Suffolk's heroes return

VIDEO FOR the first time in three months, Rosie and Rob Rushen-Smith can today cast their worries aside as their teenage son is finally home from Afghanistan.

FOR the first time in three months, Rosie and Rob Rushen-Smith can today cast their worries aside as their teenage son is finally home from Afghanistan.

At just 18-years-old Private Paul Rushen-Smith, from Felixstowe is one of the youngest in the 1st Battalion of The Royal Anglian regiment and has already seen more than most will ever see in their lifetime.

On his return to the UK yesterday, with 107 other soldiers from the battalion's B 'Suffolk' Company, he was looking forward to establishing some normality for the next ten days before he is back to begin training for the next mission.

Mrs Rushen-Smith, of Ranelagh Road, Felixstowe, said: “He looks so well. It looks like he has grown up a lot and his hair is longer.”

Pte Rushen-Smith added: “It is strange to be back and see everyone. There were a few hairy times out there but it was good.

“I'm looking forward to getting home and going to the pub.”

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The returning soldiers were the final group to arrive back home following the toughest six months in the battalion's history.

The Vikings, as the battalion is known as, have suffered nine fatalities since Operation Herrick began in April, including Pte Aaron McClure, of Marlow Road, Ipswich, who died alongside two others, in a friendly fire incident in Helmand Province in August.

The three soldiers died when a bomb was dropped by a US F15 fighter jet during a battle with the Taliban.

Scores of families and friends formed a homecoming reception at the regiment's base in Pirbright, Surrey, and emotional scenes were played out as the troops were reunited with loved ones following the gruelling tour.

Major Mark Nicholas of the Royal Anglian, the battalion's adjutant, said: “We have got an extraordinary tale to tell. The real difference with our team is that we got out of the static bases and went after the Taliban - that was what made this successful.

“They have all done a fab job.

“It was an intense tour and it was very difficult for them when the lads got killed.”

The soldiers are now on leave for a few days before heading back to work.

At this stage it is thought next year will be spent training and 2009 will see a deployment to Iraq.

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Pte Rushen-Smith, of, began his basic training a year ago at Catterick and passed out in April. He turned 18 in May and then was sent to the war-torn country in July.

Since then his parents have been constantly worried about what could happen and weekly prayers have been said for him at their local church.

Mrs Rushen-Smith said: “When he first went out there, he phoned home because he was home sick but he seems to have come through that and just got on with it.

“He has had lots of experiences out there and has even learned to drive.

“He is a great hero to us.”

Mrs Rushen-Smith said it was good being able to send messages via websites, like The Evening Star, as he was able to receive them straight away whereas parcels took ten days to arrive.

Mary Tanner-Tremaine, of Days Green, Capel St Mary, was delighted to see her 24-year-old son, Joseph, return from the tour, which he joined when it first began in April.

The 58-year-old said: “It has been very traumatic. They have seen lots of action and have seen things that parents would not want their children to see.

“He has seen too much and he has cried to me about it. He was there when the friendly fire incident happened and helped with the casualties.

“I feel so much for those parents who are not able to come up here and greet their sons back home. I don't know how they have coped.

“You never get used to it. Everyday you think 'I hope they are safe.'

“I think it would be nice for Ipswich to do something to welcome them back. They have all done a good job and deserve recognition for that.

Joseph , who has been in the army for about five years, was greeted by his two sisters, Claire, 29, and Rachel, 26, and his father Roland when he returned to Capel St Mary.

He said: “I've been waiting for the last few days to come home. It can get quite boring. “It's good to be back. I can't wait to sleep in my own bed.

“The tour has been good though we have taken quite a few casualties.”

Luke Geater, of Cattsfield, Stutton, was met by girlfriend of two years, Sophie Alexander.

The 21-year-old said: “When I got off the bus, I was just looking for Sophie. I don't really like crowds like this and was just keen to get home.

“I was in Afghanistan for the whole six months - it was proper war fighting. I have been to Iraq before but Afghanistan was full on. At times it was quite boring too.

“I'm looking forward to relaxing and having some good food.”

The Royal Anglian regiment was formed in 1964 from old East Anglian regiments, which dated back more than 300 years.

Operation Herrick has been the battalion's most challenging tour to date. During the course of 350 engagements with the enemy, more than 1000 Taliban fighters have been killed by the battle group.

Fighting has taken place all over Helmand Province and in particular, the Green Zone, between the towns of Gereshk and Kajaki, where the Taliban previously considered itself to be secure.

Locating the Taliban fighters, helping casualties, and coping with the extreme climate and terrain has been tough on the troops.

Yet the transformation of the town of Sangin exceeded the battalion's expectations. Since the start of the tour, there have been a number of large reconstruction projects put in place, including irrigation work, repairing electricity transformers, constructing wells and opening schools and medical clinics.

There has also apparently been a swing of public support away from the Taliban and behind the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and coalition forces.

Yet success has not come without a cost, as nine soldiers have been killed, 57 wounded in action and 78 non-battle casualties.