Sunday, April 26, 2009

Weston solider recalls Iraq tragedy

WITH British forces preparing to withdraw from Iraq, one Weston soldier is looking forward to returning home - but knows only too well that not all the troops who flew out will be coming back. Lance Corporal Martin Campbell has completed his third tour of duty with the 5th Battallion The Rifles, a company recruited almost entirely from the West Country.

During his time in the troubled country, the 23-year-old has helped protect the Allied forces' operations base at Basra, and assist Iraq Security Forces in the city.Attacks on the base have dropped from 28 per month a year ago to just five in the past eight months, resulting in UK involvement being scaled down - and Martin being cleared to return home to his pregnant wife Louise. But not all British soldiers are so fortunate.

Martin experienced the human cost of the invasion firsthand, when his close friend, Corporal Matt Cornish, was killed during his second tour.Cpl Cornish, 29, was killed in 2006 during a sustained mortar attack on the base in Basra City.

Martin said: "He was in the leading vehicle, I was in the vehicle behind. I thought he was going to make it, but when we got the nod he did pass away, it was hard. You have to just carry on."The hardest thing I ever did was coffin bearer when we loaded him on to the aircraft. It was the hardest thing watching the lads break down."
Martin continued: "My first tour was reasonably quiet, but my second tour was much busier.
"Our camp in the city was hit frequently. Only one or two days went by when we didn't get contacted by the enemy. That's when your training kicks in.
"But Martin believes the latest tour has seen a sea change in attitudes from the local people, and the British withdrawl has come at an appropriate time.
He said: "I look at this tour as a hearts and minds tour, speaking to the locals, helping them out, seeing what they need and what we can do for them. It's a lot quieter.
"You do get a warm feeling when locals are happy to see you. Things like meeting the locals letting them know we're still interested - it makes you realise you're making a difference.

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