THE Cheshire Regiment is facing its ultimate battle for survival following government plans for a major re-structure of the armed forces.
While our soldiers are risking their lives in Iraq, proposals to axe three British regiments and merge all remaining single battalion regiments mean a definite end to the Cheshire Regiment in its present form.
Dramatic cutbacks to the armed forces have left troops facing an uncertain future following defence secretary Geoff Hoon's announcement on Wednesday.
Now Army leaders are gearing up to fight their corner in the face of threats to their identity and, ultimately, to their existence.
Major General Keith Skempton, Colonel of the Cheshire Regiment, greeted the proposals with caution and has vowed to try to protect the regiment's unique identity.
'There are many who will share our concern about changes to the Army structure and how they will affect the infantry, particularly when the 1st Battalion is working so hard on operational duty in Iraq,' he said.
'We would hope to retain our traditions and County heritage - all that provides the basis of our recruitment and working ethos.'
He explained the plans for amalgamation were designed to stop the Arms Plot, which is the movement of infantry battalions from base location to base location every few years.
'This has been the basis on which the infantry achieve a variety of experience, fresh approach, a broad skill-base and career opportunity,' he said.
Permanent basing, which will come with amalgamation, is designed to provide greater stability for training and operations as well as for families of servicemen.
The Executive Committee of the Army Board has until autumn to make their final decision as to who goes and who will be merged but it is definite the Cheshires will not remain as they are.
Senior army personnel will be involved in the discussions and this will be The Cheshire Regiment's chance to stand its ground.
There are fears that the decision over who will be axed will be based on recruiting figures which, in The Cheshires' case, have been excellent for the past 10 years, but have recently dipped, leaving them feeling vulnerable.
Maj Skempton said: 'One reason The Cheshire Regiment has survived to date in its current form is because of its traditionally strong recruiting base and county support. Our recruiting is presently capped due to MOD financial constraints.
'However, despite a recent, uncharacteristic dip over the past 10 years we have recruited well above average for infantry regiments and have been called upon to provide reinforcement for operational duty to battalions less well off.
'The regiment is very family orientated with over 90% of its personnel from Cheshire. The county remains very supportive, recently sending a formal letter of support to the soldiers of the Regiment serving in Basra.
'These factors need to be considered.' Regimental secretary Major Nigel Hine is urging people to remain calm until further clarification is reached.
He said: 'Obviously we do not want to be amalgamated but until we get to that situation we don't want to prophesy our own demise. We urge everyone to keep their powder dry until we know we are not in the frame.
'The bottom line is we would rather re-main as we are but that's not an option and moving into a larger regiment, albeit retaining our name still retains our history, ethos and links with the county.
'If it looks like we're going to achieve that, which is the best we can hope for, then that is acceptable, but if it looks like we may become one of those regiments to amalgamate we would look to persuade others this is not the right course of action.'
MOD spokesman Greg Stringer said the announcement has come about as a result of a need for modernisation.
'This is a way of rebalancing the armed forces so that they are more responsive to the strategic environment. It's a different kind of world we are operating in now,' he said.
'The army's task is to come up with a new structure, but certainly based on single larger regiments because we are looking to make our armed forces more agile and deployable. This will give better career development and greater stability for service personnel and their families.'