Soldiers from 11 Light Brigade, who recently returned from Afghanistan, marched through London to the House of Commons yesterday where MPs thanked them for their hard work and sacrifice.
The reception for the 120 soldiers who represented the whole brigade was held following an invitation from James Gray MP.
The soldiers marched from Wellington Barracks, down Birdcage Walk, through Parliament Square, and finally through the Carriage Gates into the House of Commons, led by the Band of the Queen’s Division.
11 Light Brigade was deployed to Afghanistan from October 2009 to April 2010.
Speaking as the soldiers prepared to march, Minister for International Security Strategy, Gerald Howarth, said:
This is an opportunity for Parliament to welcome back 11 Brigade following their six-month tour of operations in Afghanistan.
It is a relatively new idea but one that was invented by James Gray MP who thought it would be appropriate for Parliament to make a public tribute on behalf of the British people.
We are all extremely conscious that while we have the joy of celebrating the return of those 120 who are here today, representing the rest of the brigade of course; at the same time we mourn the loss of 61 who gave their lives for this cause in Afghanistan on behalf of our country.
The Commander of 11 Light Brigade, Brigadier James Cowan, added:
I pay tribute to the living but also those that have given their lives, and also to the wounded. But what I would really like to focus on is that their sacrifice has not been in vain because of what has been achieved.
I think it is very hard to come to terms with a death or an injury but I think it is slightly easier if you know that we are making very considerable progress in this campaign and the loved ones of those that have been killed can draw great comfort from that.
The units that formed 11 Light Brigade were involved in all aspects of the campaign in Afghanistan from ground-holding and patrolling to mentoring and air operations.
The key operation of the tour was Operation MOSHTARAK which was undertaken with Afghan and US allies to clear and hold population centres in southern Helmand.
Seen as a very successful operation, 11 Light Brigade left secure and clear areas for 4th Mechanized Brigade to take over the ‘building’ phase - increasing security and building civil institutions.
One soldier at yesterday’s event, Corporal Spiros Parry of 1st Battalion The Royal Welsh, was one of those that took part in Operation MOSHTARAK.
Based in Camp Bastion, Corporal Parry was part of an air assault asset conducting short and sharp operations where needed for up to ten days. Corporal Parry explained:
My job was the CO’s [Commanding Officer’s] signaller to report back to Bastion and talk to the companies out and about. Giving the CO all the operational awareness.
The hype for the operation was enormous. Even the rehearsals for it as we were working with the Afghans and the French and other nations so everybody had to be synched for it.
In our case Operation MOSHTARAK went very, very well. We hit the place running I think. We got there and got settled in very quick. In day two we were already taking part in shuras and talking to village elders and all that - getting amongst it.
Another of those marching yesterday was Staff Sergeant Jason McLoughlin of 28 Engineer Regiment. Operation HERRICK 11 was his second tour of Afghanistan and during the six months there he was based at Forward Operating Base Inkerman in Sangin and also took part in Operation MOSHTARAK, tasked with the construction of Forward Operating Bases and Patrol Bases (FOBs and PBs).
Staff Sergeant McLoughlin explained his role during the tour:
I was based in FOB Inkerman in Sangin for the first five months mainly doing construction and force support for the infantry - putting guys out on patrol, giving them means of explosive exit or entry into compounds if they required it.
We also built quite a lot of FOBs and PBs. We built PB Sugar and PB Sangar from scratch as well as a couple of outposts.
The primary role was to secure supply lines and put in the PBs along Route 611 which not only made freedom of movement better for ISAF troops but also made freedom of movement easier for locals.
This is my second tour of Afghanistan but this was completely different from my first tour in 2006. This time was totally different and as soon as you were outside the PB you were in contact with the insurgents - you just expected it to come.
You deal with it by doing a very quick risk assessment - calculating how quickly something needs to be built compared to the risk involved.
Staff Sergeant McLoughlin explained that the reception the troops have received ever since their return has been amazing and the honour of being invited to Parliament is just further evidence of the great support given to troops:
The reception since we got back has been fantastic. It started with all the families - even though it was one o’clock in the morning!” he said.
Today is great to get back with some of the guys we served with. Also it is always nice to be recognised and be thanked for your efforts.
Following their arrival at the Palace of Westminster the troops were offered guided tours around both houses by MPs and had a private reception in Westminster Hall.