Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Helicopters home from Iraq

After six years of service in Iraq, the last Puma and Merlin helicopters have come home to Royal Air Force Benson in Oxfordshire.

Merlin and Puma Force Commander and Station Commander Group Captain Jon Burr addressed the gathered crowds, praising the professionalism and performance of the men and women of the Support Helicopter Force.

“The Pumas have played an active role in Iraq since 2003, to be joined by the Merlins 2 years later” he said. “The Merlin made its name in casualty evacuation, carrying out daring rescues in a hostile environment to rescue British and coalition lives”. It’s been a big commitment for the personnel of RAF Benson. “Some staff have been deployed in Iraq several times over, which combined has added up to almost 2 years of their life spent in Iraq” said Group Captain Burr.

For the crews returning today there is a chance to catch up on family life and take some time off before the task of working up to Afghanistan deployment. “It’s fantastic to bring home the Squadron” said Wing Commander Nigel Colman, Officer Commanding 78 Squadron. “We faced quite varied and significant challenges in Iraq, on an Operation which has at times, involved intense war fighting. Now we’re able to prepare for and be completely focused on Afghanistan.”

As the Helicopter Force prepares for a four month training exercise in the United States, the Station Commander explained the benefits of training ‘hot and high’ in a different climate. “We are pulling out all the stops to make sure we are ready for Afghanistan. We must ensure crews are trained to operate safely and that both crews and aircraft are in tip top condition.”