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Page last updated at 15:45 GMT, Thursday, 22 July 2010 16:45 UK
Wattisham Army Air Corps regiments in Afghanistan
By Andrew Woodger
BBC Suffolk

Helmand river in Aghanistan
A view of the Helmand river in Afghanistan from an Apache

Some of Suffolk's soldiers are getting Afghanistan campaign medals and also preparing to return there.

Prince Charles attended a ceremony on Angel Hill in Bury St Edmunds where 3 Regiment Army Air Corps troops are being honoured.

The regiment's three squadrons are also getting the freedom of the Borough of St Edmundsbury.

653 Squadron arrived back from the conflict in May, and their next tour of duty starts later in 2010.

Since 2007, all of the Army Air Corps' Apache attack helicopters have been based at Wattisham Station near Stowmarket.

Their role is to provide air cover and support to ground troops.

Major Chris Bisset is the officer commanding 653 Squadron, 3 Regiment Army Air Corps, which is taking part in the ceremony in Bury.

"Our role, although highly technical, is slightly easier than the role of the guys on the ground who are really faced with horrendous challenges - the weather, the heat, the amount of equipment they have to carry."

3 Regiment Army Air Corps, 653 squadron members at Wattisham Station
Mssrs Inglekhan, Bisset, Porter and Horton at Wattisham

Quiff-free

Captain Jason Porter, from Maryport in Cumbria, is a ground support flight commander with 653 Squadron.

His role is to co-ordinate the refuelling, engineering, arming and flight team so that the Apache is ready to go up in the air.

"I wouldn't think it's glamorous! I'm not like a pilot with long hair and quiffs and a lot of extra money, but it's a job that has to be done.

"It's satisfying to see the aircraft lift on time with the correct ammunition and it's equally satisfying to see them come back with the aircrew safe," said Captain Porter.

Apart from when the Apache flight crews go out, Army Air Corps members remain in Camp Bastion which is the main British base in Afghanistan's Helmand province.

There's little interaction with the local population.

"There's a lot of amenities there for the troops and we haven't got much time on our hands to get bored," said Captain Porter.

"The feeling is that we're there for a reason and we're doing a really good job.

"The longer we can provide that job, then the longer we've got a safer environment back home for people like yourself.

"It's fantastic to get parcels and packages full of sweets and treats that you really do miss.

"It's nice to get a little card off somebody that you don't even know. It's a nice little morale booster."

The men say a regular, popular passtime is watching televised British football on Saturday afternoons.

They also stage triathlons and marathons on the base to raise money for the Help For Heroes campaign.

Soldiers marching at Wattisham Station, Suffolk
Marching within the speed limit at Wattisham Station

Back home

Air trooper Daniel Horton, from Telford in Shropshire, is a weaponry storeman at Camp Bastion. He's enjoying being back in Suffolk.

"You come back and you've got a couple of weeks' leave. Things were fast-paced at Bastion and it's nice to be back to see your friends and family and have a drink in a pub at the weekend.

"Our local beverage out there is a NAAFI brew - tea, coffee and chocolate - or something called 'near beer' which is non-alcoholic and the closest we could feel to sitting in a pub and having a beer with the lads."

Coping with fatalities

So far, no-one from Wattisham has been killed in Afghanistan, but at Camp Bastion, the Army Air Corps are living alongside ground forces who are engaging directly with the Taliban.

"The only way to deal with it is to reassure yourself that you die for a reason and a purpose and to strengthen your own resolve to get on with your job," said Captain Porter.

"It's never 'just another soldier', but it's more personal if you know them."

Lance Corporal Tom Inglekhan, from Lancaster, is a landing point commander.

"When a British soldier does die, they do a remembrance parade and all the British troops at Bastion gather together," he said.

"I personally didn't know anyone who died, but hearing the speeches off the people who did know them was very upsetting.

"But we just have to get on with it."

653 Squadron is due to go back to Afghanistan in September 2010.

"The situation on the ground is changing all the time," said Major Bisset. "We're always facing new challenges and I'm looking forward to the progress that's being made."




SEE ALSO
In pictures: Wattisham in Afghanistan
22 Jul 10 |  People & Places
Brigade gets freedom of borough
22 Jul 10 |  Suffolk
RAF airmen return to home base
22 Jul 10 |  Suffolk
In pictures: Prince Harry at Honington
14 Jul 10 |  People & Places
In pictures: HMS Quorn in Ipswich
08 Jul 10 |  People & Places
Apache squadrons move to one base
09 Mar 07 |  England

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