Belfast Telegraph

Prince takes the salute as soldiers return to Lisburn from Iraq

By Rebecca Black

Following months of preparation 2 Rifles took to the streets of Lisburn yesterday to stage a homecoming parade before a special royal guest.

The spectacle that attracted crowds of well-wishers came after 250 troops returned safely in January from a tour of Iraq.

Commanding officer Lieutenant Colonel Neil Bellamy told the Belfast Telegraph that homecoming parades were a special moment for the soldiers, not only to be celebrated by the public but also by the reunited unit.

Lisburn and Castlereagh mayor Tim Morrow hosted a breakfast reception for the 2nd Battalion, The Rifles (2 Rifles) at Lagan Valley Island Centre before the real excitement took place.

Around 500 military, led by the band of the 2 Rifles, went on parade around the city centre to Market Square North, where the Earl of Wessex, Royal Colonel of the battalion, took the salute.

While some regiments parade with a mascot, Lt Col Bellamy said that as a traditionally light and swift regiment, they were best known for marching with a bugler.

The commander said the soldiers look forward to homecoming parades, which have become rare in recent years, and also revealed that months of preparation had gone into the event.

"Since our return in January some have been off on leave in February, so the parade was a chance to be reunited and it was a watershed moment to be back together as a family," he said.

"It has taken a great deal of planning by us; from readjusting from being in operational mode, getting the logistics and infrastructure support in place to the huge amount of effort to co-ordinate the event.

"But we've had great support from Castlereagh and Lisburn Council, who also put a great deal of effort into the planning.

"Historically, it is something we didn't do very often. It is really nice to get an opportunity like this on our return home."

During their six-month deployment in Al Anbar Province 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.

And 2018 is set to be another busy year for 2 Rifles with Lt Col Bellamy describing a recent upturn in recruitment and training exercises planned to take place in Jordan and Kenya.

"Any soldier will say they prefer a busy year, those that join the Army tend to do so for a sense of adventure," the commander added.

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