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Tuesday, 19 March, 2002, 20:05 GMT
Arbroath's military men
45 Commando on live exercise
45 Commando on a final training exercise in Dundee
The Scottish fishing town of Arbroath has been home to the Royal Marines Úlite 45 Commando unit for almost two decades.

As they prepare to leave for their dangerous mission in Afghanistan, local people have been paying tribute to the contributions the marines make to everyday life.

It was in 1971 - after 24 years of operational service abroad - that the unit took over the former Royal Navy facility, HMS Condor.

The commandos' impressive military pedigree has been well documented, but their role within the community of Arbroath and the wider area of Angus has received fewer public plaudits.

When the troops go out to Afghanistan, they will be known as the Arbroath boys, they are our lads, regardless of where they came from originally

Cncllr Alistair Gray
When much of Angus became snowbound in the late 1990s, they were on hand to release people from trapped cars and ferry them to safety at a temporary shelter they had set up in Forfar.

Charities in and around Arbroath also rely on the support of 45 Commando.

Arbroath North councillor Alistair Gray said personnel were particularly helpful to elderly and disabled groups and were "very much a part of community life".

"They live in the town, they send their children to the local primary and secondary schools, they support the shops and other businesses and they enjoy a good social life at the pubs and clubs," said Councillor Gray.

Freemen of Angus

News of 45 Commando's deployment to Afghanistan comes just months after Angus Council unanimously agreed to bestow it with the Freedom of Angus.

Military role
Northern Ireland in the 1970s and '80s for operational tours
The Falkland Islands in 1982 to defeat Argentine forces
Northern Iraq in 1991 to help with the humanitarian assistance mission for suffering Kurdish people
The Kuwaiti border in 1994 to take part in combatting fresh attacks from Iraq
Kosovo in 2000 for a six-month operational tour to help the work of the United Nations

The motion brought by Councillor Brian Milne said the honour was for the "valuable part the Royal Marines have played in society both at the home in Angus and throughout the world".

The council said it was an important gesture which recognised the "long and close association between the regiment and the people of the district".

The honour is essentially symbolic, but under the rules, the commandos can march anywhere in the district with "bayonets fixed, drums beating and flags flying".

Many ex-marines remain in the area after their military service has ended.

Some work in the oil-related industries, others join its engineering works, breweries or become involved with Arbroath's famous smoked haddock production.

Prayers for unit

Councillor Gray said the area would be "devastated" if 45 Commando left Arbroath.

"The unit is part of us, it would be a real tragedy if it were to leave tomorrow. It would have an impact on both business and the community," he predicted.

"When the troops go out to Afghanistan, they will be known as the Arbroath boys, they are our lads, regardless of where they came from originally.

"The next few months will be hard, but it is something we have been expecting. The unit has been on stand-by for some time.

45 Commando in Kosovo
45 Commando have worked in the mountains of Kosovo
"We just pray that everyone who goes out comes home again," added Councillor Gray.

The 25,000-strong community was already rallying round the wives, girlfriends and sons and daughters of the troops.

"We did it in the early 1980s during the Falklands war and we will do it again - we are a strong community," said Councillor Gray.

It is no accident that 45 Commando has been called up for duty in Afghanistan because of its specialist knowledge of combat in severe weather conditions.

'Simply the best'

Taleban troops remain high in the snow-covered mountain regions of Afghanistan.

But 45 Commando know how to access difficult areas thanks to invaluable experience during duties abroad and training in the Scottish mountains and arctic Norway.

Andrew Welsh, the Scottish Parliament's MSP for Arbroath, said the troops were "simply the best".

He added: "They are the best trained for the job. There is a paradox in democracy.

"We expect our armed forces to be of the highest quality yet we hope to never have to use them.

"But we know when the Royal Marines go out there they will do their duty and do it well."

BBC Scotland's Alan Grant reports
"It has been something of a long wait for the Marines based here in Arbroath"
See also:

19 Mar 02 | UK Politics
UK troops face 'murderous enemy'
18 Mar 02 | UK Politics
Commandos head to Afghanistan
19 Mar 02 | South Asia
Bush warns of battles ahead
14 Nov 01 | UK
UK's mountain warfare elite
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