TEARS of joy were flowing as Wearside families welcomed their heroes home.
Soldiers from the city were among more than 100 members of the 4th Regiment Royal Artillery, Sunderland’s adopted regiment, who returned to the region following a gruelling six-month tour of Afghanistan.
Proud and elated family and friends were on hand at Alanbrooke Barracks in North Yorkshire to make sure the troops were given a homecoming to remember.
And, their commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Richard Wallwork, said they are now looking forward to exercising their freedom of the city by taking part in a parade through Wearside on Armed Forces Day, June 29.
He said: “We have very close links with Sunderland and the support we have had from everyone has been fantastic.
“I am really proud of the guys, this was our third tour in Afghanistan and they have done a great job.”
The 117 members of 4th Regiment Royal Artillery, known as The North East Gunners because the majority of them hail from the region, had been based in Helmand under the command of 4th Mechanized Brigade on Operation Herrick 17 since October last year.
During the tour, the Gunners were deployed throughout the province and helped to mentor the Afghan National Security Forces as the transition of power continues.
Among those returning home to loved ones, including fiancée Emma Baxter, 24, was Bombardier Sean Hounslow, 28, from Red House, who said: “I am just pleased to be back, knowing it was our last tour. I’m just looking forward to some well earned rest.
“We were really busy over there, so the tour went very quickly.”
Teaching assistant Emma, said: “It is just a massive relief to have him home and just hope he doesn’t have to go again.”
Bombardier Michael Wilson, 31, of Red House, was greeted by his family when he arrived back, including mum Susan Wilson, 52, dad Stephen Wilson, 54, partner Hayley Wooton, 27, and seven-month-old daughter Isla, who was just nine days old when he was deployed.
Hayley, who works for npower and lives in Town End Farm, said: “It has been really hard not having him here, especially with the baby, but I have had a lot of help.”
Michael, who is also dad to seven-year-old Grace, said: “It feels absolutely fantastic to be back. I just want to spend time with the kids and the rest of the family and get back to a normal life.”
Kim Middlemiss, 29, from Red House, who works for North Yorkshire County Council, was overjoyed to be reunited with her husband, Sergeant Tony Middlemiss, 30, who hails from Washington.
Kim, who was at the welcoming committee with children, Felicity, nine, and seven-year-old, Owen, said: “It is so hard when he is away, but you have to maintain a routine for the children. I work two jobs because I like to keep active, it stops me dwelling on things.
“The first half of the tour went really quickly, but the second half dragged.”
Sgt Middlemiss said he was overjoyed to be back with his family. Sunderland youngster, Tamzin Facey, seven, said she had been really sad while her dad, Sergeant Simon Facey, 33, had been away, but now she was so excited to see him.
The Thorney Close schoolgirl, who was waiting with her mum, Kelly, 31, and brother Tyler, three, said: “I couldn’t believe it was the day he was coming back.
“I kept counting down how long it was until I would see him. It has been very hard really, because I love him.”