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Army Air Corps exercises Freedom before return to Estonia

Over 150 officers and soldiers from 1st Regiment Army Air Corps (1AAC) based at Yeovilton, marched through the streets of Wincanton last week to exercise their Freedom of the town before deploying on operations later this year.

The Regiment has a strong affiliation with Wincanton, having been awarded the Freedom of the Town seven years ago. The honour recognises the enduring bond between the Regiment and the South Somerset town. This was the first occasion that the entire Regiment has exercised the award since it was given to them in 2016, and although rain threatened, large crowds lined the High Street, cheering and waving union flags.

The tradition of the Freedom of a Town or City dates from when fortress walls were necessary to protect its inhabitants from outlaw bands and the attacks of feudal lords.

The Parade means a huge amount to the Regiment, we have been in the Somerset area since 2014 and since that time we have become completely embedded with the local community Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Rivett
Commanding Officer
1st Regiment Army Air Corps

The Freedom was an honour granted only to troops who had earned the trust of the local population, either through some valiant action or simply by being a familiar presence.

Commanding Officer, 1st Regiment Army Air Corps, Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Rivett:

“The Parade means a huge amount to the Regiment, we have been in the Somerset area since 2014 and since that time we have become completely embedded with the local community.”

"The people of Wincanton live with helicopters flying over their heads on a daily basis, so to come here and give something back to the Wincanton community is very rewarding for us.”

Holding the Freedom is the greatest honour that can be bestowed on a unit within the Armed Forces and entitles the regiment to exercise the right to march through the town with colours flying, drums beating, and bayonets fixed. The Regiment were honoured to be able to do this prior to returning to the Baltics again later this year. They were the first aviation capability deployed on Operation Cabrit in 2018 and have been there every year since.

Lieutenant Colonel Rivett explains their role:

“We are a key enabler when we are in theatre. 1AAC provides the Wildcat helicopter which is the Army’s only aviation reconnaissance capability, we basically provide aviation strike and reconnaissance to the Army which in a theatre like OP CABRIT allows us to coordinate all the capabilities that are on the ground.

Apache and Wildcat are paired and teamed together as part of an attack reconnaissance team capability. That’s a force multiplier in terms of being able to combine those two elements together. Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Rivett
Commanding Officer
1st Regiment Army Air Corps

And he adds, they’ll be working closely with their aviation colleagues once deployed:

“Apache and Wildcat are paired and teamed together as part of an attack reconnaissance team capability. That’s a force multiplier in terms of being able to combine those two elements together.

There is the requirement to build on our operational experience out in that theatre to adapt to where the theatre has progressed to over the recent years. The key challenges are always going to be integrating with the local defence forces and wider NATO and whichever capabilities turn up on whichever operation or exercise we deploy on.”

For Air Trooper Elana Haywood (23), this was her first Freedom Parade:

“The parade was brilliant. It was great to see people of all ages coming out and supporting us. It really boosts our morale to be appreciated like this and to be recognised for the work we do.”

The Freedom Parade also provided a surprise first for the Regiment when they were presented with Sergeant Buttercup, a 28-day-old Friesian cow, by Wincanton Town Council before the parade commenced. The town, which has a long-standing history with the dairy industry and has its origins in milk production, ensured that this Corps really got the cream.