Volunteer soldiers face Iraq challenge

VIDEO A close-knit group of volunteer soldiers from Ipswich is today undergoing the final stages of their training before being deployed to Iraq to serve alongside regular army troops.

A CLOSE-knit group of volunteer soldiers from Ipswich is today undergoing the final stages of their training before being deployed to Iraq to serve alongside regular army troops.

The Territorial Army soldiers, some of them as young as 18, are undergoing intensive training at the army's Reserves Training and Mobilisation Centre at Chilwell, near Nottingham.

The group from the 202 Transport Squadron will be running convoys from the Kuwait border to Basra in southern Iraq within four months.

They left the squadron base in Yarmouth Road, Ipswich, amid emotional scenes on Sunday for two weeks' training at Chilwell before being sent to Germany where they will undergo three months of rigorous preparation for deployment.

Today the squadron's Captain Rick Dzierozynski said: “It's a very important job. Running convoys up there can be quite dangerous.”

And their OC, Stuart Bruce, said: “It's a privilege in seeing them going out. We're apprehensive to make sure they all come back in one piece.

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“The people of Ipswich should be very, very proud that they've got so many going out there.

“They're going to miss their loved ones, they're family and friends. They're probably facing the fear factor as well.”

Among the group are supermarket shelf stackers, telecommunications engineers and lorry drivers. For most it is their first experience in "operational theatre".

Ten of the 14 are from Ipswich and east Suffolk, while the others regularly travel to Ipswich from around the region for training.

The youngest are 18, barely out of school, while others are in their late thirties and one is 40. Some left behind girlfriends while others faced the tough task of explaining to their young children why daddy would be gone for much of the next nine months.

Family and friends gathered at the TA centre to farewell the group when they headed off in a convoy of minivans.

Marianne Finch, of Grundisburgh, mother of 18-year-old Matt Finch, said: “We're very proud. He's wanted to be in the services since he was about 10 or 11 years old.”

And Bob Brown, father of Andrew Brown from Appleby Close, Ipswich, said: “We're a little bit apprehensive obviously. A lot of his friends say 'why the hell are you going?' but somebody has to go out there and do it.”

The group of part-time volunteers will deploy to Iraq at the end of May for a sixth-month tour. They will be part of the 2 Logistics Support Regiment.

Today they were undergoing a series of initial checks and basic training to ensure they will be able to serve in Iraq.

Mr Dzierozynski said: “First of all it's medicals, dentists inspections and then if they pass that they then go on to further training.”

After leaving Chilwell, they will be based at Gutersloh in Germany where they will meet up with the regular soldiers of 2 Logistics Support Regiment and be expected to rise to the high fitness and skills standards expected of regular army soldiers.

They will return home to Ipswich for an Easter break before heading back to Germany ready for deployment to Iraq.

“The plans are they'll deploy to Kuwait, then support the troops that are left in Basra,” Mr Dzierozynski said.

Send a message of support to the TA soldiers by writing to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

202 Transport Squadron is part of 158 Transport Regiment

TA soldiers from Ipswich train every Tuesday evening at the TA Centre in Yarmouth Road

The 14 leaving from the Ipswich base will form part of a 39-strong group from the regiment going to Iraq

2008 is the 100th year of the Territorial Army

STAFF Sergeant James Tonner was not only saying goodbye to troops he had trained when the TA soldiers left Ipswich but he also paid an emotional farewell to his daughter, Nicole.

The 18-year-old from Onehouse was among the group of 14 soldiers who left for their final training before being sent to Iraq.

Mr Tonner has been based in Ipswich three years and his daughter is among those he has trained.

Nicole, who joined the TA in September 2006, said her father had helped to put her fears about heading into a war zone to one side.

“Dad's put my mind at rest," she said.

“It's going to be hard but we'll get through it. It will be an experience.”

Her father, 39, said the group his daughter was a part of was well-prepared for their service in Iraq.

“It will be a steep learning curve but they'll hit the ground running," he said.

“The majority of them are young. They will come back a lot more mature.

“There is a slim chance (of something going wrong) but it is slim. I know there's a welfare network in place, that will help Nicole.”

MORRISON'S shelf-stacker and check-out girl Tahnee Hearn discarded plans of becoming a PE teacher when she got a taste for life in the army.

Now she “can't wait to leave” for Iraq.

“My friends think I'm mad, they don't want me to leave,” she said. “It's going to be a lot different to scanning things at the till.”

The former Westbourne High School pupil, who at 19 is one of the youngest being deployed from Ipswich, joined the TA in 2006.

This will be her first operational theatre deployment.

“I guess at the end of the day if you want to join the army you're almost guaranteed to get an operational theatre,” she said.

“Originally I wanted to go into PE teaching. I spent a lot of time in the TA and as I went through my training it made me realise how much I prefer this lifestyle.”

But weighing heavy on the teenager's mind is the loss of her good friend Aaron McClure, from Marlow Road, Ipswich, who was killed last year in a friendly fire incident in Afghanistan.

Private Hearn said: “Aaron was one of my closest friends. I grew up with him and we were army cadets together.

“I'd put my name down before that happened and at the end of the day we've got different jobs. Aaron was an infantry soldier. I don't think I'll be in any kind of danger like that.

“His death has hit my parents a lot harder because you never think it's going to happen to someone so close and then it does.

“As much as she is proud of me for doing what I'm doing, I think my mum would still like to think I'm not going.”

ANDREW Brown saw deployment to Iraq as the “next step” in his time with the Territorial Army.

The 24-year-old lance corporal from Appleby Close, Ipswich, has worked with regular soldiers in the past, including a stint with soldiers from Sandhurst in Cyprus, but the Iraq tour will be his first time in a battlefield - known as “operational theatre”.

