Suffolk soldier glad to be home

A SUFFOLK soldier spoke today of the horrors of the often forgotten war in Afghanistan - where troops put their lives on the line daily against hidden enemies.

A SUFFOLK soldier spoke today of the horrors of the often forgotten war in Afghanistan - where troops put their lives on the line daily against hidden enemies.

On the day 40 Commando Royal Marines took over Helmand Province, Private Matthew Bridges' family literally put the flags out for his safe return - decorating their garden with union flags to welcome him home after a gruelling six months fighting the Taliban terrorists.

For Pte Bridges it had been an energy-sapping tour of duty, constantly alert to the attempts of suicide bombers to cause mayhem and snipers out to kill British infantrymen.

Just ten days into what was his first operational tour with the Army, one of his best friends, 19-year-old Private Chris Gray was shot dead just feet away from him while they were out on a routine patrol with their platoon.

The team from A Company of the 1st Battalion Royal Anglian Regiment were in Helmand Province when they came under small arms fire in an ambush. Several Taliban were killed.

“It was one of the first patrols we had done and it brings it home pretty quickly just how dangerous a situation you are in,” said Pte Bridges, 21, a former student at St Albans High School, Ipswich.

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“It was an intense firefight and the first time I had experienced anything like that.

“Even though you have months of intensive training, you don't realise until you get there what it's going to be like and it's a real job now.”

Pte Bridges, who lives with his mum Caroline and brother Christopher, 11, in Walton High Street, Felixstowe, joined the army nearly three years ago and is based at Pirbright.

During his time in Afghanistan, he was stationed in Sangin, helping to keep the Taliban away from the town with frequent forays into the valley around it.

As well as patrolling the town, the soldiers were required to go out into the valley's deadly “green zone” to force back the enemy.

“In the town it was very difficult because you had to be suspicious of everyone and keep alert to everything going on around you - the Taliban look just like everyone else and you had to be focussed and watch out for possible suicide bombers. The enemy could be anyone and anywhere,” said Pte Bridges.

“The green zone was different again. We would march for hours in this terrain, among fields of maize ten feet high, not able to see over the top, having to be mentally alert at all times in case of attack. It is mentally knackering.

“This was territory which the Taliban lived in and knew well, it was their land so they knew it best.

“They had all sorts of weapons and they were not scared of us. Some of the fighting would be pretty fierce, too, and at close quarters.”

But the success of the British operations could be clearly seen - with the Taliban being forced back, and Sangin changed from a deserted town into one in which people again felt safe to visit the bazaar and live in again.

“The commanders said we should be very proud of what we had achieved and we could see that we had made a real difference,” he said.

Do you have a family member in the forces? How important is it for them to have contact with people at home? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or e-mail EveningStarLetters@eveningstar.co.uk

MORALE among the troops is “very high” according to Felixstowe soldier Matthew Bridges.

But “blueys” from home - messages of support - really help keep the lads buoyant.

“We really are a close-knit team and we live and work so closely together and look out for each other all the time,” said Pte Bridges.

“Morale is very high all the time and everyone has a laugh. We do have bad times - especially when we lose someone - but there are good times, too.

“Messages from home really keep the spirits up. We can text and email, and make telephone calls occasionally - getting parcels and post is great.”

The troops had also carried out fundraising - with A Company alone raising £5,500 from various activities - for memorials and to provide support for the families of soldiers killed in action. The public can also donate to the appeal.

The Evening Star has helped the troops keep closer contact with their communities back home with a campaign for to enable readers to send your “blueys” in a bid to thank our Royal Anglian troops.

If you want to send your messages of support to our troops, visit www.eveningstar.co.uk/blueys

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