I wanted to say what an enormous pleasure it is to be able to join you here today with my wife, and to be able to hand you your campaign medals which you so richly deserve.
Can I just say that I’ve been around now for I think it is 31 years as Colonel in Chief of The Parachute Regiment and nothing could ever give me greater pride than to have that particular role.
After 31 years I think I’ve begun to start seeing some of the sons of those I came across as young officers or soldiers when I first became Colonel in Chief. From that point of view I feel a part, as it were, of this remarkable regimental family and that family element is so crucial of course in all our regimental systems in this country.
For instance I saw many of your predecessors off when they went to the Falklands and I saw them when they came back again. I saw 2 Para and their families before you all went off this time to Afghanistan and I remember on that occasion, when I came to say goodbye to you all, meeting the families and being so impressed by the fact that a remarkable number of those families actually had not one but very often two sons serving in The Parachute Regiment or elsewhere in the army. We owe them, apart from anything else, an enormous debt of gratitude for the service provided by their sons.
What I found so difficult about that occasion was that I couldn’t tell anybody there that I did understand something of what the parents and the families were feeling about their sons going off on operations, because at that time my youngest son was actually out in Afghanistan but I couldn’t tell anybody. That I promise you made it rather difficult. All I can say is that I have felt so much with your families and your loved ones the grief and the anguish that can be associated with the ultimate dreadful realities of operation commitments, particularly when I saw so many when I came to say goodbye. I have tried, inadequately I’m afraid, to express that solidarity and sympathy that we all feel for those who lost their loved ones and who haven’t come back.
Now I know you faced suicide bombers, IEDs of all descriptions, RPGs, mines, small arms and indirect fire of every conceivable kinds. The fact that you put up with all of this and more is, I think, remarkable testimony not only to your training - which I hope has stood you in such good stead - but for that unquenchable Parachute Regiment spirit which is so admired the world over.
I also wanted to pay particular tribute to those of you who were wounded - many severely and some of whom I have seen - those who have lost limbs, who again display such an incredible degree of resilience and determination to overcome their injuries in the course of duty. Again they set us an incredible example of fortitude and determination. My God we owe them an immense debt of gratitude as well for what they have endured on our behalf.
It is the first time I think since the Second World War that the entire Parachute Regiment has deployed into the same theatre which is remarkable when you think about it. 89 soldiers deployed from 4 Para which in itself is remarkable from the TA point of view, and again it makes me so proud that our Territorial Forces can provide so many people determined to go abroad on operations.
Could I also say that it is marvellous that the Airborne brotherhood, led by The Parachute Regimental Association, has rallied to recognise your feats, your truly remarkable feats, and support the home team and all the families because their moral support, the families’ moral support in particular, is of vital importance to the success of the regiment. So I again I wanted to pay tribute to the families for all they’ve endured and all the support they provide.
Finally, you’ve no idea how proud you’ve made all of us, including your by now rather old Colonel-in-Chief, who can only salute you on an occasion like this. Thank you more than anything else for the incredible service you give this nation and the way in which you carry out your duties constantly and without complaint. It is truly remarkable. We owe you an immense debt of gratitude for your service and for all the efforts you made on behalf of the people in Afghanistan. Can I now just wish you all the happiest possible of Christmases with your families. You’ve certainly deserved it. Well done.