He said: “I've done all my training so it was the next step really.

“I wanted to go in the regs (regular army) but my weight was stopping me at the time.

“It was a mixture of excitement and apprehension when I received my call-up letter. As soon as I saw the military stamp on it I knew straight away what it was.”

The former Hadleigh High pupil said his family was apprehensive about his posting. “I think they're nervous, you can tell.”

DAN Coote is a virtual veteran among the TA soldiers heading to Iraq.

He returned to Ipswich in May last year after a tour of Afghanistan and he immediately knew he wanted another tour.

“I had a superb tour last time,” the 22-year-old from Hawthorn Drive, Ipswich, said.

“As soon as I came back last time I said 'I'm interested'. You wouldn't be here if you weren't.

“Every tour is different, it will be a good experience to get out in Germany for a few months.”

Lance Corporal Coote has been working as a truck driver since returning from Afghanistan but he knows driving trucks in Iraq will be a completely different ball game.

“This time I know what's going to happen, I know how the system works.”

GRUNDISBURGH teenager Matt Finch has hopes of joining the regular army once he has finished his tour of Iraq.

The 18-year-old from Post Mill Gardens has been in the TA only a year-and-a-half but already feels ready to head to one of the world's most dangerous places.

“The TA has exceeded my expectations. I've got a lot out of lot,” the former Farlingaye High student and lab technician at Specsavers in Felixstowe said.

“I hadn't even done my basic training when the chance to go to Iraq came up. I was all over it like a rash.

“I'm keen to just get out to Iraq and get on with the job I joined up to do.”

ZAC Sutton believes it wouldn't make sense to join the TA and not want to go to war.

The 23-year-old from Jeavons Lane, Kesgrave, said: “Without being cliché it's the job at the end of the day.”

Lance Corporal Sutton joined the regular army straight out of school at 16 but found he was too young for such a huge change to his life so he changed his mind and returned home.

That didn't stop him going back into the cadets before joining the TA four years ago and now he feels ready for his first tour.

The telecommunications engineer said: “Sixteen was too young. Most 16-year-old haven't got a clue.

“I've been in green since I was 12 so it's all I know.”

PAUL Campbell simply left a note on a table at home telling his parents he'd be back in nine months when he left for Chilwell.

The 28-year-old lance corporal from Newbourne was relaxed about his impending posting to Iraq.

He said: "My parents are in Bahrain. I just left them a note on the table saying I'll be back in October.

“It's exciting. When the opportunity comes up you do it.”

The boat builder, sailor and truck driver is readying himself for his first tour after three years in the TA.

“At first there'll be a bit of conflict with the regular guys but you need to quash that immediately. You can do that through your actions, by working hard."

PRIVATE Chris Roberts believes the group from the Ipswich TA centre are more than ready for their stint in Iraq.

The 22-year-old lorry driver from Norman Crescent, Ipswich, has been in the TA for four years and is looking forward to his first operational tour.

"I just want to get out there and do my job," he said.

"We won't know what it's actually like until we get out there but from what I see we're going to be ready for it."

GABRIEL Naimhwaka left behind his life in Namibia seven years ago and swapped it for a new one in Ipswich.

Now he's leaving that life behind for service in Iraq.

The 32-year-old private, who lives in Grimwade Street, Ipswich, with his wife and two daughters, aged four and two, is more used to factory work but he is thinking of joining the regular army when he returns home.

"I wanted to do something in my life to gain more experience," he said.

"I'm imagining it will be very, very challenging but as we get on we will get used to it and I don't think we'll have any trouble.”

GETTING to the level of fitness that regular army soldiers are famed for will be the biggest challenge for the Ipswich TA soldiers, according to 23-year-old Bradley Hambling.

Private Hambling, 23 from Radcliffe Drive, Ipswich, said heading to a place like Iraq as “something I've always wanted to do”.

"Originally I'd wanted to go into the regulars but because of a medical condition I couldn't.

"I'll take it every day as it comes when we're out there. It's all going to be a learning curve.

"The one thing I wanted to do was just to say I've done one (operational theatre) to experience army life.”

LISA Jones travelled first from Essex and more recently Norfolk to get a taste of the skills which 202 Transport Regiment trains its volunteers in.

The office worker from Bressingham, Norfolk, wanted to get behind the wheel of army trucks so she joined the Ipswich squadron.

Now she's headed to Iraq to drive vital supplies to British troops.

The 31-year-old private said: "I've always been stuck in an office job so it's nice to get out and about.

"I don't think my work mates can picture me driving big trucks and firing big guns. A of them don't know.”

PRIVATE Chris Gilbert says heading to Iraq is what he has trained to do.

The 22-year-old from Braintree said: "We're putting the training into practice.

"I'm a little bit apprehensive but I think that's to be expected. I'm quite looking forward to it.”

TRAIN driver Paul Southernwood is more used to driving 'one' trains through Ipswich than setting off from the town on his first operational tour.

The 40-year-old Colchester father-of-one said the toughest part was leaving his family behind.

"It's quite daunting. It's a long time to be away from family and friends," Private Southernwood said.

"It's very tough. The hardest part is being separated from my family and my girlfriend.”

MOSES Millard is more used to asking people if 'they'd like fries with that' than dealing with the heat of a war zone.

But that's exactly what he'll be doing when he leaves the McDonald's restaurant where he works behind for a six-month tour of Iraq.

The 38-year-old father-of-two from Colchester has clocked up more than 16 years in the TA. He was part of the Iraq invasion and will be heading out on his third operational tour when the group is deployed in May.

"The first time scared me half to death. I looked at the call-up envelope and it was as if someone had died," he said.

"At first it was hard but once you get over there I had to get into line straight away."