An Army aviation squadron has celebrated the achievements of its soldiers in Afghanistan as it is placed into suspended animation.
A reorganisation of 4 Regiment Army Air Corps, which flies the Apache attack helicopter, has seen 654 Squadron mothballed. The disbandment was marked with a parade at Wattisham Flying Station yesterday (8 July), which also saw 10 members of the squadron, who have recently deployed to Afghanistan, presented with Operational Service Medals.
The restructuring, carried out as part of the Army 2020 reforms, will see 4 Regt AAC reduce from three to two squadrons, but retain its manning levels and helicopters to deliver better-equipped squadrons to support 16 Air Assault Brigade.
During the parade, which featured music from The Band of The Parachute Regiment, flypasts were made by an Auster aircraft and Gazelle, Lynx and Apache attack helicopters, which have all been flown on operations by 654 Sqn since it was formed in 1942.
General Sir Adrian Bradshaw, NATO’s Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe and Colonel Commandant of the Army Air Corps, presented the campaign medals before 654 Sqn marched off the parade square and into history.
The parade also marked the end of 4 Regt AAC’s involvement with operations in Afghanistan. Last week its 664 Squadron returned to the UK, with 3 Regiment Army Air Corps operating the Apache until British combat troops leave Afghanistan at the end of 2014.
4 Regt AAC’s Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel Chris Bisset said: “This parade has been a bittersweet occasion, mixing the sadness of 654 Squadron’s disbandment with a celebration of the Regiment’s contribution to operations in Afghanistan. Since it first deployed in 2006 the Apache has repeatedly proved its value, which is to the credit to our people working both in the air and on the ground.
“All who have served with 654 Squadron, dating back to its origins in the Second World War, can be hugely proud of their contribution. The reorganisation means that the Regiment has retained its capabilities in a leaner structure and is fully ready to meet future operational challenges as part of 16 Air Assault Brigade, the British Army’s rapid reaction force.”
Among soldiers to receive a campaign medal was Air Trooper Sean Toulson who returned in February from a four month tour with 654 Sqn. He said “It’s good to see more people getting their medals as 4 Regt AAC’s time in Afghanistan comes to an end. People will now start to move on to new squadrons with the experience that they have picked up over the last few years.”
654 Sqn was formed in 1942. Operating in North Africa and Italy in support of the 8th Army, the squadron flew artillery observation missions in flimsy Auster aircraft.
After the Second World War, the unit was mostly based in Germany providing attack helicopter support to the British Army of the Rhine. Flying Lynx helicopters it fought in the liberation of Kuwait in 1991 before moving to Wattisham in 1995 and serving in Bosnia in 1996 and Iraq from 2003.
Since equipping with the Apache in 2007 the squadron has deployed to Afghanistan four times, returning from its last four-month tour in February.