Hounslow schoolchildren were put through their paces today by soldiers bound for Afghanistan in a groundbreaking scheme at Hounslow Barracks.

The Second Battalion, the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, who have been based at Hounslow Barracks since March last year are being deployed to Musa Qal'ah in the notoriously dangerous Helmand province on April 8.

But for two days the soldiers have embarked on a very different mission - teaching youngsters the value of teamwork and respect.

The junior leadership package is the brainchild of Major Jim Skelton who has lead the battalion's drive to become closely linked into the Hounslow community during their time at the barracks. Football coaching and a fun day over the summer paved the way for an ambitious plan with Hounslow Council to take more than 30 of the borough's children from various schools and put them through a mini army training programme, the first of its kind in London.

Major Skelton, who will lead 100 men in Musa Qal'ah for six months, said: "It just seemed like that next step after we ran the smaller initiatives.

"The soldiers like to be able to relate to the community they are in and put down roots. It is also a chance to change some perspectives on the military - but it's definitely not a recruitment pitch."

Of tomorrow's parade through the streets of Hounslow he said: "What a great thing to be asked to do. There has been a sea-change in the public opinion towards us and it's really nice."

Children who either volunteered or were put forward by teachers or education workers have spent Tuesday and Wednesday at the Beavers Lane barracks in discussion groups talking about the rights and wrongs of war and knife crime before donning helmets and overalls and testing their leadership skills on 'command tasks'.

The exercises are based on those used at Sandhurst such as working out how to retrieve a fuel can from a mine field with just some rope. Groups of eight are left leaderless and encouraged to root out the different talents within the team to crack the puzzle.

The battalion is bound for Germany in 2010 and then Cyprus, but hopes are high that if they spend more time in Hounslow after Afghanistan the programme could be staged regularly.

Thomas Correia, 13, from Gunnersbury Catholic School, said: "We have learned so much about what the fusiliers do and how on the front line it can be really dangerous and also fun. Being around this base has been really cool. They have some really interesting experiences about how they work together."


The parade begins at 4pm on Thursday, 5 March, at the top of Hounslow High Street (near the bus station). It will pass the war memorial in the High Street, onto Lampton Road and arrive in Lampton Park at 4.30pm where the troops will be received and inspected by the leader of the council, and the Mayor of Hounslow, Cllr Genevieve Hibbs