IT WAS an emotional homecoming for 2 Squadron RAF Regiment on Wednesday as families greeted the 122 airmen and women with deafening cheer and applause.
Arriving at RAF Honington earlier than expected, after a tour at Camp Bastion, in Afghanistan, squadron members were spotted through the open door to Jimmy James Hangar as they began marching towards their loved ones, whom most had not seen since October last year.
Sarah Millichamp, from Great Whelnetham, reunited her husband Sgt Paul Millichamp with their seven-year-old daughter, Tia.
“It’s a real relief to have him home, it’s been a long seven months,” she said.
Jenny O’Keeffe’s husband, Cpl DJ O’Keeffe, had returned from his eighth tour in 14 years.
She said: “It’s hard just being home, not having that second opinion. He’s my comfort blanket, the glue that holds us together. I don’t sleep well without him, I don’t feel safe when he’s not there.”
Cpl O’Keeffe, a father of four from Honington, said: “I’m relieved to be back with the family. It’s never easy being away although I’m used to it.”
Cpl Kenny Duggan was greeted by his wife Katie and their four young children. She described his absence as ‘pure hell’.
He said: “It’s hard being separated from the family but obviously you get on with the job in hand. I believe it’s a lot easier for us being out there than it is for the families – it’s them not knowing how we’re doing that makes it hard, we know we’re okay but they get concerned.”
The celebratory atmosphere was overshadowed by the loss of one of the squadron, 21-year-old SAC Ryan Tomlin, who was fatally shot while on patrol in February.
Squadron Leader Jules Weekes said being home would allow the squadron to grieve properly and ‘to remember Ryan in the way he would have wanted’.
The squadron will now enjoy six weeks’ post-deployment leave, before preparing for their homecoming parade in Bury on June 30.