The Royal Scots Borderers were paid a royal visit as troops from the battalion deployed to west Africa to tackle the deadly Ebola outbreak.
The Princess Royal was on a two-day visit to the battalion, part of the Royal Regiment of Scotland and now based at Palace Barracks near Belfast, in her capacity as royal colonel.
During the visit she spent time with soldiers and their families to hear and see about the move to their new base and their training for contingency operations worldwide – including Sierra Leone, where 40 of the soldiers are already on the ground near the country’s capital, Freetown.
Britain is sending a further 750 troops, medics, naval assets and helicopters to west Africa to join the international emergency operation.
Commanding officer Lieutenant Colonel Matt Munro said the visit was a major boost for the battalion: “With making the move to Northern Ireland just a couple of months ago and knowing the busy schedule for Her Royal Highness, we are delighted she has been able to come and see us.
“We ask a lot from our soldiers and they deliver unconditionally. They do a wonderful job and Her Royal Highness has been able to see some of them on their training here and to hear from them about recent deployments, including Afghanistan and Bosnia.”
On the deployment to Sierra Leone, Lt Col Munro said: “This is a challenge unlike any, but the point is that we are very well prepared.
“This kind of operation represents, I think, the future for parts of the British Army. We deployed in the first instance to Sierra Leone at very short notice, not knowing how long my people were likely to be there.
“But they are hugely professional and I have spoken before, not just about the quality of the soldiers, but also about the quality of their training.”
He added: “ There are some peculiar threats to this operation, clearly relating to the Ebola virus and, of course, there is a risk of soldiers from this battalion contracting the virus, but it is a very low risk because there are all sorts of very practical and sensible measures that my people can employ to ensure that the risk is kept to an absolute minimum.”
Lt Col Munro said soldiers had been “queuing up to deploy,” keen to go on operations.