Ministry of Defence
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RAF helicopters return home from Iraq and preparations for Afghanistan begin
After six years of service in Iraq, the last Puma and Merlin helicopters have come home to Royal Air Force Benson in Oxfordshire. The last two Merlins flew back to be met at the Station by Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth, alongside friends and families in a homecoming ceremony.
Merlin and Puma Force Commander and Station Commander Group Captain Jon Burr said:
“The Pumas have played an active role in Iraq since 2003, to be joined by the Merlins two years later. 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”.
For the crews returning today there is a chance to catch up on family life as they begin the task of working up to the Afghanistan deployment. Engineering work has already begun on upgrading the Merlin fleet to Theatre Entry Standard which includes fitting improved rotor blades and updating the Defensive Aids Suite. Wing Commander Nigel Colman, Officer Commanding 78 Squadron, said:
“It’s fantastic to bring home the 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. Group
Captain Jon Burr said:
“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.”
Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth said:
“The Merlin and Puma force have played a hugely important role in our operations in Iraq and I would like to thank all those involved, as well as their families and friends for the strong support they have given over the last six years. We can all be incredibly proud of their achievements and Iraq today is a better place thanks to their outstanding service, commitment and sacrifice.
“Royal Air Force personnel are now working flat out to prepare our Merlins for deployment to Afghanistan where they will provide a really significant improvement to our helicopter capability, above and beyond the near-doubling of helicopter hours that we have already achieved. I have been extremely impressed with the energy and enthusiasm of everyone here at RAF Benson, who are busting a gut to get these helicopters ready for their next challenge. They know, as I do, that additional helicopters in Afghanistan will help us to achieve more and achieve it faster.”
At the end of the ceremony Group Captain Burr paid tribute to his personnel saying:
“I’d like to salute the courage, skill and commitment of all RAF Benson personnel who have served so valiantly in Iraq, to help make a better life for the Iraqi people”.
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Ministry of Defence