Family and friends of soldiers from the 1st Royal Tank Regiment (1 RTR) were joined by the local community of Bury St Edmunds yesterday at a thanksgiving service held to mark the regiment's return home from Afghanistan.
Following the service in Bury St Edmunds Cathedral, the soldiers marched into the centre of the market town where they were awarded their Op HERRICK campaign medals by the Lord-Lieutenant of Suffolk, Lord Tollemache. He was joined by the Mayor of St Edmundsbury, Councillor Tim Marks, and Brigadier Harry Nickerson, Commander of 49 (East) Brigade, who also presented medals.
Councillor Marks said:
It is an honour to welcome 1st Royal Tank Regiment to the town and I am delighted to have the opportunity to express appreciation of their service to us all.
Bury St Edmunds has a historic and close relationship with the Armed Forces, and I hope the troops recognise the warmth of our welcome and of our gratitude.
Over 230 soldiers from 1 RTR, known as the ‘Tankies’, based at RAF Honington, have deployed to Afghanistan over the last ten months in a variety of roles.
G Squadron was split into four 20-man troops and provided protected mobility to the infantry including 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment. Using the well-armoured Mastiff the troops moved the infantry between defensive positions and provided fire support to soldiers fighting on foot.
The regimental headquarters and other soldiers filled a number of positions throughout Helmand province, from support roles in Camp Bastion to key staff roles in the Brigade Headquarters. Other roles included training the Afghan Local Police and counter-improvised explosive device dog handlers.
H Squadron spent three months in Afghanistan as part of the reception, staging, onward movement and integration (RSOI) team for Operation HERRICK 16. RSOI is mandatory training and the final stage of a six-month-long training package to ensure that soldiers have the most up-to-date tactics, techniques, procedures and intelligence at their disposal.
It also provides a time for initial acclimatisation to allow the body to adapt to the harsh climate of Afghanistan, reducing the impact of heat on the body’s performance.
H Squadron returned in early June 2012 and handed the RSOI role over to D Squadron who deployed in August to do the same thing for Operation HERRICK 17.
H Squadron HQ then redeployed for a three-month tour to Cyprus to head up the decompression team. All troops returning from theatre spend 24 hours in Cyprus - a period of ‘decompression’ which provides a pause to allow the important step-change from Afghanistan’s operational tempo to that of returning to home life in the UK.
Captain Alex Holloway was joined on the parade by his brother, Captain Will Holloway. Captain Will Holloway was the second-in-command of H Squadron, whilst his brother was based in the Brigade Headquarters:
It was awesome to see so many people on parade,” said Captain Alex Holloway. “It was great to be on parade, not just as a regiment but also with my brother.
This was the first time the brothers had deployed at the same time and they are now looking forward to spending Christmas at home with their family.
Lance Corporal Tony Knowles, who served with G Squadron, said his first tour was an eye-opener and he was now looking forward to spending time with his family, including his five-month-old daughter, Amber:
The turnout for the parade has been great,” he said. “It’s good to see so many people come out and make an effort to support us, especially in this cold weather. All the guys appreciate it.
1 RTR’s Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Britton, said:
I am extremely proud of what the regiment has achieved. The soldiers make many sacrifices to fulfil their role and recognition of that by those at home is deeply appreciated.
We are extremely grateful for all the support that the local community has shown us over this period and very much appreciate St Edmundsbury Cathedral and St Edmunds Borough Council marking our return with this event. It means a great deal to the soldiers and their families.