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What did Royal Irish troops in Afghanistan miss most at Christmas?

By Rebecca Black

Hundreds of Royal Irish Regiment soldiers spent Christmas thousands of miles from home in the Afghan capital of Kabul.

They are just over a month into a deployment, providing protection for those tasked with training, advising and assisting the Afghan government, police and army, as part of a wider mission alongside NATO allies.

In a festive video posted on the Royal Irish Facebook page, some of the soldiers detailed what they were missing most this Christmas time.

Most cited family and friends, while others said they would miss their Christmas dinner and seeing their children open their presents.

However, the soldiers enjoyed a traditional Christmas dinner served to them by their officers.

Captain Wes Brown told the Belfast Telegraph that this was the first Christmas away from home for some of the younger soldiers in the bustling and unfamiliar city of Kabul.

"The Rangers were treated to a traditional Christmas dinner served up by the officers - just as would usually take place in the lead-up to Christmas in barracks," he explained.

"The rest of the day involved some sport, some films, and a 'pub' quiz…ably organised by the battalion's padre.

"Of course, there was no beer to be had, and the soldiers remained acutely aware that their day could be interrupted at any point to respond to an incident taking place in the city.

"The soldiers have missed a few home comforts, of course, whether that's spending the day with family and friends, enjoying the food and drink, or getting out into town to enjoy the craic during the festive period.

"To make things look a bit more familiar the soldiers have thrown up plenty of decorations around the place, and have hung up some optimistic stockings here and there.

"The Rangers can now look forward to spending New Year's Eve in the city - where there will be Royal Irish pipers ringing in the bells all across town."

Former Royal Irish Captain and now UUP MLA, Doug Beattie, who holds the Military Cross, said spending Christmas away from home was always challenging. "At Christmas time you always want to be around family, so it is always a little bit sad to be away from them," he said.

"But one of the things which I think is interesting is that those people you are away with become your family in many ways. Certainly the guys who are in Kabul over Christmas will all gather together, support each other and have fun, but you can't replace being with your wife, or other loved ones, and children."

Mr Beattie spent Christmas 2006 and also 2010 in Helmand province.

He recalled: "In 2006 I remember going to get our Christmas dinner, and the Royal Marines were all wearing little black dresses. They all brought them with them because they knew they would be spending Christmas away, and they all put these dresses on just to give everyone a laugh.

"But 2010 was a more miserable affair because I was in an isolated checkpoint. When you have got time on your hands it gives you time to think.

"They will be hoping they get either a parcel or the ability to make a phone call or email home. You carve out your own little Christmas when you are overseas, but nothing can replace being with the people you love."

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