Gallery: Suffolk soldiers prepare to return home after Afghanistan tour
PUBLISHED: 13:01 17 February 2014 | UPDATED: 13:01 17 February 2014
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After six months on tour in Afghanistan, soldiers with the Suffolk-based Apache squadron are preparing to return home.
The Wattisham-based troops have been speaking of their time in Helmand Province, the changes in the region, and their delight at coming back to the county.
Among them are couple Lauren Morgan and Oliver Mercer, who have just completed their first tour of duty in Afghanistan together.
Airtrooper Morgan, 23, and Corporal Mercer, 26, both serve with 654 Squadron (Sqn), 4 Regiment Army Air Corps (AAC).
It was ATpr Morgan’s second tour of the country but this time she was deployed for the first time with her boyfriend of two years.
She said: “It’s nice being on tour together, but no different to what we are used to back home as we met through the Army through working together.”
ATpr Morgan, originally from Aberystwyth in Wales, flew out to Afghanistan on her birthday and served with the Apache detachment as an aviation ground crew specialist and was in charge of all the ammunition for the Apache aircraft.
She was promoted during the tour to Lance Corporal but will not officially start wearing the rank until she returns to her unit in May.
For Cpl Mercer, it was his fourth tour in Helmand Province as a landing point commander and is the only serving personnel to have deployed on all four HERRICK tours that 654 Sqn has been involved in.
The father-of-one said: “I’m part of the ground crew which are essentially like a Formula One pit team. We have to prepare the Apache helicopters when they come in from a tasking, ready to deploy again at a moments notice.” He added: “Although I’ve enjoyed this tour as much as the previous ones, it’s been at a much slower pace, and we’re firing a lot less due to the Afghans taking the lead and the British troops moving into more of a supportive role.”
ATpr Katie Carter, 22, has completed her first tour in Afghanistan having left her mark in the country.
She created a mural on the blast walls in Camp Bastion which depicts a squadron family tree with all the serving personnel in rank order.
ATpr Carter, who is based in Ipswich at the HQ Squadron in the motor transport department, said: “I wanted it to symbolise the end of the operation which is in sight, in contrast to the other walls which show more harsh images to do with combative tours that we’ve seen over the past few years.” ATpr Jamie Cruickshank, 26, has completed his fourth tour in Helmand with 654 Sqn and received a commendation for his work as the joint aviation group photographer while worked as a signaller and aviation communications specialist.
He is looking forward to returning home to Ipswich to be reunited with his fiancee Nikita Maddalena.
Lieutenant Jo Binns, 29, served as a ground support flight commander with 654 Sqn in her first tour - a complete contrast to her previous career as England Netball Regional Development Team coach.
She is leaving behind the desert of Afghanistan to focus on her civilian life as she is getting married to Richard Vann in the coming weeks.
She said: “It’s been a great tour, and I hope to deploy again if the opportunity arises again in the future, but I’m looking forward to getting back to the UK to sort out the final preparations for the big day.
“We’ve almost finished, just a few loose ends to tie up.”