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Last Updated: Monday, 8 October 2007, 16:47 GMT 17:47 UK
Welcoming UK troops home
By Alexis Akwagyiram
BBC News

British troops in Basra
UK troops are currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan

Senior figures in the armed forces have expressed concern about the reception received by military personnel returning to the UK.

BBC News considers the issue of holding parades.

In recent weeks, the debate over the UK's treatment of military personnel returning from Iraq and Afghanistan has been increasingly scrutinised.

Gen Sir Richard Dannatt, the head of the British Army, said he is becoming increasingly concerned about "the growing gulf between the Army and the nation".

In a speech last month, he suggested the work carried out by troops - and the sacrifices that form an integral part of their job - were not being acknowledged.

"Soldiers want to be understood and they want to be respected for their commitment," he said, adding: "When a young soldier has been fighting in Basra or Helmand, he wants to know that the people in their local pub know and understand what he has been doing and why."

The MoD welcomes any measures to promote the excellent work that our troops are doing when deployed
MoD spokesman

He also compared the appreciation of soldiers in the US with the stance taken by some in the UK. In doing so, he made a reference to some residents in Ashtead, Surrey, who objected to plans to turn a local house into a base for families of wounded soldiers receiving treatment nearby.

Meanwhile, recent research suggests the UK's involvement in two long-standing conflicts is taking its toll on those deployed.

Research findings reported in the British Medical Journal in August suggest prolonged periods of service in Iraq and Afghanistan are putting the armed forces at risk of psychological problems.

The study by researchers at King's College London, which was based on 5,500 regular troops, found that about 20% were on tour for longer than recommended.

And long deployments were found to be associated with an increased risk of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

However, not everyone in the upper echelons of the armed forces believe parades would help to prevent what Gen Dannatt suggested was a situation in which people's "willingness to serve" was sapped by public indifference.

In an interview with the Times newspaper, Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup expressed scepticism about the possibility of such becoming commonplace - also suggesting that they would not prove to be popular among troops.

'More recognition'

"I think a lot of units wouldn't want parades," he told the newspaper.

Aside from the issue of whether or not troops would want homecoming parades, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) stressed that such events would not be the responsibility of the armed forces, but of local authorities.

Referring to Gen Dannatt's comments, an MoD spokesman said: "Sir Richard was saying there should be more recognition of the armed forces in the public. It is not for the MoD to push this on the public.

"It is for the local authority to decide what would be appropriate."

And, in regards to concerns about public interest in returning servicemen and women, he went on: "The MoD welcomes any measures to promote the excellent work that our troops are doing when deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan or anywhere else."

We believe the best way for all of us to honour those who have served is to offer practical assistance and to pressure Parliament
Peter Cleminson
Royal British Legion

The Local Government Association (LGA) agreed that the issue of parades was a local matter, although it encouraged the practice.

Simon Milton, who chairs the LGA, said: "Whilst this is a matter for local discretion, some councils will want to ensure soldiers get the home coming they deserve and recognise the sacrifices they have made.

"Councils will do everything in their power to make sure that soldiers get a homecoming fit for heroes."

The debate surrounding the possibility of holding parades appears to be part of the wider issue of the duty of care owed to servicemen and women.

In recent months, senior military figures have warned that British forces are stretched to the limit on operations in Afghanistan and Iraq and there have been complaints about inadequate equipment.

'Duty of care'

And there has also been criticism of the care and support given to some wounded personnel on their return from conflict, as well as the backlog in coroners' inquests for service personnel killed serving their country.

Concerns about the treatment of military personnel have also been expressed by the Royal British Legion, which echoed Gen Dannatt's sentiments.

The national chairman of the forces charity, Peter Cleminson, said: "We believe the best way for all of us to honour those who have served is to offer practical assistance and to pressure Parliament to ensure that the promise of a life-long duty of care to servicemen and women and their families is fulfilled."

He added that while it supported "any possible decisions taken by local authorities to arrange homecoming parades at a local level, we encourage the nation to continue the tradition of wearing a poppy through Remembrance in November".

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