Paratroopers, Veterans and Families,
It is splendid to see so many of you here today to witness the presentation of new Regimental and Queen’s Colours to the First, Second and Third Battalions. Whilst I know that many more of the wider Airborne family are watching from home, I am delighted to address you all, wherever you are.
I must say, I find it hard to believe that it has been forty-four years since I became your Colonel in Chief and nearly fifty years since I made my first Parachute drop – initially upside down with my legs in the rigging lines! - into Studland Bay, Dorset, where I was hauled out of the water by the Royal Marines. In that time, I have seen ten Colonels Commandant and some seventy-five Commanding Officers come and go. At least sixteen of which became Generals, some sat amongst us today.
Walking past your Old Colours onto Parade reminded me of twenty-three years ago when I had the privilege of presenting them to you in Aldershot. Many of those present then are still serving. Indeed, the Commander of Number Nine Guard then is now your Colonel Commandant – and, if I may say so, not looking a day older! - and a Private in Number Ten Guard then is now a Warrant Officer Class One, whose son joins him on Parade today. These family connections of continuing service with the Regiment give me immense pride and help to provide the enduring backbone of the Regimental Family.
In the intervening years since the Presentation of Colours, The Regiment has, I know, been exceptionally busy deployed on operations for twenty of the past twenty-three years, leading the way in Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Macedonia, Afghanistan and Iraq. Whilst only one of those actions is reflected on your Colours as a Battle Honour, you have served with distinction across a range of demanding operations, each requiring the differing qualities and strengths of the Paratrooper. This is further emphasized by the earning of two Victoria Crosses, a George Cross and numerous other awards for gallantry, bravery under fire and meritorious service in the last twenty-three years alone. Of course, throughout all the deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan you have been superbly reinforced by the 4th Battalion, who remain a key element of the Regiment’s fighting power. The Colours I present today, on behalf of The Queen, continue to symbolise your loyalty and distinguished pedigree, of which you can all be justifiably proud.
Tragically, the toll of such an operational focus has been significant, with many young lives lost and altered permanently. Their sacrifice and the immense impact on their friends and families is recognized and appreciated by the nation and all who serve on its behalf.
Fifteen years ago, the First Battalion formed the core of the Special Forces Support Group, a joint Unit working in support of our Special Forces. Today, you remain the single largest contributor to our world-leading, Tier One Special Forces, with almost fifty per cent of the Special Air Service drawn from the Parachute Regiment continuing quietly to assure the security of this country, and that of others around the world.
With such a prestigious foundation in operations and specialist roles, I have no doubt that those of you on parade today will be equally challenged in the future. Whilst our commitment in Afghanistan draws to a close, great power rivalry continues to present real security challenges and there are a wide array of hybrid threats we now face from both state and non-state actors which require you to be more ready, more deployable and persistently engaged abroad. You will all play a crucial role in supporting this increased forward presence through the Global Response Force, held as you often are, at Very High Readiness alongside the 1st Aviation Brigade, ready to respond to emerging crises and warfighting.
Of course, throughout all of this your families have been, and remain, an exceptionally important part of this Regiment. They provide the consistent core of support for every one of you, enabling you to prepare and focus solely on each task at hand, be it operations or training. Your families have truly made a difference and, as ever, I am profoundly grateful for the sacrifices and contributions they make to this Regiment’s continued success.
I am also delighted to know that amongst you are many parents of the most recent intakes of Paratroopers who have been unable to have a Passing Out Parade in Catterick. On behalf of The Regiment, I particularly want to welcome you to Colchester and the Airborne Forces family. Your support has enabled your sons successfully to secure a place in The Parachute Regiment and they will continue to need your support in their years of service for our country.
As before, I see a generation of Paratroopers that have been tested and not found wanting. For me, it is your exceptional quality, unique ethos, unparalleled determination and selfless commitment that define you. I am enormously proud to be a part of such an extraordinary Regimental family and to share this special day with you.
Soon you will march off the square and will parade with your new Colours for at least the next twenty years. Whether I shall still be around to present you with new Colours when the time comes, remains to be seen, but I look forward to what the future brings you. There will be challenges and you will meet them as you always have done, with the same grit, determination and care for each other that were the hallmarks of your founding fathers in World War Two.