A DEVOTED dad bid an emotional farewell to his family as he jetted off on Friday to join peacekeeping forces in Iraq.
Amid an upsurge of kidnapping and violence against coalition forces in the country, garage worker Andrew Hughes flew out to Basra with four Territorial Army colleagues to join the regular Army for six months.
It is the longest and most dangerous assignment Andrew, company sergeant major in the Kings and Cheshire's regiment, has undertaken.
His anxious family, at home in Norton, say they cannot wait for his return sometime in October.
Wife Martina said their two children Scott, six, and Emily, three, were already busy making presents and writing letters to their daddy.
'Andrew's never been away this long before, the longest he's been gone in the past is two weeks, so it will be difficult for us,' she said.
'Scott's old enough to understand where his dad has gone, but Emily's only three. I think they'll be all right for a while, but six months is a long time for them and soon they'll be wondering when daddy's coming back.'
The five soldiers from Runcorn have all left 'civilian' jobs as well as loved ones behind. It is the first time any of them have been involved in such an important, or dangerous, mission, but they say they have been well trained and are ready for anything.
Andrew, whose day job is as a service adviser at Gallagher's garage in Warrington, said: 'We've not been to Iraq before but we've all been on overseas exercises with the TA before - I've been to the Falklands and Slovakia, so I've got some idea of what to expect.
'We've all been trained for situations like this, so it's a good chance to put that into practice.'
Andrew travelled to Basra with fellow TA soldiers Sgt Paul Roberts, Sgt maj Tom Doyle, Cpl Ann Jeffers and Col Sgt Trevor Phillips almost a year to the day that Saddam Hussein's regime crumbled.
He said: 'I'm looking forward to it because it'll be a challenge, but I'm not looking forward to leaving my wife and children.'
But Andrew already knows his family are thinking of him - they sent a box of goodies, including sweets and biscuits, to greet him on his arrival.