THE LATEST detachment of Scots Guards spent a precious afternoon with their loved ones yesterday as they prepared to leave rainy Scotland for the baking heat of Afghanistan.
Six soldiers from the now Yorkshire-based Scots Guards visited Edinburgh Castle with their families before they fly out to join the main force in Lashkar Gah later this week.
Among them is a young guardsman, top of his class and tipped for early promotion and a dad-of-two hoping to see the birth of his new son before he leaves.
The armoured infantry division are currently mentoring the Afghan security forces in a volatile region that has claimed the lives of dozens of British soldiers this year alone.
Lance Corporal Sean Grant, 28, from Invergordon, Ross-shire, is leaving behind his 18-week-old daughter Freya for a second tour of Helmand later this week.
However his wife Michelle, 25, knows all to well what he faces when he arrives in Helmand later this week.
As a corporal in the Queen Alexandra Nursing Corps, she expects to be deployed to Afghanistan later this year when her husband returns.
She said: “Between looking after the baby and working, I won’t have much to think about him being out there, I suppose that’s a good thing.
“But because of my work I know what he’s facing a bit more than other wives I suppose.
“It helps to have an understanding of what happens, but he doesn’t tell me everything.
“Sometimes it’s easier not to know everything.”
The couple were married last August in a small ceremony, but plan to have a big wedding party when Sean returns in six months.
Michelle will then hand over her tot to her husband, before leaving for her own six month tour of the same war zone.
She said: “It might seem strange, but it’s quite common to find couples that are both in the army, especially in army towns like Catterick.
“We’re just doing our jobs, and we’re both really proud to be part of the army.”
Serving alongside Lance Corporal Grant is Guardsman Robert McGregor from Glasgow, who is leaving behind heavily pregnant wife Carla, 23, and young sons Billy, 4, and Sean, 2.
The 27-year-old was hoping to be there for the birth of his third son, but expects to be called away at any time.
He said: “My departure date isn’t set yet, and I’m hoping to be there when she has the baby.
“But I could get called away along with the others in a few days time.
“I get a ten day break at some point in the six month tour and it can’t come soon enough.
“I think I’ll be looking forward to that more than anyone here.”
This tour is the first Middle East deployment for the young dad, who previously served as an engineer regiment in Northern Ireland.
His wife Carla said: “I’d like him to be here for the baby but I understand he is going to do the job he’s trained for.
“It’s a big worry him going away. My friend’s husband’s brother was shot over there and you hear about the casualties all the time.
“I just want him back ok.”
Both soldiers, in their late twenties, are tasked with looking after new recruits like Guardsman Matthew Callaghan.
The 22-year-old leaves on his first tour with the army after coming top of his class during training and has already been considered for promotion just 14 months after being sworn in.
He said: “I’m excited to be going out at last, it’s what we’ve trained for.
“We’ve heard about what a tough environment it is but we’re prepared for it.
“We’ve heard that it’s dusty and hostile but the Afghan guys that we’ll be training know the area well and can tell when something is out of place.
“My dad is pretty worried about me going, but he’s proud of what I’m doing as well.”
His dad John, 55, added: “It is a big worry, every parent whose son and daughter does this must feel the same.
“He’ll be embarrassed with me saying this but he was top of his class during training and has been considered for lance corporal already.
“I hate to see him go, but I’m so proud of what he’s achieved and I know he’s doing a job he loves.”
“Obviously I support everything he does – he is a very confident young man.
“Clearly I am quite apprehensive but I know he will get through it.
“There seems to be a great team spirit among the lads.
“That is certainly a good thing because they will have to rely on each other.”