Sir Michael Fallon is Secretary of State for Defence and MP for Sevenoaks.
A fortnight ago, I hosted the finalists of The Sun‘s Military Awards at Number 10 Downing Street. Every single winner I met mentioned that they accepted their “Millie” on behalf of their whole unit. As we spend time with loved ones over Christmas and New Year, it is the perfect opportunity to remember the many, as well as the few.
This morning, around 4,500 British servicemen and women will be serving our country across the globe. Together they are taking part in 25 operations in almost 30 countries. Numbers show the scale but, in 2016, I saw their value up close.
In Cyprus, I saw the dynamism and dedication of the RAF as they helped Iraqi-led forces to battle Daesh terrorists. They’ve been flying at an intensity not seen for a quarter of a century. With almost 1,200 strikes in Iraq and Syria, we’re hitting the terrorists at 11 times the rate we struck the Taliban in Afghanistan. Two years ago, Daesh were within a few miles of Baghdad. Today, they control less than 10 per cent of Iraq.
In that country, I saw the grit and gallantry of British troops who to date have trained almost 32,000 Iraqi and Peshmerga troops. Many of those newly trained warriors are now fighting to liberate Mosul. Nor are our servicemen and women confined to the Middle East. They are in action in Nigeria, Somalia and Ukraine. Together, they’re helping to defend democracy from the advance of aggression.
Finally, I’ve seen the rock-solid resolve and resilience of our sailors. From the decks of our finest Royal Navy vessels, they catch drug smugglers, stop piracy and save lives. As I write, we have 18 ships and submarines scouring the seas from the Caribbean to the Gulf. In particular, my thoughts during this season are with our tireless submariners, who maintain our nuclear deterrent every hour of every day. They may be out of our sight, but they are never out of mind.
So, as this New Year begins, let’s take time out to remember all those away from their loved ones. Our bomb disposal teams are on full alert. Our quick reaction air crews are on standby to protect UK airspace. Our troops are ready at a moment’s notice to cancel their own Christmas and New Year celebrations and help us, as they did during last year’s floods.
Together, our fearless forces are upholding traditions of service and sacrifice that have kept our nation safe for generations. In 2016, this country came together to honour the historic contribution of our parents, grandparents and great grandparents. We remembered those who helped stop a tyrant and win freedom for Kuwait 25 years ago. We remembered those who sailed on Arctic Convoys 75 years ago. We remembered those who laid down their lives on the Somme and at Jutland 100 years ago.
Today’s selfless serving men and women can expect no let up tomorrow. In 2017, our troops will arrive in Estonia to protect our NATO allies, and our pilots will help police the skies over the Black Sea. We look forward to our sailors taking our new Queen Elizabeth carrier out to sea – the biggest warship ever built in Britain. They will be opening a new chapter in the history of the Royal Navy. But for now, we should reflect on today’s unsung heroes. Day in, day out they’re making us safe and defending democracy around the globe. Many won’t have stopped at all over this holiday season, but we should stop to thank them. In a dangerous world, our security depends on their service more than ever.