SOLDIERS from across Sunderland were due to be presented with medals in front of 45,000 people today.
Wearside members of the 4th Regiment Royal Artillery, the city’s adopted regiment, were being recognised for their efforts in Afghanistan during the past six months.
Thirty lads from the regiment were due to receive their medals from SAFC owner Ellis Short before today’s game against Everton at the Stadium of Light.
The lads returned home to a heroes welcome at Alanbrooke Barracks in North Yorkshire last week.
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.
Among those receiving their Afghan medals today was Gunner Michael Donkin, of Hylton Lane estate, Sunderland.
Gunner Donkin, who celebrated his 21st birthday in Afghanistan, said: “It’s amazing to be back home. I’m just buzzing at the minute.
“Although I don’t really follow football that much, it will be incredible to be at the stadium today getting our medals.”
Gunner Donkin, a former Sandhill View School pupil, is planning to head off on holiday with his girlfriend for the rest of his operational leave.
The soldier’s proud grandparents, Alan and Lisa Donkin, are also delighted to see him back.
Lisa, 59, said: “This was his first tour of Afghanistan, and we’re so proud of him and delighted he’s come back safe and sound.
“You do worry about them when they’re out there.”
Regimental Sergeant Major Kevin Denby said: “It’s an honour for our soldiers to come to the Stadium of Light and be presented with our Afghanistan medals.”
Granted the Freedom of the City of Sunderland in 1974, many of the soldiers are also passionate Sunderland fans.
Chairman Mr Short said: “The club is hugely proud of our armed forces, and we are both delighted and honoured to welcome these brave soldiers to the Stadium of Light.”