Grand welcome as troops return home

AN airman whose best friend was killed in Iraq has told how his regiment was attacked up to 15 times a day in its toughest tour of duty since the Second World War.

AN airman whose best friend was killed in Iraq has told how his regiment was attacked up to 15 times a day in its toughest tour of duty since the Second World War.

Just under 100 members of 1 Squadron RAF Regiment returned to RAF Honington on Sunday to an emotional reunion with loved ones after a five-and-a-half month tour in Iraq.

They told of the devastating loss of four servicemen killed during the tour but said they were forced to “get on with the job” in the face of fierce fighting.

Leading aircraftman Jon Vogel, 22, spoke of the death of his best friend, LAC Martin Beard, 20, who was killed during a foot patrol north of Basra airbase.

He said: “The only thing you think about is coming home safe. I lost one of my best friends there and I am going to see his family. But even then you have to get on with the job.”

LAC Vogel, awarded his Operation Telic medal yesterday, only passed out a year ago and within months of joining the regiment found himself under fire in Iraq.

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He said of his first tour: “I did not expect to be in contact that often - even after all the briefings we got.

“We expected contact maybe two or three times a week but it was between 10 and 15 times a day.”

Desperate to see his wife Jayne and his two children, Flight Sergeant Brad Daniel said: “We lost four men in total. It was devastating but we had to consolidate and we managed to regroup with outstanding results.”

Squadron Leader Jason Sutton said: “It has been a really tough tour, probably the toughest for this regiment since the Second World War.”

He said a “number” of personnel were injured during the tour, refusing to specify exactly how many.

After a period of leave, the airmen - 37 of whom were awarded the Operation Telic medal - will be back at RAF Honington to prepare for a tour to Afghanistan scheduled for next year.

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