HUNDREDS of South Yorkshire soldiers are flying out this week to begin their latest tour of duty in Afghanistan.
Nearly 500 members of First Battalion the Yorkshire Regiment, around a third of whom are from South Yorkshire, are being deployed for the next six months having completed final preparations and checks at their barracks in Munster, Germany.
The soldiers are deploying to Afghanistan as a complete battalion for the first time, although many have served in the war zone attached to other units.
They will be based at forward operating bases across Helmand Province in support of 20th Armoured Brigade, carrying out patrols and security operations and supplying mortar and heavy machine gun support to the mission.
Alongside seasoned veterans, some of the soldiers are being deployed for the first time, including 22-year-old Private Ricky Cooper, a former Myrtle Springs School student.
Ricky, who joined the Army in 2009, said: “Our aim is to let the Afghan community know that we are there to support them.
“I will take part in at least two patrols a day, meeting and engaging with the locals.
“I am really looking forward to the tour and want to get out there to do the job that I am trained to do.
“It is something that I am proud to say I have done.
“It will hopefully be a really interesting experience but there is that bit of nervousness. However, I just want to get out there.”
The battalion will be split up working with 3rd Battalion the Royal Regiment of Scotland, the Queens Royal Hussars, and the Danish Army.
Personnel will have to deal with the harsh Afghan winter when temperatures can dip well below zero, and most of them will stay out there over Christmas and the New Year.
Ricky, whose mother lives in Totley, added: “I will miss my family and I will miss the relaxation of doing what I want to do, of having a drink and a game of football. I will definitely miss my own bed.
“I will be out there for Christmas, but we all pretty much all live like a family out there and we will still have a Christmas dinner.”
Soldiers and officers from 1 Yorks have completed over a year of preparations for their mission in Afghanistan which included a two-month trip to the Falkland Islands, a major exercise on the prairies of Canada and training in the UK.
Commanding Officer of 1 Yorks, Lt Colonel Dan Bradbury, said: “We are looking forward to getting on with the challenge. The battalion’s priority is security and developing the Afghan security forces so that we can hand over to them.”