Colonel’s pride as his troops return safely to Northern Ireland after Iraq tour
The commanding officer of the 2nd Battalion The Rifles has spoken of his pride at finishing his front line career on a high, taking his unit to Iraq to help stabilise the region and bringing them all home safely this week.
It was a delayed homecoming for the Ulster soldiers of the unit yesterday - they arrived a day late after fog prevented their plane from landing at RAF Aldergrove on Wednesday.
Despite coming within sight of the airport, they were forced to turn back to RAF Brize Norton.
But yesterday afternoon the troops finally saw the welcome sight of their home base at Thiepval Barracks in Lisburn following six months in the searing Middle East heat.
Yesterday's homecoming was a particularly poignant moment for Commanding Officer Neil Bellamy, after what was his last tour.
Colonel Bellamy said that the tour meant 2 Rifles providing security support to the Iraqi security forces.
During a six-month deployment in Iraq the unit took part in Operation Shader, the UK's contribution to the war against Islamic State in Iraq. Riflemen stood guard over the Al Asad Airbase, supporting Iraqi operations to retake towns seized by IS in 2014.
"For us that meant providing security to a large coalition base in Anbar, western Iraq, and also training the Iraqi security forces," Col Bellamy said.
One of the difficulties the battalion faced was dealing with the summer heat, which rose to more than 45 degrees at times. But Col Bellamy added: "The most challenging aspect for us was for a lot of the guys being away from home for the first time, and being away at Christmas.
"But more importantly, understanding a changing situation from defeating Daesh (another name for Islamic State) to creating stability in a difficult part of the world."
He went on to put on record his pride at bringing the unit back safely.
"After I leave here I am off to Army headquarters, but as you can imagine, it has been absolutely fantastic to finish on a high, taking the battalion away on operations as well as bringing them all back safely," he said.
No longer routinely committed to security operations in Northern Ireland, 2 Rifles is part of the British Army's Adaptive Force that deploys on operations worldwide at short notice.