Video: Suffolk gunners off to Afghanistan

MORE than 100 Suffolk-based gunners have set off on a six-month mission to protect an airbase from insurgents in Afghanistan.

Laurence Cawley

MORE than 100 Suffolk-based gunners have set off on a six-month mission to protect an airbase from insurgents in Afghanistan.

The 140-strong detachment from 2 Squadron RAF Regiment were today packing up their kit and going through passport control at RAF Honington before heading off by coach to RAF Brize Norton for the flight to Kandahar Airbase.

Once there, the squadron will be responsible for maintaining base security which could include directly engaging militants armed with rockets or clearing up mines.

Among the 140 male gunners heading out from Suffolk to Afghanistan was one woman - Sharon Hornby - who plans to keep everybody in check.

Mrs Hornby, who is 40 and lives with her husband, who is also in the RAF, in Mildenhall, told how she rarely noticed the gender difference between her and the rest of the team.

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“I don't really notice it too much to be honest. They do look after me and they do look out for you and I suppose they do treat you slightly differently.

“But we are all exactly the same in uniform and we are all treated with the same respect.”

Mrs Hornby's role as the orderly room clerk includes arranging travel, flights, liaison with other departments and RAF Honington, pay queries and stationary orders.

“This is my fourth time in Kandahar - I know Kandahar airbase quite well though I've never been outside it. I know exactly what to expect.

“It is still quite scary because guys are still dying out there.”

She told how she and her husband, who have been married 12 years and met at RAF Honington, were both on tours together two years ago when two gunners from the RAF were killed in Afghanistan.

“That really hit home,” she said.

Mrs Hornby said she and her husband did miss one another when they were deployed but added their shared military careers meant they both understood the demands of the job.

For Senior Aircraftman Chris Denby, 27, of Lowestoft, this will be his first tour.

“I am a bit nervous and quite excited at the same time,” he said, adding the risk from explosive devices and small arms fire were “on your mind”. He said he would be following the advice from more experienced gunners who had been on tours before.

For SAC Ashley Watson, 25, of Mulbarton, this will be his second tour in Afghanistan. Over the coming months, SAC Watson will have to combine his military duties with organising his wedding later in the year.

He told how on his last tour in Afghanistan the lives of his unit were saved by a US Predator drone which detected he and his fellow gunners were approaching a Taliban ambush.