HEROES of Afghanistan were yesterday honoured at a medals parade.
The soldiers, from 132 Battery (The Bengal Rocket Troop), 39 Regiment Royal Artillery, have spent six months on the front line in Afghanistan.
Now back in the North East, family and friends proudly watched as they received their operational service medals.
“I am so proud of them all,” said Victoria Ford, whose partner Bombardier Gareth Stubbs was among the 70 officers and soldiers presented with the medal by 1st Artillery Brigade Commander, Colonel Fitzgerald.
Bdr Stubbs, 36, of Sunderland, has been in the army since he was 16 and is due to return to the front line next April.
Fortunately, he will be home for the birth of their first child in October.
“The timing has worked out really well,” said Victoria, 37, a police sergeant. “Gareth will be in England when the baby is born, and he is very excited.”
The 132 Battery had been in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, since last October, providing fire support for 11 Light Brigade on Operation Herrick 11.
Soldiers were split between working in headquarters and manning two hi-tech rocket launcher sites which protect British troops on the ground.
Karl Sutton, of Seaton Sluice, Northumberland, was proudly watching oldest son, Lance Bombardier Mark Sutton, receive his medal yesterday.
It was the 22-year-old’s third tour of duty since joining the army at 16 - and now his younger brother has followed in his footsteps and signed up as well.
“I am very proud of my lads, and all the soldiers,” said Karl, 42. “In September, Mark will be away again, and his brother will be out at the same time.
“I’ve told my youngest son he isn’t allowed to join the army as well - I don’t think I can cope.”
Lce Bdr Sutton’s girlfriend, Joanne Oliver, 22, was also watching the parade. “Mark being away somewhere so dangerous is something you never quite get used to,” she said. “We always worry but we are also very proud of him.”
Commanding Officer Colonel Paul Tombleson said: “The character of the campaign in Afghanistan is changing. “Previous deployments have had to fire more frequently, in order to put the insurgency on the back foot.
“Now, we are in a situation where we are focussing on the population of Afghanistan. The artillery have to be incredibly restrained in when we deliver fire.
“The challenge is to be ready, because when situations arise it is no less urgent. The artillery play a very important role.”
The gunners have been replaced by soldiers from the Regiment’s 176 (Abu Klea) Battery.
British troops are part of the 37-nation strong NATO International Assistance Force (ISAF), in Afghanistan to establish the secure environment necessary for reconstruction and development.