Officers, Warrant Officers, all ranks of the Parachute Regiment, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It really is a great privilege for my wife and me to be here today on this very special occasion.
Last time I was here to present you with Operational Service Medals was in December of 2008. Since then, the Brigade has embarked once again on the intensive and demanding pre-deployment training which prepared you all for yet another gruelling six months in Helmand, the second or third tour to Afghanistan for some of you.
You have achieved a great deal during your tour. You have operated in a very dangerous and confusing area where the Taliban had the upper hand – controlling the population through intimidation and violence – contesting every inch of ground you fought over. Despite these immense challenges you achieved extraordinary results. Your deliberate and precise targeting of the insurgent leadership proved to be incredibly effective and after a short time the enemy withdrew, allowing you to secure several key villages without firing a shot – much to the relief of the local population.
Once again, the men and women of the Parachute Battalion Battle groups have excelled in the most demanding and dangerous of environments. You have given hope to the people of Nad-e-Ali and Nahr-e Saraj. You have begun the slow process of sowing the seeds of trust and confidence in the Government of Afghanistan which, given time and appropriate resources will, I hope, grow and eventually flourish. The village elders are taking back responsibility for their people, schools and clinics are being built and the bazaars are once again teeming with people and fresh produce. You have been the catalyst in developing links between the government and the people and, somehow, you have managed to create the conditions which, I hope, will allow the Afghan Security Forces to take over the region in the coming years.
I know only too well that your achievements have come at a terrible cost. As we stand here today it is only right that we remember our friends and colleagues who did not make it home:
Private Conrad Lewis
Lance Corporal Kyle Marshall
Private Martin Bell
Private Daniel Prior
Private John Howard
Warrant Officer Class 2 Colin Beckett
Private Lewis Hendry
My deepest and heartfelt condolences go out to all the families that have lost loved ones during this tour and during previous tours. I know many of you are here today and I can only imagine how difficult this time must be for you all. Let me assure you that the sacrifices that have been made by your sons, your brothers and your fathers will never be forgotten.
I am so pleased and proud that such a large number of those wounded in action during the recent tour have managed to make it here today. Your courage and sheer determination to overcome your injuries is utterly humbling. You show no self-pity or remorse – you just want to get on and get well. You are, if I may say so, a great example to us all. I wish each and every one of you as speedy a recovery as is possible.
Needless to say, the turnout from the Parachute Regiment Association has been as strong as ever. It is wonderful that so many of you have come today to offer your support to the soldiers and their families. Thank you.
Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to pay a special tribute to the families here today. As a father of two serving officers, I do at least have some idea of how difficult it can be when our loved ones are far away from home, in harm’s way. I can well imagine the constant and nagging anxiety which permeates each day of absence. Your stoic resolve is quite extraordinary and I cannot thank you enough for your moral support, which is so crucial to the success of this Regiment.
My warmest appreciation and congratulations go to you all, Paratroopers, Attached arms and families alike. As ever, you have maintained the finest traditions of the Regiment and you should be extremely proud of everything you have achieved. Your selfless service and commitment is unwavering and this country owes you all a very special debt of gratitude.