A Heanor air force officer will be among the last British troops ever to be sent to serve in Afghanistan.
By the end of the year there will be no British personnel left there in a combat role when the Afghan National Security Forces will take control.
British troops have been based in Afghanistan since 2001, taking on the Taliban on the front line.
Squadron Leader Gareth Prendergast, a former Heanor Gate School pupil, will be returning to Kandahar with 31 Squadron for the second time when he heads out in the coming weeks.
He will lead the last ever fast jet-flying squadron heading to the war-torn country.
He told the News: “I deployed with the squadron when they went out the first time in 2009 just after Tornados took over from the Harriers, so it’s quite fitting that I am there again as UK troops prepare to come home.”
“Last time I was a flight lieutenant, this time, as a squadron leader, I am the flight commander responsible for the day to day running of the squadron, based at RAF Marham, Norfolk.”
The squadron will patrol the skies, providing reconnaissance and protection using high-tech Litening or RAPTOR reconnaissance pods meaning their aircraft have the ability to capture important data, including images, about insurgent movements.
Gareth, who will also be flying out on operations, is proud in the knowledge that what he does directly affect the safety of the troops on the ground.
He said: “It’s a very unique position to be in, especially when you have finished a mission in the skies. Whether it’s protecting our own troops, other NATO troops or the Afghan National Army, it’s a happy feeling to know that you have done your bit to make sure that they have gone back to their base safely at the end of the day.”
During a week-long Mission Rehearsal Exercise (MRX) in readiness for going to Afghanistan, Gareth faced a variety of scenarios designed to mirror what his squadron might encounter when operating for four months from Kandahar Airfield.
These included Tornados being scrambled at short notice to go to the aid of troops in danger, simulated rocket attacks on the base and the delivery of immediate first aid to casualties.
He said: “The training that we have received in this week has been fantastic. From my point of view it’s good to know that the squadron can confidently handle any situation that we could face out in Afghanistan.”
Throughout the week all personnel were observed by assessors from the newly formed Operational Training Centre based at RAF Leeming in North Yorkshire, which is responsible for training units before they are sent anywhere in the world.
Squadron Leader Simon Reade, exercise director, has been overseeing the training and said:“Our role is to provide realistic and relevant training to prepare the entire squadron for the range of tasks that they might face in the final stages of operations in Afghanistan.
“We ensure that the RAF deploys confident and capable personnel through a variety of increasingly complex events.”