From Yarmouth Road to Basra

NEXT year the largest group of Territorial Army soldiers ever deployed from a base in Ipswich will be sent to Iraq to serve in one of the world's most dangerous war zones.

NEXT year the largest group of Territorial Army soldiers ever deployed from a base in Ipswich will be sent to Iraq to serve in one of the world's most dangerous war zones.

They will be posted alongside the more the regular army troops working to restore order in the country.

In a two-part special report beginning today, chief reporter GRANT SHERLOCK talks to their senior officers at the Yarmouth Road base and some of those who have already embarked on postings to Iraq and Afghanistan to find out how they coped with life in a war zone and what their colleagues will face next year.

SUFFOLK is today preparing to send its largest ever contingent of Territorial Army soldiers to Iraq - one of the world's most dangerous battle zones.

At a time when the country is gripped by violent unrest and British troops struggle to restore the rule of law, the volunteers have answered a call to bolster the ranks of their regular army counterparts.

Today the Territorial Army (TA) revealed 26 part-time soldiers from the Ipswich squadron, some as young as 18 and most from Ipswich, Woodbridge and Felixstowe, had signed up to be deployed to Iraq in March to form part of a special TA troop.

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Once there, they will carry out the same tasks as regulars and have the same expectations placed upon them.

Some will man heavily armed vehicles and be responsible for protecting convoys of supplies and ammunition as they are delivered to British troops. Others will drive the trucks in those convoys - the job they have been trained for at the 158 Transport Regiment, which has a base in Yarmouth Road, Ipswich.

The regiment has been chosen for operational deployment because the army needs extra men and women to fill transport roles.

In total it will send 60 people from its six bases across the region. The twenty-six are among the first to volunteer from the Ipswich squadron.

They are expected to be away from their families and jobs for ten months in all, with their postings in Iraq set to last six months.

Preparations are already well under way for the volunteers to carry out the roles in a war zone which is proving increasingly dangerous for British troops.

Today the regiment's Captain Rick Dzierozynski said the volunteers were aware of the dangers they would face.

He said: “Next year will be a difficult year without a doubt.

“Our guys will predominantly be driving the drops vehicles, delivering the stores as and where required. The dangers in that are quite clear as you do see the convoys being attacked.

“They will be doing really important stuff.

“They are putting their lives on the line, there's no doubt about it.”

In a special report beginning today and continuing tomorrow, The Evening Star talks to some of the men and women from Suffolk who have volunteered to put their lives on hold to serve in two of the world's most dangerous battle zones - Iraq and Afghanistan.

EVERY day new stories emerge of the deadly chaos which has gripped Iraq and made it one of the most dangerous places on earth.

Car bombings, suicide bombers, mortar attacks and heavily armed insurgents have meant that virtually nowhere is safe for ordinary Iraqis and the coalition troops sent there with the task of restoring order.

But in spite of that, next March a group of young men and women from Suffolk will put their lives on hold - and on the line - to help in that effort.

Captain Rick Dzierozynski said the regiment had been picked for an “operational” in Iraq and needed to provide 60 soldiers from across its bases to support the ranks of the regular army - there are currently 7,100 British troops serving in Iraq but in June that will drop to 5,500.

He said: “The role of the TA has changed over the past few years. The main role of the TA now is to reinforce the regular army.

“They're after an RLC (Royal Logistics Corps) troop, plus some force protection guys and some people to work in the ops room.

“They'll go through pre-operational tour training, then they'll join the unit and then they'll do the pre-unit training.”

He added that there was a sense of pride within the squadron that so many TA soldiers from the area would be serving in Iraq at the same time but admitted the dangers of Iraq had a sobering effect on all.

He said: “It's good to see that we are providing the people that we are expected to provide. Yet obviously we've got concerns for everyone going out there. We just try to give the families all the support we can.”

LANCE Corporal Steve Goodyear knows exactly what his TA colleagues will face when they head to Iraq next year.

The Woodbridge carpenter has just returned from a tour of Afghanistan - two years after completing a tour in Iraq.

He said: “When I went to Iraq I did three weeks training, but before I went to Afghanistan I did two months training.

“Everything we do as TA soldiers is based on the same training the army does but obviously sometimes it's more intense because we don't get to do it everyday.

“In Iraq I worked for the intelligence corps. I did stores and MT work, looking after the fleet of vehicles, and then driving the officers and Sgt Major commanding the unit. That was a really good job.”

L Cpl Goodyear served in Iraq from June to December 2004. He returned from Afghanistan in March, after being deployed in October last year.

The 39-year-old father-of-five said: “Both times I joined it's been because I felt I missed a vocation in life.

“Before I went to Iraq I'd been thinking about it what could happen quite a bit. (But) my biggest belief is when it's your time to die it's your time to die no matter what I'm doing.”

Being based at Basra airport in Iraq brought home the dangers faced by all those serving in the country.

He said: “At first you might be nervous but once you are there it's not long before it seems normal.

“We were regular under mortar attack. I was fortunate there were a lot of guys from the Irish Royals who were all Territorial Army soldiers. Initially I can't deny a degree of fear but seeing the Irish guys dealt with it lightened the mood.

“If it is going to get you it will.

“When I came back from Iraq I went back on to a building site and I was still a bit jumpy at loud noises.”

In Afghanistan L Cpl Goodyear worked with a commando logistics regiment driving vehicles out of Camp Bastian in Helmand Province. Later he was stationed at Kandahar Airport.

“The Afghanis have only got two main highways and they're quite poorly maintained. A lot of the driving was off-road,” he said.

“Fortunately I had quite a trouble free six months out there but it was challenging. Just some of the driving conditions and it was cold when we were out there.

“Both in Camp Bastian and at Kandahar Airport I was able to talk to local people in the camps. Generally they're pleased someone is there trying to put some stability in the country and trying to give them a better life.”

CAPTAIN Iain Branch is a Territorial Army soldier through-and-through.

He joined up 23 years ago and is now second in command at the Ipswich squadron and is on the list of those preparing to go to Iraq next year.

In 2005 he was deployed to Iraq to lead a multiple - made up of regular 16 soldiers from the 1st battalion Staffordshire regiment - on patrols through Maysan province.

While he new of the difficult situation in the area, it was partly what attracted him to the job.

Capt Branch said: He said: “It's not a nice neighbourhood. There's a lot of work to be done.

“I was actually trying to go there because the environment was hostile, it meant it was a challenge and you had real work to do.

“The battle group that I was attached to lost five people to roadside bombs. The camp was regularly under mortar and rocket fire.

“A lot of the build-up training is very good, the rest is your own maturity and the strength that you draw from each other.”

At home in Ipswich Capt Branch, 45, is an oil tanker driver. In Iraq he had the lives of his soldiers in his hands.

He said: “We did make progress. We were able to arrest and detain several key insurgents. We also made some very good arms seizures.

“Loss of life is very sad and it's a case of something you never want. However the province is now into Iraqi control. The coalition forces still patrol the Iranian border so it's a further step forward.

“There are a lot of very brave people working out there. Our work can't be done without Iraqis who have got the moral courage to work with us. These people are worth their weight in gold.

“I hope to get to Afghanistan because I think that's a good challenge ahead there.”

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