Finest Paras Back From Helmand.

welcome home lads.

Welcome home Lads.

The 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment has seen some of the fiercest fighting since the war in Afghanistan began following the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001.

Thirteen soldiers have been killed since the battalion left for a six-month tour of duty in Helmand Province.

Commander Major Russell Lewis said his troops were elated to return to their families, adding: "This morning it was like Christmas morning knowing we would be home soon."

He described the soldiers as the finest generation of paratroops in the history of the regiment, saying they had risen to every challenge and had seen "the best and worst" of soldiering.

Major Lewis, 35, from St Albans, Hertfordshire, said 2 Para's tour had begun quietly but suddenly changed.

"Once it started it didn't really stop for three months. We were just in the thick of it.

"We went through a period where every single patrol that went out came into contact of some description. It was hard work.

"There has been some horrible moments. I said before we went I felt that this tour would give us the best soldiering days of our careers and our worst. It has. We have had some very hard days."

He added that coalition forces were making progress but British troops had to win the support of the Afghanistan people if the campaign was to succeed.

"We have to make a difference to people's lives. We have to make people see we are a better bet than the Taliban.

"I think the British public understands now that this is not going to be a quick campaign. It is a long campaign. At my level I don't know how long it will take but it is going to take a while."

The Paras who died will be remembered at a special service in Colchester on Thursday.
Well come back men, have a beer or 10,

True heros of our time,


Book Reviewer
A decent article in today's Observer:"Survivors of the 'Mouth of Hell' back with tales of a deadly tour of duty"

The Taliban called it the 'mouth of hell', the tiny British fort in southern Afghanistan they relentlessly attacked throughout the summer. Today, the last paratroopers who defended its remote ramparts return home but, as ever with war, the cost has been great. Of the 160 men who manned Forward Operating Base Gibraltar, almost one in three was killed or wounded, a higher casualty rate than that suffered by British soldiers during the Second World War.

Indeed, Gibraltar was so treacherous that its occupants faced a similar likelihood of being killed or injured as those who fought on the bloody battlefields of the First World War.

Now the men are back in Britain after a period of fighting during which their battle group - 2 Para - sustained the highest number of deaths on a single six-month tour in Afghanistan or Iraq. Those who survived told yesterday of chasing Taliban fighters through shoulder-high cornfields, shooting men from punching range and pulling the bodies of comrades through streams with banks ablaze from rocket-propelled grenades.

Gibraltar was arguably the most vulnerable and dangerous British base in Helmand province. The men of C Company, who manned its fortifications, were on average 23 years old. Five of its occupants died in action, 14 were seriously injured and another 30 wounded.

The stories told by the survivors are brutal. Theirs is not a tale of technological might against a primitive foe, rather an insight into war seemingly unchanged throughout the centuries, a gruelling campaign involving daily skirmishes against a redoubtable enemy.

There are moments when men such as Corporal Matthew 'Des' Desmond, 31, pulled out his pistol and shot a Taliban gunman from two metres. 'There is no emotional attachment, you'd feel more anguish shooting a bunny rabbit,' he smiled ruefully, hours after arriving at his Colchester barracks.

Stories from the men of C company provide a snapshot of Helmand's unique hazards. They tell how children ushered British soldiers into deadly ambushes, how troops were targeted the instant they crept out from Gibraltar's front gates and how the Taliban planted rings of hidden explosives around the base. In the space of four months Gibraltar was attacked 36 times. In addition, its defenders became embroiled in 29 firefights while on another 22 instances they were either targeted or stumbled across explosive booby traps laid out for them.

'We never stood down,' said Desmond, a father-of-three. 'We would always push on to them, even chasing them through their own ambushes,'

By the end, at least 150 Taliban were confirmed dead around their small base. Long before then, however, the Taliban had started referring to the paras' home as the 'mouth of hell' or 'devil's place'.

For the first two months of the tour barely a shot was fired in anger. Then, on 8 June, news filtered up the Helmand valley that three men from 2 Para had been killed when a suicide bomber walked up to them and detonated his vest. The following day a suicide bomber mounted an attack on Gibraltar. The day after that a patrol came under fire. Another suicide mission was launched hours later.

The morning of 12 June defines the moment C company would first experience the horrors of Helmand. Several platoons had spent the night under the stars beyond enemy lines and were heading back when they stopped at a village. As usual, they dished out sweets and wind-up radios to the children, but this time the youngsters seemed preoccupied with what lay beyond a track winding towards a stream. 'They were laughing and pointing. In hindsight, it's strange they would find it so amusing,' said Desmond.

As the paras went to investigate, four Taliban sections opened up simultaneously. 'The weight of fire was incredible, their weapons were rocking and rolling without stopping. In 13 years in the army that was the best initiated ambush I've come across,' Desmond went on.

The paras returned 9,000 machine gun and automatic rifle rounds plus 179 mortar shells. Then came the cry 'man down'. Amid the din, it came again. In the initial chaos, Private Jeff Doherty, 20, and James Bateman, 29, had been killed instantly. Another soldier collapsed, shot in the leg, while a machine gunner took a bullet in the face. Miraculously the projectile glanced off his chin; colleagues scraped the blood from his face and the gunner got back to work.

The fight lasted 18 minutes. 'But time stops during such moments. Fighting is like a waltz, quick, quick, slow slow,' said Desmond. Back at Gibraltar, the mood was sombre but resolute. Five men from 2 Para had been killed in four days.

At dawn next day C Company went on patrol. Through intercepted communications they heard the Taliban exclaim their disbelief at the paras' refusal to be cowed. Desmond said: 'From that point on, every time we saw them we would smash them. They would choose the ground and we would beat them. Every time.'

Captain Josh Jones, 32, from London, who briefly left Helmand for the birth of his daughter Isabella, now eight weeks old, said: 'We never relied on air cover, we always fought them head on.'

But one facet that could not be altered was Gibraltar's reputation as the most exposed of Helmand's bases. Easy to attack, it was hard to defend. Troops who ventured outside were often shot from snipers. As the conflict intensified, conditions deteriorated. On one occasion the ground temperature taken by a sniper read 78C.

Desmond's desert boots melted. Forced to lug packs weighing 90lbs, many of C Coy cursed the clunky body armour designed to save their lives. As summer gave way to autumn, the enemy amended its tactics. Chechens, Uzbeks and trained Pakistani fighters began to lay siege to Gibraltar. Corporal Paul Knapp, 26, from Bristol said: 'You can tell immediately they are different, the way they move, the way they fight.'

Knapp also travelled back from Afghanistan for the birth of his son, Colburn, seven weeks old yesterday. His wife, Chanelle, 24, said: 'It was really hard before the tour because you don't know what to expect. It's just good to have him back.'

Now home with their families, the readjustment starts. Desmond admits to being a bit 'jumpy' in downtown Colchester. Knapp jokes about the cacophony of bonfire night jangling the nerves. 'When we started, we all knew we would not be coming back with all the guys,' said Jones. On Thursday the 13 men from the 2 Para battle group who died this summer will be remembered at a ceremony in Colchester. Yet a return to Helmand already looms C Company are pencilled in for southern Afghanistan in 2010.
Welcome back lads. I'll stand any one of you several beers if you're in Nottingham.

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