Gallery: Emotional homecoming for 150 gunners

AN RAF base last night played host to an outpouring of emotion as families and loved ones were reunited with 150 gunners returning from Afghanistan.

Laurence Cawley

AN RAF base last night played host to an outpouring of emotion as families and loved ones were reunited with 150 gunners returning from Afghanistan.

The airmen of 27 Squadron RAF Regiment flew into the UK via RAF Mildenhall before getting on a bus bound for RAF Honington, near Bury St Edmunds.

Prior to their return to Honington - which was hampered by poor weather and congestion on the roads - some loved ones said the anticipation of seeing the gunners was so intense it made them feel physically sick.

Half an hour later than expected, the giant door of 27 Squadron's hangar at RAF Honington was raised and the gunners walked in to screams of excitement and applause from their family and friends.

Senior Aircraftman (SAC) Brandon Thompson was met by members of his family from Buckinghamshire and Colchester, including his four-month-old second cousin Isabella, who he had never seen.

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He said: “It is good to be back and I am so happy to see my family. I've got five weeks of rest and relaxation and I will be spending that with my family, eating food and exercising.”

His doting mother Gineen Thompson said: “I am bursting with pride, we've missed him so much and I don't want to let him go. We are such a close family and it is brilliant to have him home and I'm going to feed him back up.”

The 20-year-old airman's 19-year-old sister Shawnee said she was delighted to have her big brother home but joked that her six months of peace and quiet was now at an end.

Last night was especially emotional for nine-year-old Amy Kirton and 10-year-old Ben, who were joined by their parents Alison and Geoff in welcoming home their big brother SAC John Kirton.

Amy and Ben said they were delighted to have their brother back and said they had been playing his computer games while he was away in Afghanistan.

SAC Kirton said: “They are my little brother and sister and it is brilliant to be back - I am over the moon.”

SAC Stuart Gray, 19, was reunited with his mother Margaret and sister Rachel, who had both set off at 4am yesterday morning to welcome him home.

“It is absolutely worth it,” his mother said. “I cannot believe he's finally home.”

Away from the hustle and bustle of the children and family reunions in the hangar was Corporal James Silk who enjoyed a quiet reunion with his wife Nicola. Mrs Silk, from Peterborough, said: “It is fantastic, it really is. It has been a long time.”

The squadron has been on a six-month deployment to Kandahar Air Base in Afghanistan, where they provided force protection for the base. Their role involved stopping insurgents affecting the operations of the base, whether in the form of explosive devices or rocket attacks.

The gunners flew back into RAF Mildenhall yesterday afternoon, where they were greeted by American airmen and their commanders.

Colonel Michael Winters, vice commander of the 100th Air Refuelling Wing, said: “The US and UK have long benefited from an alliance against common enemies.

“This partnership continues today where each of our airmen is serving bravely and making immeasurable contributions to serving in overseas campaigns. It is exactly this type of common purpose and mutual trust that fortifies good relations here and abroad.”

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