The parade commemorated the homecoming of 3 Commando Brigade from Operation HERRICK 14 and was followed by a service of Remembrance and thanksgiving at Exeter Cathedral.
Taking part in the parade and service were members of Plymouth-based 42 Commando Royal Marines, 30 Commando Royal Marines, and 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery; Chivenor-based 24 Commando Engineer Regiment and Commando Logistics Regiment, Gloucestershire-based 1st Battalion The Rifles (1 RIFLES), as well as elements of 7 Armoured Brigade, 101 Logistics Brigade, and 45 Commando Royal Marines.
Many of those taking part in the parade are either based in the West Country or were born there, and the people of the West Country turned out in force to show their support and gratitude, surrounding Exeter Cathedral as more than 1,000 Service personnel and their friends and family gathered inside for the poignant service.
Councillor Stella Brock, The Right Worshipful Lord Mayor of Exeter, said before the event:
As first citizen of this ever faithful and loyal city, it is with a great deal of pride and honour that Exeter will again play host to 3 Commando Brigade on their return from their latest tour of duty in Afghanistan.
They show true professionalism and dedication, often in difficult and trying circumstances and situations, and for which some have unfortunately paid the ultimate sacrifice.
Our thoughts are constantly with the families of our servicemen during these difficult times and we hope that Exeter will give them a fitting welcome home as they march through our streets.
In all, more than 6,500 servicemen and women from all three branches of the Armed Services deployed on the 3 Commando Brigade-led Op HERRICK 14 roulement. Half came from units which are part of 3 Commando Brigade itself.
They have been steadily returning home to all four corners of the West Country and beyond over the past six weeks.
Sadly, 23 servicemen were killed during the 3 Commando HERRICK 14 deployment. Many more have suffered life-changing injuries. During the thanksgiving service at Exeter Cathedral, a roll of honour including all of those servicemen killed in action was read out.
Brigadier Ed Davis, Commander of 3 Commando Brigade, said:
On the day that we remember and give thanks for the achievement and sacrifice of 6,555 brave and selfless men and women of Task Force Helmand during their recent six-month tour of duty in Afghanistan, I am humbled by the unwavering contribution made by every marine, soldier, sailor and airman that deployed on Operation HERRICK 14 to keep their country safe.
Irrespective of rank, cap badge or nation, each person played their part in full and achieved something very special: hope for a safer world and confidence in a brighter future for the people of Helmand. We owe them all our endless gratitude and respect.
The names of those who gave their lives, and the wounded, will be indelibly marked on our souls forever. Their sacrifice will not be forgotten and will forever be an inspiration to us all. Simply, their humanity, unyielding soldiering and insatiable desire to make a difference, made the difference.
I salute each and every one of them. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank our families and friends back home, particularly here in the South West, for their rock-solid support without which our task in Helmand would have been impossible.
While in Afghanistan, 3 Commando Brigade served under the name ‘Task Force Helmand’.
Its mission was to bring stability and security to Helmand province by building on the successes of previous brigades in protecting local people and preventing the country from once again being used as a safe haven for international terrorists.
Another key part of this mission was to keep the campaign of transition on track so that the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) will be in a position to take on responsibility for security in Afghanistan from 2015 onwards.
This involved training and advising the ANSF in key skills and trades such as: route clearance to remove and destroy lethal improvised explosive devices; developing the Afghan National Army’s ability to build roads, bridges and patrol bases and life-saving medical training.
A significant milestone on this road to handover in 2014 was achieved during the Op HERRICK 14 mission when responsibility for security in regional the Capital Lashkar Gah was handed over to the ANSF.
Key HERRICK 14 achievements included:
- 41,000 patrols were conducted.
- Across the whole area of operations 3 Commando Brigade experienced a 45 per cent reduction in insurgent attacks against ISAF and ANSF in comparison to previous years.
- Partnered operations with the ANSF were carried out.
- Seven-and-a-half tonnes of homemade explosive were discovered.
- 57km of road was constructed - taking the total in Helmand to 350km (equivalent to driving from Plymouth to London using the A303) - allowing greater security for people, freedom of movement for the ANSF, enabling trade links to develop and increased access to health care.
- Eight new clinics were built in Helmand increasing the total number to 58; enabling 90 per cent of the Helmand population to have access to primary health care.
- 50 per cent of the Afghan Police in Helmand achieved basic literacy levels.
- 650 shuras - or meetings with elders and communities - were held, with 100 more informal shuras held at local level.
- 40 schools were built in Helmand increasing the number to 133.
- Ten bazaars opened, housing a total of 300 shops.
At the end of their tour, 3 Commando Brigade leave behind a protected community of 450,000 inhabitants - approximately four times the population of Exeter or roughly equivalent to Bristol’s population.