To all of the Armed Forces on duty and serving away from home in far off lands, I wanted to send you a message to let you know that you are all very much in my thoughts and prayers at this time of year.
I also wanted to pay tribute to the extraordinary contribution made by those of you who belong to our Armed Forces, in all sorts of different parts of the world. Nowhere is your fortitude and relentless courage more clearly on display than in Afghanistan, where your resilience, patience and determination to see the job through usually in impossibly difficult conditions and circumstances is, quite simply, humbling.
As a result of the regular reports I receive from my Regiments serving in Afghanistan (and even occasionally from family members!) I am well aware of the discomfort and privations you all endure with seemingly endless reserves of good humour. In addition to the intense heat and dust of the Summer and the freezing Winters, you face the constant, terrifying threat of I.E.D.s, attacks from rockets, grenades and small arms fire almost every day and sometimes these attacks come from infiltrators hidden among those who are supposed to be working alongside you as allies. And yet you all seem to bounce back in an almost unbelievable way, despite the setbacks and vicious insurgent attacks.
Whether you are in Camp Bastion, Lashkar Gar or one of the many isolated and incredibly austere patrol bases, you all have a vital role to play in an enormous team effort. Teamwork, comradeship and collective endeavour for the greater good are the qualities that lie at the heart of everything you do.
With two sons currently serving in the Armed Forces, one of whom is with you all out there, I really do have at least some understanding of what your loved ones on the “home front” are going through. They are clearly missing you deeply, particularly at this time of year, and they are constantly thinking and worrying about you. I daresay in some ways it may be slightly easier for those serving away from home, with their mind on the job in hand, than those left behind, because of the constant worry. In this regard, perhaps there is some small consolation in occasional opportunities to speak on the welfare telephone, to Skype, to post on Facebook, to send E-blueys or, in the case of my younger son, to receive a very rare and precious letter in answer to mine! And don’t forget that a letter will one day be a very valuable historical document, treasured by families and by those who come after us.......
Finally, I would just like to reinforce a point that I have been trying to make for many years now, that our country is incredibly lucky to have people like yourselves and that we owe you an everlasting debt of gratitude for all that you do and mean to us. I can only send you my heartfelt thanks and special blessings for this Christmas and for the New Year ahead.