Christmas Day apart for Army couple on tour

Paul and Alisha Henderson
Paul and Alisha Henderson
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THEY may both be more than 3,600 miles from home while on tour in Afghanistan, but Paul and Alisha Henderson are faced with a Christmas Day apart.

The married couple from North Yorkshire were deployed to Helmand Province in September, but will not be able to spend time together on the day which is celebrated as a time for family and loved ones.

Lance Corporal Henderson and her husband, a corporal, are with different units, which means they never get a chance to meet up. They are both Army chefs who are on their second operational tours, but it is the first time they have been deployed over the same period, arriving in Afghanistan at the beginning of September for a total of six months.

L/Cpl Henderson serves with the 1st Battalion The Mercian Regiment, and Cpl Henderson is part of The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment. L/Cpl Henderson, who turns 24 on Christmas Eve, said it is difficult being away from her husband of five years, and Christmas will have to be “just like any other working day”.

Over Christmas, L/Cpl Henderson will be at 1 MERCIAN’s forward operating base in Shawqat, while Cpl Henderson, 29, originally from Newcastle, will be working about 30 miles away at Patrol Base Attal.

L/Cpl Henderson said: “I suppose it’s just the same as any other couple. We’re both out here and both doing a job. It’s a bit hard as obviously I can’t just pick up the phone when I want and ring him whenever I like, and vice versa.

“We get to speak to each other twice a week, on Saturdays and Tuesdays – we try and keep it to 9.30pm each time because we’ve both got commitments.

“With Christmas coming, we’re in the mind-set that it’s just another working day. It’s how it has to be.

“Even though we can’t be together, it’s still a bit of a support mechanism knowing he’s out here too. We both understand what the other one is going through.”

The couple met six years ago during an Army training course, and married the following year while on holiday in Cyprus.

The pair, who live in Catterick, have just got back from a two-week rest and relaxation period, which is given to all soldiers who are serving for more than four months at a time. They celebrated Christmas early with a curry lunch cooked by Cpl Henderson’s father, which he traditionally makes for the family on Boxing Day.

Cpl Henderson, who was born in Edinburgh and brought up in Galashiels in the Scottish Borders, added: “It’s hard being apart. We do get to speak once or twice a week but never actually get to see each other. We’ve just had our R&R break together and that’s the first time I’ve laid eyes on her in three months. It will be another three or so months before we see each other again.”

L/Cpl Henderson said that, despite the fact that they are both chefs, she likes to leave most of the cooking to her husband when they are at home. “He does the cooking and I do the dishes,” she said.

Meanwhile, David Cameron has hinted British troops could be withdrawn from Afghanistan even faster after better-than-expected progress by the country’s own security forces.

The Prime Minister announced this week that UK numbers would be nearly halved to 5,200 next year as part of the plan to end combat operations in 2014. But, during a pre-Christmas visit to troops in Camp Bastion, he indicated the process could be speeded up further.

He dismissed claims western powers appear to be cutting and running from Afghanistan, potentially leaving the door open for a Taliban resurgence, and hailed the performance of the Afghan police and army, saying the timetable was on track.

He said: “Of course there is always flexibility in any plan. But I would make the point that so far things have surprised on the upside in terms of the capability of Afghan forces. So we might be able to move a little faster. Let’s see how things go.”