Ladies and Gentlemen, I am so pleased and proud to be with you this afternoon as you exercise your Freedom of the Borough of St. Edmundsbury, and receive medals for your most recent tour in Afghanistan.
I would very much like to thank the Mayor of St. Edmundsbury, his office and the good citizens of this historic town, for allowing my Regiment to exercise its freedom of the Borough today and to permit this parade to take place in the centre of the town. It really is a splendid backdrop for what, I think you will agree, is a very important and special day for the officers and soldiers of 3 Regiment, Army Air Corps. I would like to express my gratitude to you all for your unceasing and generous support of our Armed Forces.
Since 16 Air Assault Brigade first deployed to Afghanistan in 2006, I know that the Army Air Corps, and no doubt many of you, have been operating in theatre alongside our ground troops. Throughout your recent tours the level of enemy activity has fluctuated and I am relieved to hear that the number of rounds you have had to fire has reduced significantly over the last few years. The era of “courageous restraint” is upon us and, I am certain, paying dividends by reducing civilian casualties and the level of damage to property and livestock. Inevitably, there are times when armed action is entirely necessary and appropriate, and the Apache helicopter, aptly named call sign “Ugly”, is the ideal platform from which to administer terrifyingly accurate and lethal force.
The combined effect of ground troops, supporting arms and the Apache Helicopter has I know, been significant. During my visit to Afghanistan back in March I met many soldiers, all of whom had nothing but praise for the outstanding work of the Army Air Corps. For them, it is incredibly reassuring to know that just a few minutes away an Apache is lurking, unheard and out of sight, ready to unleash its fearsome fire power should the need arise.
As someone who once flew helicopters with the Fleet Air Arm, 845 Squadron, longer ago than I care to remember, I know only too well how much effort it takes to ensure that an aircraft and crew are fully prepared for an operational task. It is very much a team effort and whether you command or fly the aircraft, service it, ensure it is refuelled and re-armed, man the communication systems, brief the air crew before a mission or sustain the force, everyone plays a key part in the proceedings. To each and every one of you, I would like to say thank you for all that you have done in Afghanistan – you have served Queen and Country and your fellow service men and women – with great distinction.
If I may, I would also like to take this opportunity to add my warmest thanks to the families here today. I know that I speak on behalf of all the soldiers present when I say that you play an absolutely vital role in sustaining our troops when they are sent far away to foreign fields. I know only too well how difficult it can be when your sons and daughters or husbands and wives are away for so long in harms’ way, and all I can say is that your moral support is utterly crucial to the success of this fine Regiment – for which we are deeply appreciative.
My congratulations to you all.