Emotional farewells for troops

SOLDIERS said an emotional farewell to their families and friends yesterdayas they set off from their Suffolk base for a six-month tour of Afghanistan.

SOLDIERS said an emotional farewell to their families and friends yesterdayas they set off from their Suffolk base for a six-month tour of Afghanistan.

Army engineers from 23 Engineer Regiment (Air Assault) are the first troops from Suffolk to set off for the war-torn country this summer.

About 330 troops from the regiment are deploying for a six-month tour to the dangerous Helmand Province in southern Afghanistan as part of the 16 Air Assault Brigade.

Last night 70 engineers left their base at Rock Barracks in Woodbridge to join the rest of their colleagues who left at the weekend.

They will be working alongside the Afghan authorities to assist in the reconstruction of the country.

For 22-year-old Craftsman Reyes Contreras, from Lowestoft, it is his first deployment in a war zone.

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“I am a little bit nervous but we have trained for the last six to seven months so I am eager to put our training into action,” he said.

“You hear from friends that have been to Iraq and Afghanistan so I want to see it for my own eyes. I am not too sure what to expect. It is not going to be easy and I think the first three or four weeks will be the hardest.”

Craftsman Contreras, who is a vehicle mechanic, said goodbye to his family yesterday afternoon. “It was a little bit emotional, especially for my mum and dad. My family are mostly proud of me going out there but obviously at the same time they are worried about something happening.”

Squadron Sergeant Tony Pick said his men needed no motivation.

“We are all ready to go and we have been training for this since the summer so we have done as much as we can and need to go.

“The first task is to win over the local people and bring down their fear of reprisals against them if they cooperate with us.”

Captain Ross Wendover, 27, will be leading a handpicked group of 14 men who will help to train the Afghan army when he leaves on Sunday.

He has been in the army for four years but this is his first time in a war zone.

“I cannot wait,” he said. “It makes all the training and all the experiences that I have had over the past few years more realistic and brings the guys closer together and I am really privileged to go out there and work with them.

“We will build up relationships with people from a completely different culture and we will learn lots about ourselves and the theatre of war itself.”

Twenty-year-old Sapper Michael Boyle added: “Obviously everybody going out there will miss socialising and having a drink. It is six months long hard graft and we will miss friends and family but we have got that to look forward to when we get back.”