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31 January 2015, 09:23
Scottish soldiers have been praised for their work in helping to tackle the Ebola crisis in west Africa.
Troops from The Royal Scots Borderers, 1st Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland, spent four months in Sierra Leone where they provided security for British aid workers, established helicopter landing sites and escorted convoys across the country.
The regiment was among the first deployed to the region and returned to Palace Barracks in Holywood, Northern Ireland, on Friday to be reunited with family and friends.
During their tour the soldiers worked with the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces and helped with the evacuation of several international healthcare workers who needed treatment for the virus.
Health officials have said they are now focused on ending the outbreak rather than just slowing the spread of the deadly virus.
The World Health Organisation said the three most affected countries - Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia - have reported fewer than 100 cases in the past week, for the first time since June.
The outbreak is believed to have killed more than 8,000 people since it started almost a year ago.
Company Commander Major Nick Colquhoun said: "This is the first time that the majority of these young men have deployed on an operational tour and the demands that have been placed on them in supporting the fight against Ebola in Sierra Leone have been particularly unique.
"Tasked to deploy at very short notice, to a man they rose to the challenge, displaying characteristic energy and enthusiasm from the outset. It is a privilege to command them.''
Captain Russell Macleod was military advisor at the western area Ebola response centre in Freetown, which takes suspected Ebola patients to treatment centres in the city.
He said: "The surveillance team is made up of local volunteers, many of them medical students who want to contribute to the fight against Ebola while their studies have been suspended.
"They work incredibly hard for little or no financial reward and are amongst the true heroes of the struggle against this horrible disease.
"It has been an absolute pleasure to work with them and the improvements I saw whilst with them was massive, with response time to alerts dropping dramatically.
"There is no doubt that this will save lives and it was great to be part of the team responsible for making that happen.''
While in Sierra Leone, the soldiers spent time at an orphanage at Makeni, home to over 150 children, many of whom lost their parents to Ebola.
Corporal Stephen McKeown said: "It was not only memorable but so rewarding.
"To be with children who have probably lost just about everything and to be able to give them a reason to smile, albeit for a short period, makes everything so worthwhile.''