Friday, March 20, 2009

Privilege and honour to serve in final tour of Iraq say Midlanders

Midland soldiers yesterday told how they felt “honoured and privileged” to be among the final British troops to serve in Iraq.

From their headquarters in Basra, which the locals call Thar Allah, or “Vengeance of God”, a band of soldiers revealed how they had seen the region develop over the past six years.

A local fair, complete with a sparkling Ferris wheel, can be seen across the city as a sign of its development.

British troops now share one of the city bases with the Iraqi Army who work alongside them to make the neighbourhoods safe from terrorist attacks, roadside bombs and rocket launchers. In a matter of months, the British soldiers will hand over to the Iraqis who will have to control the area without their guidance.

Lance Corporal Jason (Jay) Hartland, aged 26, from Northfield, who is on his third tour of Iraq, said: “It’s now a matter of waiting and seeing if the Iraqi boys can do the job on their own.

“They’ve really come on over the last few months but it is difficult to tell just how they will cope without us.

“To be honest, from what we have seen, they may struggle at first.

“But I’m sure they’ll get a grip pretty quickly.”

For L/Cpl Hartland, Basra has become a home from home.

Since 2004 he has spent 18 months in the city, fighting against terrorist factions, providing security for the bases and now mentoring the Iraqi army. But he has had enough of the war and is ready to return home to see his wife and eight-month-old baby daughter, Alicia.

L/Cpl Hartland added: “I’ll be glad to see the back of Basra, that’s for sure. When I was here on previous tours I had a lot to gain, it was busier and more exciting. But now I have got a lot more to lose.

“I’ve got a baby at home and a wife who worries about me.

‘‘I may be sent out to Afghanistan in a few years and all I really have to gain from there is extra pay. At the moment I’m missing Alicia growing up.

“I left her as a little egg and when I return she’ll be a little chick.”

But for others in the regiment, Iraq is a learning curve all of its own.

Trooper Ben Lane, aged 20, from Evesham, Trooper Simon Ryland, 21, from Worcester, and Trooper Peter Shaw, 24, from Kidderminster are all on their first operational tours.

Trooper Shaw, a former Wolverley High School pupil, said: “We trained pretty hard before we came out here but you never really know what it’s going to be like until you are here.
“The tour’s been good so far and very busy.

‘‘It has been a real privilege and an honour serving on the final tour of Iraq, knowing that we are putting all the finishing touches to the work that went on before us.”

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