THEY are waking up thousands of miles from home and in conditions that are a far cry from normality.

The green fields and trees surrounding their barracks have been swapped for sprawling, dusty and dry terrain where temperatures can reach a sweltering 40 degrees.

But for the remainder of the year the once war-ravaged Helmand Province in southern Afghanistan will become home to a contingent of Hampshire soldiers, who have deployed to help close down British military operations there for good.

Troops from the 1st Battalion, Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment – known as The Tigers – have just arrived in Camp Bastion for a sixmonth tour of duty.

There they will play a critical role in Op Herrick 20 – the UK’s final military involvement before the Government’s planned withdrawal of troops by the end of the year.

If all goes to plan the soldiers are hoping to be back home for Christmas with their families.

But, as Afghanistan has long proven, nothing is a certainty and there are no firm dates set.

The Tigers set off on their journey into Camp Bastion little over 24 hours ago and, on arrival, will undergo a period of acclimatisation and in-theatre training before taking over.

Despite the battalion intensively training en mass in Kenya last year – anticipating a large number if not all of the 600-strong Tigers would go to Afghanistan – a significantly lower number of around 50 soldiers have currently ended up deploying as numbers changed to reflect what has been happening on the ground.

Lt Col Andy Flay, commanding officer of The Tigers, is not among them.

Instead he will remain at 1PWRR’s barracks in Paderborn, Germany, overseeing a wealth of requirements and projects being asked of his men.

But he said that while The Tigers’ commitment to the withdrawal from Afghanistan may seem small, it is also a vital role.

He told the Daily Echo: “The Battalion and I are proud to have been involved in the preparations for deployment to Afghanistan and much has been achieved during the Brigade’s training over the past six months.”

In coming months The Tigers serving in Helmand Province will be involved in a variety of tasks, including close protection work as well as reconnaissance and logistical support.

But it will look an altogether different place from what those who have previously served there left behind in 2012.

Camp Bastion – once a bustling military base the size of Reading – was one of more than 130 bases occupied by the British in the south.

It is now one of only two left in the region – the other a lookout that will be handed over to NATO – and already is a shadow of its former self as it is stripped back to be shut down. Regardless, 1PWRR’s efforts will no doubt build on the enormous successes of 1PWRR’s previous tour of Afghanistan twoand- a-half years ago, which saw them heavily involved in training their Afghan counterparts.

But their six-month deployment did not pass without its tragedy.

In November 2011, within weeks of arriving, Pte Tom Lake, 29, was killed by an IED blast while out on patrol with his colleagues.

Many more suffered serious and life changing injuries, including Sgt Jay Baldwin, who lost both legs after stepping on a hidden bomb in 2012.

However, it did lead to numerous honours for the already hugely- decorated battalion, including their former boss, Lt Col James Coote, receiving an OBE for his instrumental role in helping transition and mentoring in Afghanistan.

The 2nd Battalion PWRR, are also about to return to Cyprus, where they will act as theatre reserves, who theoretically could be called upon should the situation need it.

The Tigers and their history

Daily Echo: saved: Hampshire's historic regiment

THEY’RE no strangers to the front line.

Hailed as one of the finest and most decorated regiments in the UK, The Tigers have played a pivotal role wherever in the world they have deployed.

Formerly known as The Hampshire Regiment, they were amalgamated with The Queen’s Regiment in 1992, with Diana, Princess of Wales as colonel in chief – a position now held
by Queen Margrethe of Denmark.

An infantry regiment they solely recruit men and historically have used the armoured Warrior tanks in battle.

Drawn from across Hampshire, Sussex and Kent they have proved their worth in major theatres of conflict throughout the world.

They remain the most decorated of all British Army regiments with 57 Victoria Crosses to their name.

Most recently that award went to Pte Johnson Beharry for his bravery and gallantry in Iraq in 2004, when he suffered horrific head injuries as he twice saved the life of colleagues while under attack.

During the Iraq conflict The Tigers deployed hundreds of men on three occasions – 2004, 2006 and 2009.

Soldiers from 1PWRR have also deployed to Afghanistan multiple times – a small number went as an attachment while the remainder were closing down British forces operations in Iraq.

About 450 men deployed on Op Herrick in 2012.

Taliban insurgency is still a strong threat

Daily Echo: Transport minister Phillip Hammond has unveiled electric cars eligible for grantsPhillip Hammond

LAST night a powerful committee of MPs warned that the Taliban insurgency remained “a strong and persistent threat” as the British military wind down their operations.

The Commons Defence Committee said the Afghan government would need the continued support of the international community after most British and other international troops leave
later this year if it is to overcome the challenges it faces.

After more than a decade of hardfought operations the MPs said that the time had come for the UK Government to mount its own “lessons learned” inquiry looking back on the experience of
the campaign.

In a bleak report the committee warned that Afghanistan faced an “uncertain” future and that they could only hope Defence Secretary Philip Hammond’s prediction that the country would
not descend into civil war proved correct.

Despite the presence of international troops in the country for 13 years and the build up of the Afghan national security forces (ANSF) it said that the Taliban was still able to carry out attacks on high-profile targets.

Civilian casualties rose significantly last year – predominantly due to improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

The committee called on the Government to begin the groundwork for the eventual publication of an official history of the Afghan campaign, as well as commissioning a more immediate “lessons learned” inquiry.

In response, Mr Hammond, pictured,said: “As combat operations in Afghanistan draw to a close we can be proud of the contribution British forces have made to ensuring that the country cannot be used as a base for international terrorists to attack us and our interests.

“We have a highly effective process for identifying lessons to be learned in near real time, but we will want to look strategically across the campaign as a whole to see what longer-term  lessons need to be learned once the mission is over.”

Military life is a family affair for birthday boy Boyd

Daily Echo: Private Boyd Cox

THERE’S no doubt that serving his country is in his blood.

Generations of Boyd Cox’s family – including his mum, dad and grandfather – have all done their bit through the years, so it’s no surprise what path he chose for a career.

Today – as he marks his 20th birthday – Boyd will be waking up in Afghanistan as he starts his first ever operational tour of duty.

The last time The Tigers deployed to the country was two years ago when Boyd, despite completing his training and joining the regiment, was still 17 and therefore not old enough to

So while all his friends departed for Helmand Province he remained at the battalion’s home in Paderborn, Germany, as part of a ‘rear party’.

But now he is part of an elite group of Tigers who have deployed to Afghanistan for one last time as the UK prepares to withdraw all troops by the end of the year.

Proud dad Gary Cox, a former Royal Navy serviceman, said: “It’s fair to say he was excited about
going. I think he justwanted to go out and do his  bit.”

Boyd didn’t think twice about joining The Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment, having grown up since the age of three in Lee-on-the-Solent with his dad and mum Margaret, who served with the Women’s Royal Army Corps, and older brother Stuart, who is 21.

He went to school locally, attending Lee-on-the-Solent infant and junior schools and later Bay House in Gosport.

Gary said: “It was his local regiment – that’s what he wanted. I don’t think he ever thought about joining anyone else and a load of his pals went there as well. He loves it.

“As parents we knew what the score was when he signed up. We knew that, having joined the
Army, he was likely to go to Afghanistan – we were totally prepared for it. It was just a natural
progression for him once he had done his training.

“Six months is a long time for him to be away – the most he has been gone before is about three months, but we have always known we were able to get in "touch"with him when we wanted to.

“Both my wife and I and his brother are all very proud of him and what he is doing.”