Dragoons back to Swanton Morley

Elaine MaslinIt has been one of the toughest tours the Light Dragoons have faced in the recent history of the regiment and their relief to be back in the arms of their tearful loved ones yesterday was palpable.Elaine Maslin

It has been one of the toughest tours the Light Dragoons have faced in the recent history of the regiment and their relief to be back in the arms of their tearful loved ones yesterday was palpable.

Applause, banners, balloons and smiling wives and children greeted the Norfolk-based soldiers when they arrived back at the Swanton Morley-based barracks last night for their first pint on British soil for months.

These were the troops involved in some of the fiercest fighting British soldiers have seen in Afghanistan, with constant threat of attacks from RPGs (rocket propelled grenades) and IEDs (improvised explosive devices) in soaring heat for more than seven months.

They were part of the Light Dragoon Battlegroup, a force including other British forces and Afghan troops, led by the regiment's commanding officer Lt Col Gus Fair.

The group played a key part in Operation Panthers Claw, a bloody five week offensive ahead of the Afghan elections this summer.

Thirteen British soldiers in the battlegroup were killed - of those three were Light Dragoons.

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In total six Light Dragoons were killed.

Returning home with the names of those six of in their minds, they were delighted to have made it back into the arms of their loved ones.

And for some there were a few surprises.

Sgt Stephen Cooper was greeted by a wife six and half stone lighter - Tracey Cooper had decided to lose the weight while he was on tour - as well as his three children Megan, nine, Jacob, seven, and Francis, six.

Last night Cpl David Leen, 24, entered his marital home with daughter Amelia, five, for the first time after marrying his now wife, Becky, on R&R in July.

For new wife Becky it was tough when Cpl Leen's tour, along with the rest of the Dragoons, was extended last month.

He said the tour was tough with '360degree fighting'. 'I wouldn't know how to start explaining or tell of what happened,' he said.

'So much happened, you have just got to get on with it, it is the only way you can do it.'

For Dawn Lambie the real celebration would be when she could get husband Sgt Matt Lambie back in their home with children Charley, seven, and Luke, 14.

'Until they are back here you are still listening for that knock on the door or a car pulling up,' she said.

'You listen to the news and hear what is happening and you know when they are all safe but until they are through your door you are still waiting.'

Lt Col Fair remained with the Battlegroup on their trip home, including staying on their coaches back to Stansted.

Last night, with his smiling children Bryn and Milley and wife Cath by his side, he said the reward had been seeing the life coming back into the areas the Dragoons had taken.

In the last two weeks they were deployed they distributed wheat to 2,000 farmers despite attempts at disruption from the Taliban.

'It has been remarkable,' he said. 'The men have done themselves and the regiment extraordinarily proud.'

He added: 'In my mind the Taliban are no longer insurgents fighting for a local cause, they are terrorists.'

While most of the about 350 troops who went to Afghanistan in early April have returned, A Squadron will not be back until Saturday, when the entire camp will finally breath a sigh of relief they are all home.

They will all now face a busy month preparing for home coming parades in Barnsley and Newcastle, from where the regiment mostly recruits, and in Dereham on December 4.

Those who lost their lives were: Lance Corporal Richard Brandon, Craftsman Anthony Lombardi, Lance Corporal Nigel Moffett, Trooper Phillip Lawrence, Trooper Christopher Whiteside and Lance Corporal David Dennis.