Swanton Morley welcomes home heroes

Some say it was the regiment's toughest tour of duty since the second world war.And yesterday 100 soldiers of the Light Dragoons C Squadron received medals for heroism shown during six months in Afghanistan's troubled Helmand Province fighting the Taliban.

By EMMA KNIGHTS

Some say it was the regiment's toughest tour of duty since the second world war.

And yesterday 100 soldiers of the Light Dragoons C Squadron received medals for heroism during six months in Afghanistan's troubled Helmand Province fighting the Taliban.

After an emotional reunion with their families on Monday, yesterday it was the turn of Lt Gen (Retd) Sir Roddy Cordy-Simpson, the colonel of the regiment, to welcome them home after the squadron marched proudly onto the parade square at Robertson Barracks, Swanton Morley.

After awarding Operation Herrick campaign medals, he told the soldiers and officers that he could not remember a more difficult, demanding or dangerous operation that the regiment had undertaken since 1945, including tours in Iraq, Bosnia and Northern Ireland.

He added their tour had "put their name in lights" throughout the whole of the army, that they could not have been better ambassadors for the armed forces, and that they should tell their stories with great pride.

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For the last six months C Squadron has been the leading armoured reconnaissance element of the UK Task Force under the command of 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines.

The soldiers were the task force's eyes and ears in the Helmand Province where their mission was to seek out and disrupt the Taliban.

As part of Operation Glacier, they were involved in major attacks on Taliban positions, including one in Jugroom Fort, in Garmsir, which led to the daring rescue of a fallen comrade by Marines mounted on the wings of two Apache helicopters.

They took part in a major Afghan-led operation to clear the Taliban from Babaji, north of Lashkar Gah, and were involved in the latest phase of Operation Achilles, the high-profile clearance and retake of the major northern Helmand town Sangin, which involved a multi-national force of more than 1,000 troops.

Capt Jon Harris, 26, said he was "ecstatic" to be back on English soil after the dangers of fighting such a difficult enemy.

He said: "The Taliban was wily, intelligent and incredibly courageous. We could not take them for granted because they would always pull something out of the bag. It was a difficult time and we are incredibly relieved and ecstatic to be back safely. It is lovely to see England in the spring. It is absolutely beautiful."

It was Maj Ben Warrack, 36, from Yorkshire, who led C Squadron during their time in Afghanistan.

He said: "It is an enormous relief that we have brought the squadron back in one piece but there are tinges of sadness because quite a lot of sub-units took casualties."

He described it as a successful yet intense tour, different to anything they had encountered before.

"In Iraq we are fighting a hidden threat, in Bosnia it was peace-keeping. This was more like a war fighting operation. It was a more intense operation. We fired several thousand rounds in the face of the enemy and covered 60,000 track miles as a squadron in our 24 armoured vehicles."

And with the Afghan tour behind him, Maj Warrack's thoughts are now on a different challenge - because he is set to become a dad in six weeks.

"Seeing my wife Charlotte again for the first time in six months was just absolutely amazing. I am just so glad to be back and looking forward to our child being born," he said.

Trooper Ian Waterfield, 24, from Middlesbrough, also had a moving reunion with his children Joshua, five, Poppy, 20 months, and his wife Gemma, 24. "Poppy had only just started walking when I left and she has changed so much now. I have a lot of catching up to do. It is wonderful being back with all my family."

About 170 Light Dragoons from A, B, D and HQ squadron took over from C Squadron in Afghanistan earlier this month.