They roared into the skies hours after world leaders agreed to use force to protect the Libyan people against Gaddafi last March.

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Flying the first combat sorties from Norfolk since the second world war, RAF Marham’s IX squadron quickly seized control of the desert skies with precision attacks on anti-aircraft batteries and radar installations.

Tornado crews then joined Nato allies at their forward operating base at Gioia Del Colle, in Italy, from where they took to the air to seek and destroy Libyan ground forces mobilised to smash the uprising.

And on Saturday, IX squadron members were the first RAF personnel to be presented with medals in recognition for their contribution to Op Ellamy.

The timing of the medal presentation on Saturday coincided with the annual IX Squadron Association Reunion weekend which offered the ideal opportunity for the association’s president, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach, to present the medals.

The medal parade was led by Wing Commander Andy Turk, officer commanding IX squadron.

He said: “It was a great honour for the personnel of IX squadron to receive the Op Unified protector medal and to receive it in front of our family, friends and association veterans has made the day particularly poignant.

“I am immensely proud of the contribution the squadron made to saving the lives of countless Libyan citizens and to share that experience with our veterans has been a treasured experience.”

One of those to receive a medal was Flight Sergeant Si Roberts who said it was a “real honour” to be presented with the medal in front of his family.

He added: “Considering the short time we had to prepare and the pressure of our current Op Herrick preparation, everybody involved in the parade and presentation responded fantastically.

“To be the first unit to receive the medal is a fantastic privilege and is a tribute not only to the hard work and effort put in by everybody on IX squadron, but also to the tremendous support we received from family, friends and the multitude of personnel behind the scenes at RAF Marham.”

Personnel from IX squadron are in the final stages of preparation ahead of their forthcoming deployment to Afghanistan later this year.

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