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Page last updated at 15:56 GMT, Thursday, 10 September 2009 16:56 UK
Teesside troops head to war zone
Jonathan Swingler
By Jonathan Swingler
BBC Tees

Soldiers from across the North East of England have embarked on another tour of duty in Afghanistan.

The 2nd Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment, better known as The Green Howards, will be based in Helmand Province.

The Battalion's last tour in the country finished in March 2008.

Most of the Green Howards are recruited from Teesside, County Durham and North Yorkshire.

Green Howards
Some of the soldiers are travelling to Afghanistan for the first time

Across the Pennines from the streets where they grew up and where their loved ones will spend Christmas without them, 97 Green Howards queue at a sports hall in the Lancashire countryside.

Each soldier carries a rucksack and a holdall with combined weight of around eight stones.

Cpl. Tony Bown from Hartlepool

The sports hall echoes with North East voices as they get their bags weighed, ready to catch their flight to Kandahar airport.

The war has been costly. The last time I was here, it was to meet wounded soldiers.

One had lost a leg, another had lost an eye and one soldier from Middlesbrough hoped to return to Helmand as a medic, despite having lost toes. All had been the victims of explosions.

Fallen friends

The last tour saw two local soldiers killed, Sgt. Lee Johnson, 33, from Stockton died when an explosion hit his vehicle.

Sgt. John Wright from Hartlepool

Cpl. Damian Lawrence, 25, from Whitby died in a blast while on patrol.

With this in mind and with the constant stream of casualties coming back from the war zone, the soldiers here are being honest about their feelings.

Sgt. Carl Peterson was a close friend of Damian Lawrence.

I first met him in Sangin in Helmand, it was just days after Damian's coffin had arrived home.

Lc/Cpl Darren North from Brotton

The sad reality of the war is that they have to carry on despite their friends dying. Back then, Carl told me the time to think of the people you have lost is when you get home.

In the sports hall I ask him what will happen this tour. "Kill some Taliban and hopefully come back uninjured."

He is among the 97 leaving on this flight. In the coming weeks hundreds more Green Howards will follow.

Getting home safely

The key objective when the troops get to Helmand is to train the Afghan National Army.

It means they will go to some of the most dangerous parts of the region.

Pt. Tom Bell from Middlesbrough

Lt. David Colthup is the Commanding Officer of the Green Howards. His priority is to bring all his solders back home alive.

"In an ideal world, I would very much hope that is the case.

"We can return in six plus months and return with as many soldiers as we left with.

"We'll have to see how we go in that regard."

There is a mixture of emotions here. You can sense the excitement, but many are open about being afraid.

Tributes to a fallen soldier
20 Aug 09 |  People & Places
Inside The British Steel Archive
13 Jul 09 |  History
The Green Howards prepare for war
17 Sep 09 |  Newsnight


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