617 Squadron, 'The Dambusters', made an emotional return to RAF Lossiemouth on Monday following a successful four-month operational deployment in Afghanistan.
Around 130 personnel consisting of ground and air crews touched down on 16 July to a very welcome cool Scottish evening and were met by the RAF Lossiemouth Station Commander, Group Captain Ian Gale.
He praised their excellent achievements in theatre as Pipe Major Barry Ashby added some traditional accompaniment to the homecoming proceedings.
It was a difficult time for the families and friends of the returning heroes who watched the aircraft land a few hundred metres away, but had a further short wait until the coaches carrying their loved ones arrived at their location.
However, as the first returning men and women appeared between two Tornado GR4 aircraft, parked nose-to-nose to form an impressive gateway, the many expectant children, closely followed by wives, husbands, girlfriends, boyfriends and parents, all rushed forward to meet and embrace them.
Sergeant Kieren Brenchley, who had missed both his wife’s 30th and son’s fifth birthdays, said, as he hugged wife Claire, son Oliver and daughter Katie:
I’m delighted to be home, really pleased.
During their tour 617 Squadron were based at Kandahar Airfield and completed more than 600 Tornado GR4 missions with excellent results in direct support of UK and ISAF ground units plus a rapidly growing number of Afghan security forces.
In addition to expending dual-mode seeker Brimstone missiles and Paveway IV precision guided bombs and making strafe attacks they were also called on to carry out numerous ‘Shows of Force’ and ‘Shows of Presence’ and provide reconnaissance images for intelligence and counter-IED tasks.
Their Commanding Officer, Wing Commander Keith Taylor, said:
It was a highly successful deployment, in no small part due to all the training we did before we went. The guys and girls have really got on with it and there have been no low moments.
One of the ‘Shows of Force’ I carried out scattered Taliban insurgents allowing coalition forces to gain ground - it was one of my proudest moments.
Senior Aircraftwoman Alana Findlay, an armourer from Aberdeen, was on her first operational tour with 617 Squadron. She said:
It was nerve-wracking and I didn’t really want to go but it was a great experience and I’m glad I’ve done it.
My nephew was born on the day we left so I can’t wait to see him now I’m home,” she added.
There was an extra surprise for the returning ‘living-in’ officers who had missed the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations and Wimbledon.
They were treated to a special homecoming welcome in the mess by their friends and colleagues with bunting and a selection of British tea and treats including cucumber sandwiches, scones, strawberries and cream, red, white and blue cupcakes and Scottish shortbread. Flight Lieutenant Al Whitehead said:
The cakes were absolutely amazing. I am now looking forward to waking up in the morning and being able to put on a pair of jeans.