Soldiers who fly and maintain the Apache Attack Helicopter have joined with their families and contractors to mark their eight-year commitment to supporting British combat operations in Afghanistan.

The Attack Helicopter Force deployed on Operation Herrick in 2006, flying in support of the first British troops to enter Helmand until responsibility for the province was passed to Afghan National Security Forces in late 2014. As well as precision strikes in support of ground troops, the Apache’s role was to escort helicopters and land convoys and provide a near all-weather surveillance capability.

A families’ day was held at Wattisham Flying Station on Wednesday 22 July 2015, for soldiers and their families to join together to mark their contribution and achievements across a busy operational period.

Alongside equipment displays, music from The Band of The Army Air Corps and Wattisham Military Wives Choir and a display by 7 Air Assault Battalion REME’s field gun run team, the highlight was a demonstration by the Attack Helicopter Display Team (AHDT). The demonstration showcased the agility and speed of the Apache, with pyrotechnic explosions simulating its gunfire and rockets and real time radio transmission between the pilot and simulated ground forces.

Colonel Jason Etherington, Commander of Wattisham Flying Station, said: “Operation Herrick established the Apache as a fundamental part of the British Army. The aircraft provided excellent support to ground troops through its firepower, but often the deterrent effect of its presence was decisive.

“Today is about coming together to celebrate what we achieved in Afghanistan and thank our families for their support across a busy eight years of operations. An operational tour does not just mean a soldier being away from his family for several months overseas; it is time apart during the training period as well. The fortitude of our families back in Wattisham, supported by unit welfare teams, allowed our soldiers to focus on doing their jobs in Afghanistan.

“We have all enjoyed a fantastic day and, after a well-earned summer leave, will continue with our training to ensure the Apache and the soldiers who operate it are ready to serve on contingency operations.”

Lance Corporal Jonathan Fields, an aviation communicator from 3 Regiment Army Air Corps, brought his wife Abigail and children Isla, three, and Eden, one, to the event.

He said: “It’s been a really enjoyable day and great to show my family a little bit of what I do at work. I returned from Afghanistan last November after deploying on the last squadron rotation and we had a medal parade to mark our return. Afghanistan was an operation everyone at Wattisham was involved with over the years and it’s good to gather the whole station together and celebrate what we achieved.”

Mrs Fields said: “When Jonathan deployed I suddenly became a single parent with two young children to look after, which was hard. The welfare team were really understanding and organised support and trips for the families. The children have really enjoyed coming to have a look at the helicopters today and events like this make families feel valued.”

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