Photo gallery: Support for families of the Light Dragoons, based at Swanton Morley, as troops prepare for Afghanistan deployment

Emma Williams married John in January, but three months later she is preparing herself for his imminent deployment to Afghanistan – and for their first six-month separation.

In the community centre at the heart of the regiment's barracks, she told how the camp's welfare team had helped her adapt and prepare.

She said: 'Because I have never been part of military life before, obviously they make sure I'm all right with his deployment and if I need anything. It's really scary. It's always that worry and fear. Although we don't have a definite date [of departure], there's that general sentiment of fear but, over-riding that, I'm so proud of what he is doing – so many would not have the courage to go out there and do that.'

The 22-year-old is particularly grateful for the support of wives who have experienced previous tours.

'It's a massive help. You have your good and bad days, and on the bad days it's great to have a couple of friends here who have gone through it all before and can just say 'don't worry'.'


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About 300 Swanton Morley troops will be in Afghanistan when the deployment is complete this month, and the Light Dragoons family is particularly close-knit.

There are about 12 pairs of brothers or fathers and sons serving, and 156 couples with children, and although about 80pc of soldiers are from the North-East, an increasing number have wives from the local area.

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Major William Leek said the community centre gave the welfare team a chance to keep their fingers on the pulse of what was happening.

'We are focused on our task. It's not difficult – it's not like being out in Afghanistan, but it presents its own challenges and the welfare team is a critical part of keeping everyone happy and normalising everything – especially for families.'

Much of the support provided, whether formally through the nursery and caf�, or informally through a place to chat while the children play, focuses on the community centre.

It has computers, play equipment and comfy chairs, and the nursery caters for 38 children, while the caf� is run by the Salvation Army Red Shield Defence Services.

Canteen assistant Anita Artherton said: 'Because we have become friends with a lot of wives, they tend to come in and tell us about the day or what's going on. It's just nice to be able to talk things out.'

Danielle Woods's husband, Mark, is undertaking his fifth tour of duty since they married eight years ago.

They have a son and two daughters, and when he is away she spends much of her time at the centre, relying on the welfare team for everything from accurate news from the front to events for the children.

She said: 'I just think it's so important. If you have not got it you feel so alone. A six-month tour can feel like forever if you have not got the right networks. I find when there's a tour I live here.

'The welfare team always have things for the kids to do. They help out so much... Everyone understands what everyone is going through.'

Experience has taught her to avoid news and newspapers during tours.

'When you see something on the news you think the worst so I don't watch it. I get my news from the welfare team or my husband ringing me. Otherwise I would worry myself sick.

'I think my son finds it hardest. He hears things from kids at school.'

Capt Simon Stott heads up the welfare effort at Robertson Barracks. In the run-up to deployment he has briefed families in Swanton Morley, as well as travelling to Newcastle, Hull, Barnsley and Middlesbrough.

With the Army providing more support for children, he has briefed those aged eight and over about some of the emotions they might experience in the next six months.

He will help troops and families communicate by email, fax and phone, organise residential trips and provide support and advice.

Other support includes the wives' club, run by the commanding officer's wife, organising bowling trips, Zumba sessions or cake-making.

Nor is the spiritual side neglected. The Dragoons' padre has been deployed to Afghanistan, and the Rev Adrian Aubrey-Jones, responsible for Swanton Morley, plans to make fortnightly visits of two to three hours to the barracks.

On their last tour of duty, four Light Dragoons and two Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers on attachment to them were killed.

Mr Aubrey-Jones said: 'I think it's a very caring community because of the job the guys are doing and the situation they are facing potentially.'

As a former frontline Serviceman, Capt Stott knows how important support for families is for the morale of troops at the front.

'If you know your loved one is at home and getting the support and getting the information they need and trying to have some normality in their lives, it lets you get on and focus on your job,' he said.

martin.george@archant.co.uk

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