Page last updated at 00:32 GMT, Monday, 21 September 2009 01:32 UK

Flags out for homecoming soldiers

Family members welcome home soldiers from the 33 Armoured Engineer Squadron at Swinton Barracks

By Barnie Choudhury
BBC News

So often this summer we have seen military flights land and soldiers carrying the coffins of their fallen comrades. But today there was a much happier sight.

The two coaches ferrying the 33 Armoured Engineer Squadron, 26 Engineer Regiment drove into Swinton Barracks in Wiltshire at 1800 BST, three hours after their plane landed at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire.

Inside the barracks' restaurant, dozens of friends and families waited anxiously.

If you looked closely you could see them pinching themselves, not daring to believe the day had come.

As the minutes ticked by husbands, wives, fathers, mothers and children glanced at their watches as they made nervous conversation.

Once they were given the word, they lined up in the car park, waving their union flags.

It's hard but you do get through it - and here we are today
Amy Roberts

And soon they were racing into each others' arms, eager to share their love and show their pride.

Among them was Amy Roberts, 24, from Bulford in Wiltshire, waiting for her husband who she wed just nine months ago.

They have not had time for a honeymoon so fixing it up will be a priority for her husband, L/Cpl Allister Roberts, 30.

"I've got that to look forward to booking now. I've got to find somewhere hopefully hot and exotic. But I've had enough of seeing sun and sand to be honest - but I'm sure I can make an allowance and go somewhere else."

Mrs Roberts, a classroom assistant, added: "We are thinking about Egypt or the Maldives - but I've only got one week off from work.

"We all feel the same feelings - married or unmarried. It's hard but you do get through it. And here we are today."

Young Cameron Leid welcomes home his dad, Sgt Leid
Young Cameron Leid welcomes home his father, Sgt Leid

The Ministry of Defence says the 104 Sappers took part in some of the bloodiest fighting of the campaign so far, playing a key role in the recent Operation Panther's Claw.

This operation focused on an area the size of the Isle of Wight. It was about pushing the Taliban out of areas of Helmand Province ahead of the Afghan presidential elections. Ten soldiers were killed during the offensive.

To date, 216 have died since Britain sent in troops in October 2001.

The soldiers know there is criticism that even now the results are unknown and are aware of the claims of electoral fraud.

But they brush aside the controversy saying they have a job to do - to make Afghanistan and the world safer.

'Intense times'

Squadron Commander Major Andy Hanna says they were well prepared for the challenges.

"There are times when it was exceptionally intense... more than some people would wish to experience in their lives.

"But the guys have been exceptionally well trained and been incredibly well equipped."

Others were also in this theatre of war. Supporting 19 Brigade, the Squadron was a troop of Queen's Gurkha Engineers. The Royal Engineers too played a significant part in Operation Panther's Claw.

They had to block or control 13 bridges over a canal as other troops pushed forward and provided combat support by clearing safe lines where roadside bombs had been laid.

The Ministry of Defence maintains its mission in Afghanistan is about making a difference to ordinary Afghans.

It believes that slowly it is succeeding and making the country a better place.

In the meantime, those returning to the UK can forget about the bloody battlefields of Afghanistan and enjoy the company of their family and friends.

But they know that all too soon, they will be training to return to Afghanistan in 2012.

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