Messages from home keep spirits up for East Yorkshire soldiers on frontline in Afghanistan
SOLDIERS on the frontline have spoken of their delight at receiving messages from home.
Sergeant Richard "Spud" Smith deployed on his first tour of Afghanistan in September and was one of the soldiers to receive messages from home as the new year dawns.
The Mail is spending the festive season with the Royal Dragoon Guards (RDG) and hand-delivered the envelope at Main Operating Base Price in the district of Gereshk.
Sergeant Smith, 33, of Holderness Road, east Hull, read a note from his wife, Michelle, and their children, Liam, 12, and Aaliyah, nine, and a note from his mum.
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"I'll be celebrating Christmas when I get home on RnR," says Sergeant Smith, who has been married 12 years. "I miss them all loads."
Sitting next to Sergeant Smith is Trooper Danny Blyth, 20, of Withernsea, who is on his first tour of duty, and Corporal Jason Robson, 24, of Bridlington, a veteran of the RDG's last tour in 2010.
All three soldiers are part of the Warthog Group – named after the armoured personnel carrier that performs a range of roles, from transporting troops to providing covering fire.
For the soldiers who have not deployed before, the tour may seem quiet so far. It is clear some would prefer to be in the thick of the action.
But the older ones who fought in the summer of 2010 remind them to be careful for what they wish for.
Corporal Matthew Stenton, 23, of Bridlington, was killed on that tour, driving his vehicle into a hail of Taliban fire to rescue an injured soldier. His actions earned him a posthumous Military Cross.
"He was a very good lad," says Corporal Robson, who now commands his own Warthog. "I know his family well."
Corporal Smith said: "We all still miss him. Ever since he was a young lad he was Army barmy."
Christmas in Afghanistan:
This tour, the Royal Dragoon Guards are performing more of a back-seat role, supporting Afghan security forces who now plan and carry out their own operations.
But Warthogs are still being damaged by Taliban bombs and bullets.
Sergeant Smith said: "One wagon had a bullet lodged in the windscreen."
In Iraq, and to a lesser degree Afghanistan during the early stages of the war, the Government was criticised for not providing soldiers with adequate equipment.
Now, all three soldiers agree British soldiers are among the best equipped in the world.
"We are very well looked after now," said Sergeant Smith. "From our weapons to our body armour and vehicles, it's all the best available."
Sergeant Smith says support from home also plays a vital part in keeping soldiers safe.
"It's one less thing to worry about," he says, putting the messages back into the envelope. "My family are used to me being away at Christmas. But it's not easy."