Stamford Welcomes Wittering Heroes
Crowds have lined the streets of Stamford to welcome back No 3 Squadron RAF Regiment, who are back from a six month tour of duty in Afghanistan.
The parade consisted of 130 officers and airmen, and was led by the band of the RAF Regiment. The station commander and the Mayor of Stamford took the salute as the parade reached the Town Hall. A pair of harrier jets then performed a flypast.
After the parade, the personnel and their families made the short journey to RAF Wittering, where they were given their Operational Service medals for Afghanistan at a ceremony in front of the Officers' Mess.
One of the proud mums watching was Jackie Webb, a control officer for the London Fire Brigade. It's been her son Ashley's second time in Afghanistan, and she's been sending him parcels while he's been away. "We've been sending Farley's Rusks! Custard creams, bourbon biscuits, things like that... And just little things to keep him amused."
She says he kept in touch while he was in Helmand. "When you talked to him on the phone he's very guarded about what he says, he doesn't open up emotionally. You're OK when you're talking but when it gets time to say goodbye we both get a little bit choked and it's really hard to actually put the phone down. So I wait for him to put the phone down. That's the hardest bit. When they have to go, it's horrible."
She also described seeing him for the first time since last Autumn. "I got myself into such a frenzy over the few days before because I was so excited. Just to have them all back safe is just fantastic. But to see your son after six and a half months is just amazing. And I just leapt on him!"
Her son Ashley says it was an emotional moment for him too. "It was a bit of a shock really - a bit surreal. She ran up and hugged me and it was nice to be home. It was kind of a wake-up call to say I'm actually here for once."
He feels that his work in Helmand Province was valuable. "It feels like we're making it a better place. It's a lot safer than it was - because I was out there two years ago. It does feel like there's change being made at last."
And he says it's hard to explain to some of his civilian friends about the things he's witnessed. "I spoke to a couple of my mates already but I don't really tell them much detail. It was hot, it was hard. I worked hard. I joined up - that's what I wanted to do. And I want to be here."
Wing Commander Mick Smeeth says the squadron did him proud. "They've done a cracking job. Most of the lads on the squadron are new to the squadron and new to operations as well, so it's the first time they've been to Afghanistan and they did a really good job. There are a few of us that have been there before so before we go we try and tell them what it's like, what the culture's like, what the differences are between the UK, and importantly tell them what they're going to expect from an operational perspective.
"They obviously miss their families and their children. But they miss the green grass, they miss the rain. And they probably miss football and beer as well."