THEY’RE coming home.
Hampshire soldiers have made their last journey out of Iraq and are today on their way back to family and friends.
It’s an historic moment for troops from the 1st Battalion, Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment, and comes slightly earlier than expected, following the end of the British combat mission and the handover of control to the Americans two weeks ago.
The news has been greeted with delight by hundreds of troops from A and C company, who have been in Iraq since December last year.
Lt Col Charlie Sykes, commanding officer of the battalion, said: “I am hugely proud of what the Armoured Tigers have achieved over this demanding operational period. We have a record of achievement second to none, reflected in awards to members of the battalion, but championed by all of us who wear the distinctive blue-yellow- blue flash and Indian tiger motif.”
Since 2003, when the mission was launched to topple Saddam Hussein, the troops – nicknamed The Tigers – have endured three tours of duty on the Iraq frontline.
The first, and possibly their toughest, was in 2004 when the battalion became the most highly decorated serving regiment in the British Army.
A total of 37 medals and awards were handed to The Tigers, including the most prestigious, the Victoria Cross, awarded to Private Johnson Beharry for twice risking his own life while rescuing his men during an intense firefight in Al Amarah.
In 2006 more than 600 Tigers deployed for Op Telic 8 were based in the desert south of Basra. In one of their biggest operations, when they were tasked with carrying out search and arrests in the capital, they came under heavy fire from suspected terrorists for more than four hours. Miraculously all escaped uninjured.
In August that year, the Daily Echo joined them for eight days to see the daily troubles faced by soldiers.
We reported how more than 600 soldiers were coming under fire daily in stifling temperatures of up to 50 degrees. Also that year, Hampshire troops shot dead one of Osama bin Laden’s right hand men during a major operation.
More than 220 soldiers from the battalion stormed a house in Basra and killed the leading al-Qaida terrorist Omar al-Farouq.
Their final stint in Iraq has been far quieter, with more than 350 soldiers deploying from their base in Paderborn, Germany, to assist with the training and development of the Iraqi army.
Lt Col Sykes added: “Not a bullet was fired in contact, in stark contrast to our previous two highly intensive tours.
“Walking around the bazaars and chatting to the locals in Basra, they were sorry to see us leave and were grateful to ourselves and to the Iraqi forces for the huge improvement in security they have seen over the last year.”