Returning troops soak up precious family time

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'IT WAS like they knew I was alone and I needed them to be good," says Pamela Mizuh, smiling down at her two-year-old son Ray who is engrossed with a toy truck on the grass by her feet.

"He would always go to bed when I asked him to, and the baby was great as well, meaning I had just a little time for myself in the evenings."

Just yards away, in his desert combats, Pamela's husband Private Ignatious Mizuh stands cradling their five-month old baby, a beautiful little boy called Roy who is tucked into his father's broad chest, sleeping soundly despite the excitement around him.

Ignatious, 36, a soldier with the Edinburgh-based 1 SCOTS - The Royal Scots Borderers, 1st Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland - has just returned from a four-month tour of Afghanistan, arriving back to his home in Redford at the weekend for an emotional reunion with his family.

He is celebrating a safe return with many of his comrades and their loved ones in the garden of the regiment's welfare centre in Dreghorn, sharing a coffee and a chat while their children play around them, blissfully unaware of the dangers their fathers have just left behind.

It was more than a special return for the Cameroon-born soldier though. He had spent only a few weeks with his newborn son before he was deployed to the Nadi Ali district of Afghanistan earlier this year, leaving behind his wife, toddler and baby as he went to fight the Taliban.

The Army had delayed his departure so he could be at the Royal Infirmary with Pamela, 31, a nurse, as she gave birth to Roy, spend a short time at home to get to know the infant, before flying off to join his comrades.

"I really had to convince Pamela that I would come home though," Ignatious smiles, looking at his wife who is beaming back at him. "I was always confident that I would - I really was.

"I think when soldiers leave Edinburgh to go to Afghanistan, the public thinks it must be terrible, and parts of it are, but we are trained."If someone is killed it's very unfortunate but we are trained to be there and we are confident in what we are doing."

Around 400 soldiers were deployed to the Helmand Province in March, with 1 SCOTS living and working alongside the Afghan National Army, training and mentoring them to protect the security of their country.

Along with 12 soldiers seriously injured, the battalion suffered one fatality, that of 26-year-old Lance Corporal Joseph Pool, from Dumfries, who was killed in action following an exchange of fire with insurgents on September 5.

Every soldier standing with their family in this Dreghorn garden knows it could easily have been them - and so do their loved ones.

"It's a really worrying time when they are away," says 23-year-old carer Paula Young, a former student at Wester Hailes Education Centre.

"We get support here, which is brilliant and all the army wives have been so kind to me, but it is always worrying. It's really hard."

Perched on the end of a picnic table, her fianc Private Darren McMahon, 22, stands beside her, describing the moment he saw her again after six months apart as "the best feeling ever".

His tour of Afghanistan meant Paula was left to plan their wedding next month at Edinburgh Castle alone, determined to busy herself in their Calder home with the preparations in a bid to stop her from constantly worrying about his safety.

While he fought for his country, he dreamt of getting back to Paula and his family, as well as to Edinburgh... and Irn-Bru.

"I missed everything!" Darren laughs. "Glass bottles of Irn-Bru for a start and the smell of home. I really missed the smell. I'd look at pictures though and phone when I could. The more you phone, the better things are.

"It seemed to take forever just to get back to Edinburgh. To see Paula again and to get a cuddle was the best feeling ever. Getting one from the guys when you're away really isn't the same!"

For now, all the soldiers from 1 SCOTS can enjoy a little down time, a chance for a good quality of life with their family and friends in Edinburgh, before heading off to Kenya on an exercise which will see them focus on their physical fitness.

Along with lots of home-cooked dinners, nights out with friends and family and routine tasks on the barracks, the trip is something they are all looking forward to.

But within the next two years, it is highly likely they will once again be asked to return to Afghanistan where they hope their recent efforts will have made a marked difference on the war-torn country.

"Afghanistan really is a beautiful country," explains Lance Corporal John Thomson, a 27-year-old father of three who lives with his wife and children in Redhall.

"There have been so many years of war though and it has affected it so badly.

"You see people walking about with scars on their bodies; it's such a shame. No country should have to go through this."

The soldier, a keen footballer who played for Edinburgh Southern AFC before he left for Afghanistan, and has previously served in Iraq and Northern Ireland, believes 1 SCOTS worked well with the Afghan National Army, whom they lived closely alongside over the past six months.

Although the soldiers were in separate accommodation blocks, they regularly ate together as well as sharing social time.

"Once we got over the language barrier, we had a laugh," explains John, who was based at Gereshk. "They wanted us there and they were very determined to build up relations.

"We were often invited to eat with them - their food was really nice! Some of them had great English and they had picked up a lot from the soldiers who had been there before us, but we had interpreters too.

"They felt the same as a lot of us about being away from their families, yet many of them had been away from home for up to two years.

"When we had down time we would relax as much as we could, watching a bit of TV or a DVD. Sometimes the Afghans would watch it with us and it was funny to see their facial expressions, especially when a soap like Hollyoaks was on!

"When it was time for us to leave, the soldiers wanted us to stay. We'd built up relationships after all."

Over in the corner of the garden, the Mizuh family prepares to head home, packaging up Ray's toy truck, his little brother still firmly in his proud father's arms.

Pamela laughs as she recalls the moment her husband returned at the weekend, her waiting proudly at the barracks frantically waving two flags - one for Scotland, the other for her native Cameroon.

"I am not sure what the other wives were doing," she says. "I must have looked like a lunatic! But I was so happy."

Her husband smiles, explaining how he has been trying to give her as much free time as possible since his return, swapping guns for nappies as he makes the transition from full-time soldier to dad.

"I felt so proud to see my family waiting for me. It was very exciting," he smiles.