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Thursday, 23 August, 2001, 09:50 GMT 10:50 UK
Net boost for Macedonia troops
troops prepare to leave
Nato troops will stay in Macedonia for just 30 days
By the BBC's Peter Gould

British soldiers in Macedonia are planning to use the internet to keep in touch with their families back home.

An internet cafe is being set up at their base, to provide them with access to email.

It is also hoped to install webcams to create a video link with their barracks at Colchester in Essex.

soldier checks his machine gun
More than 700 paratroopers will join the Nato force
Seven hundred members of the 2nd Battalion of the Parachute Regiment are spending the next month in Macedonia as part of a Nato operation called Essential Harvest.

They will join forces with troops from other nations in collecting weapons from ethnic Albanian guerrillas.

During previous deployments overseas, members of the armed forces have had to rely on letters or the occasional phone call to reassure their loved ones that they are safe and well.

Email boosts morale

It is a sign of the times that the British Army is now using the power of the internet to provide its soldiers with an instant, daily link with home.

The military version of the internet cafe should be good for the morale of the soldiers, and may help to lessen the anxiety of their families, concerned about the possible dangers in Macedonia.

Morale is sky high and the boys are raring to go

Captain Pete Flynn
Military leaders regard the task of collecting the guerrillas' weapons as a relatively low risk operation. But in the Balkans things are rarely simple, and everyone is aware of the potential for trouble.

Yet the battalion's adjutant, Captain Pete Flynn, insists that his paratroops can't wait to get out to Macedonia.

'Simple' mission

"Morale is sky high and the boys are raring to go," he said, as they headed off for a military airfield. "All the boys are happy with the mission because it's fairly simple. It's weapons collection, there's no peace keeping, there's no mandate to do anything else.

bandsman prepares to leave for Macedonia
A bandsman prepares to leave for Macedonia
"You never can tell with these sorts of operations what may develop in days to come, but one thing which has been key for the Balkans is that early intervention is normally the recipe for success, and we hope that's what we are doing this time."

Among the 700 members of 2 Para is 17-year-old Craig Sewell, from Barrow-in-Furness.

"I only joined the battalion about three weeks ago, so I've obviously not been in any action," he said.

"I'm looking forward to it. A lot of people have been waiting a long time to go on an operation, so it's good."

Excitement and anxiety

For younger members of the battalion, this is a chance to put their training to the test. On Wednesday, at their barracks in Colchester, there was the customary religious service held before troops go into action. The padre said their emotions were a mixture of excitement and anxiety.

It seemed an accurate description when I later talked to some of the men as they packed their bags.

Sgt Wayne Rackham said the older hands would act as father figures to younger members of the battalion. He felt that for all of them, their professional training would get them through the operation.

My wife is used to it, but my children do worry

Sgt Wayne Rackham
He said he did not think about the possible risks, although he knew that his family would be concerned about him while he was away.

"My wife is used to it, but my children do worry. They're a bit older so they look at the news and read papers. They don't know if you are going to come back. You've just got to tell them that everything is all right."

Corporal Darren Greedy said that the battalion was well prepared, physically and mentally, so it was just a case of getting the job done and then getting back home.

"We're as prepared as we can be," he said.

"The motto of the parachute regiment is 'ready for anything' and we think we are."

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