FAMILIES and friends will this weekend welcome home hundreds of Chester-based soldiers from the most dangerous part of Afghanistan.
Plane loads of members of 1st Battalion The Royal Welsh (Royal Welch Fusiliers) will start to arrive in Britain tonight and tomorrow from Lashkar Gah in Helmand province where the Taliban enemy is at its strongest.
About 200 servicemen and women who have been on an operational tour are due arrive on British soil over the weekend, to be followed by 350 others in the next month. They have been on a six-month peace-keeping duty as part of Task Force Helmand.
They will arrive at RAF Brize Norton, Oxfordshire and will then be be transported by coach to their homes at the Dale Barracks, Liverpool Road, Moston, Chester, where they will be reunited with loved ones who have hung up welcome home banners in anticipation of their eagerly awaited return.
Two Royal Welsh soldiers lost their lives during the tour.
Cardiff-born Captain Stephen Healey, 29, was commanding the Combined Force Burma reconnaissance platoon. While conducting a vehicle patrol in the north of the Nahr-e Saraj district of Helmand province, his vehicle struck an improvised explosive device.
He was given immediate first aid before being flown to the military hospital at Camp Bastion where his death was confirmed.
A single man, Capt was a committed charity worker.
Cpl Michael John Thacker, 27, born in Swindon, Wilsthire, but from Cwmbran, South Wales, was part of the fire support group manning observation post ‘Tir’ in the Nahr-e Saraj district of Helmand province when he was hit by small arms fire in May.
He received immediate medical attention and was evacuated by helicopter, but could not be saved.
Cpl Thacker left behind his wife Catherine and two-year-old daughter Millie.
Taking over from the Royal Welsh, whose commanding officer is Lt Col Steve Webb, in Afghanistan will be the 1st Battalion the Mercian Regiment (Cheshire), based at Marne Barracks, Catterick Garrison, North Yorkshire.
About 100 soldiers headed out for a six-month operational tour in Afghanistan on Thursday, September 20. The servicemen and women are part of 4 Mechanized Brigade which will take over responsibility for Task Force Helmand next month. The brigade was last in charge in the province back in 2010 when it suffered heavy casualties.
With combat operations planned to finish at the end of 2014 the emphasis of the tour will be on transition, with the various units within the Brigade mentoring their Afghan colleagues so they can plan and run their own operations.
It is also expected the Mercian regiment leader, Brigadier Bob Bruce, will become the first British commander to be able to send troops home with a total of 500 expected to return before Christmas.
See full story in the Chester Leader