Norfolk's backing for our troops praised by minister

MARK NICHOLLS Defence secretary Des Browne yesterday paid a powerful tribute to the "heroes" of the Royal Anglian Regiment for their summer campaign in Afghanistan as he inspected the next generation of British troops.


Defence secretary Des Browne yesterday paid a powerful tribute to the "heroes" of the Royal Anglian Regiment for their summer campaign in Afghanistan as he inspected the next generation of British troops.

Speaking at a passing out parade of new recruits in the region, Mr Browne said he was conscious of the contribution East Anglia made to the Armed Forces.

"The local regiment - the Royal Anglians - performed a truly incredible job in Helmand Province this year. They took the fight to the Taliban, broke the enemy's hold on the very important town of Gereshk and the Sangin Valley, improved local people's lives and acquitted themselves with great honour.

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"They are all heroes and I pay special tribute to the nine men who made the ultimate sacrifice."

Mr Browne was at Bassingbourn Barracks in Cambridgeshire to see 125 soldiers complete the first phase of their basic training. He watched a parade and presented awards to the young troops at the end of their 20-week course, before a crowd packed with proud family and friends.

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Speaking to the EDP ahead of the ceremony, he said the 1st Battalion Royal Anglian Regiment did a "stunning job" in Helmand.

"In the annals of military history, we should not underestimate their achievements. They suffered severe casualties but they maintained morale and stayed professional and dedicated."

Mr Browne also praised the people of Norfolk for the support they showed to the troops by turning out in their thousands at parades to welcome them home in Norwich, Dereham and Bury St Edmunds in November.

"Apart from the effect it had on the soldiers, it provided an extra-ordinarily good example to the rest of the country of how to honour people for what they had done.

"Part of the concerns of the serving soldier in Afghanistan was the perception that back home people did not appreciate what they were doing. This showed how wrong they were."

He also thanked the regional media for supporting the Armed Forces and the EDP in its backing of the Royal Anglian Afghanistan Memorial Fund which aims to build a permanent memorial to the soldiers of the 1st battalion who were killed but also provide support for those severely wounded in the fighting. It smashed through its £100,000 target in November and now stands at more than £170,000.

The defence secretary, who has visited Afghanistan and Iraq 12 times in the last 18 months, said his thoughts were with other units from the region, including personnel from RAF Marham, who will be deployed abroad over the Christmas period, and their families.

After inspecting the new troops, Mr Browne told them the parade had been impressive and had prepared them for the next stage of their training.

The young soldiers completing their initial training yesterday will now go on to Phase 2 of their training to learn specialist skills before joining their regiments.

Among them was 17-year-old Alex Laboda from Wisbech who is set to join the Army Air Corps as an air trooper with the aim of becoming a door gunner on a Lynx helicopter.

The former Queens School pupil said: "The training has been hard but it has really been worthwhile and hopefully will set me up to work my way through the ranks. I am proud of what I have done but I couldn't have done it without my training instructors, or my mates."

Alex remains aware of the inevitability that at some point in the not-too-distant future he will be called upon to serve in Afghanistan and Iraq but added: "I am here to do a job for my country and if I am sent there, I am happy to go."

His family, including his mum Debbie and dad Paul, were there with his sister and grandparents to watch the parade.

His father Mr Laboda said: "It has been a fantastic day, he has done really well and we are very proud of him. This is what he wants to do."

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