the runway and back into their arms.

Waiting for her husband, Lance-Corporal Tony Knowles, was Kim with her baby daughter Amber.

She said: “Tony went away just five days after Amber was born, so he hasn’t seen her since then, which has been very tough for both of us. It has also been hard living with the worry every time there’s a report of soldiers getting killed or injured in Afghanistan. I’m just relieved to have him back.”

L-Cpl Knowles added: “It was the hardest thing I have ever done driving away when Amber was so tiny. She has grown so much, I can’t believe it.”

Another father, who has only seen his baby Kali on Facebook, was Corporal Semi Navuku. He said he was “delighted” to be reunited with his family.

Lance-Corporal Marcus Courtney was met by his anxious parents, Lesley and Richard, who had travelled from Plymouth to be reunited with their son.

Lesley said: “He loves his home comforts so I was quite shocked when he said he was joining the Army. He still tries to get home most weekends so it has been particularly difficult being apart for six months.” L-Cpl Courtney added: “It’s amazing to be back and I can’t wait to be able to sleep on a comfortable mattress with a big TV and a bottle of Jack Daniels.”

While in Afghanistan, G Squadron have been using a heavily armoured patrol vehicle, known as a Mastiff, to bring firepower and armoured support wherever it is needed.

They have been involved in fighting insurgents, patrolling towns and providing protection for the troops on the ground. Fortunately, they have managed to complete the six-month operation without incurring any major injuries.

Troop leader, Captain Pete Eadon, 26, whose dad Phil, mum Anne and sister Sarah had made the journey from Newcastle to greet him last night, said: “It’s been much harder for the people who are left behind at home because they don’t know where their loved ones are, or what they are doing.

“It’s wonderful to be back and to have a reception like this.”

A total of 232 soldiers from the Royal Tank Regiment have been stationed in Afghanistan and 110 of those are from G Squadron.

Another 18 were due to return to Honington on Friday , and on November 28 they will all gather at St Edmundsbury Cathedral for a homecoming parade and operation medal ceremony.

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