Page last updated at 23:01 GMT, Wednesday, 29 April 2009 00:01 UK

Families welcome home Iraq troops

By Clive Myrie
BBC News

Sqn Ldr Paul and Laura Cox
The Coxes have so far been apart for most of their marriage

With the UK mission in Iraq ending after more than six years, military families are being reunited as the troops return home.

Squadron Leader Paul Cox of the Queen's Royal Hussars Regiment (QRH), based in Paderborn in northern Germany, got married in December 2007.

The problem is, as his wife Laura who's a teacher told me, since then they've probably spent just three months together.

What with the training missions and military courses, and then a five-and-a-half-month deployment to Iraq, there's been little time for marriage.

Paul returned home to his wife earlier this week, his Iraqi tour of duty finally over.

"It's good to be home and back with the wifey," Sqn Ldr Cox said.

"But I'm proud of what we've been doing in Iraq, helping a country rebuild. Our part of that mission is over."

Sqn Ldr Cox was serving with QRH's B Squadron of about 80 men, some of who were helping to train Iraqi marines at the port of Umm Qasr in the south of the country.

"It was important work. I don't for a moment begrudge Paul being away, but it's so good to have him home," said Mrs Cox.

Ghost town

The Queen's Royal Hussars regimental barracks in Paderborn resembles a ghost town.

The unit is about 500 strong, but almost 400 troops, medics and support staff have been serving in Iraq since November 2008.

Alison Coles
All us wives know that despite our husbands being away we have to remain positive and upbeat for the sake of the children
Alison Coles

There are a few mechanics wielding spanners and wrenches in the vicinity of some of the QRH's Challenger 2 battle tanks sitting idly in hangars.

But a lot of the chatter on the base is among women, the wives left behind.

Alison Coles is the wife of the commanding officer of the regiment, Lt Col Christopher Coles, and he's still in Iraq.

"This is a strong, family regiment and all us wives know that despite our husbands being away for lengthy periods we have to remain positive and upbeat for the sake of the children. But it can be hard.

"Some of the wives married young, they haven't lived outside the UK for very long and all of a sudden their husbands disappear for months on end. It can be very tough on them."

Mission ending

But as the British mission in Iraq draws to a close more of the men of the Queen's Royal Hussars will soon be returning home.

Amy Hughes's husband Cpl Robert Hughes is on his first and last tour of duty in Iraq and he's still in Basra.

She said: "It's been hard at times but I now know he will be coming home. There is a real sense of community among the wives in the regiment and they've helped me while Rob has been away.

"It's important to keep yourself busy, that helps the time fly."

UK CASUALTIES IN IRAQ
Iraq casualties database graphic

I asked her what the first words will be she'll say to her husband when he returns from Iraq and they're reunited. "I don't know, I haven't thought about it."

I suspect when the time comes she'll know exactly what to say.

But as we enter the last days of the British mission in Iraq, the thoughts of the soldiers of the Queen's Royal Hussars who are about to come home, and the wives waiting for them, will shift.

From Iraq and the elation of reunion, to another war and possible deployment to Afghanistan in a couple of years' time.



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