FOR sergeant Lorraine Banks, saying goodbye to her three children for months on end is the hardest thing she has to do.
But now the 32-year-old and her RAF Benson comrades can leave their children with a personalised message when they leave the country on tour – recorded on a voice box in a cuddly lion toy called Purlin.
When the child squeezes Purlin, the lion will repeat the message from the box hidden in the lion’s backpack.
Sgt Banks, mum to Taylor, six, and twins Nicole and Aidan, both four, said: “It is awful leaving the children.
“It is horrible because I miss out on some very important parts of their lives.
“When I was away my little boy had his first day at school. It is hard when you are missing those special times.
“Purlin is a comforter they can have with them when they get upset.
“They want their mum – to have their mum’s voice close is a comforter. It is nice for the little ones.”
She added: “For a young child it is difficult for them to understand we have gone somewhere hot and sandy and we have not taken them with us.”
Before Sgt Banks’ last tour in Qatar from June to October 2011, she recorded her voice on a box and sewed it into cuddly toys for her children.
She said: “They loved it and they are still quite attached to them.”
The children’s dad, Sgt Paul Banks, 37, looks after them when Lorraine is away.
He is away on operations in Bahrain until April this year.
The base, home to 2,000 service personnel, chose a lion toy as the animal is on RAF Benson’s crest.
It was suggested by parents at the base as a good way of helping their child while away on operations and this is the first time the base has done this.
The lions are provided free on request to the children of parents who are being sent abroad and they are paid for by the station’s welfare fund.
The lion was named following a competition won by 14-year-old Icknield Community College pupil Oliver Winter, son of chief technician Andrew Winter.
The name, selected from 48 entries, is made up of ‘Pu’ for Puma, ‘rlin’ for Merlin and ‘Pur’ the sound a cat makes.
Oliver said: “I think Purlin is a great idea as it means I will be able to hear dad’s voice whilst he is away.”
TROOPS ON DEPLOYMENT
It was announced this month that hundreds of army and RAF personnel from Oxfordshire will be sent out to Afghanistan in April.
About 120 RAF Benson personnel from 28 and 78 Squadrons and RAF Brize Norton personnel from 47, 30, 216, 99 and 33 (Engineering) squadrons, 1 Air Mobility Wing and Tactical Medical Wing, will go to the country on operations.
About 300 troops from 3 Logistic Support Regiment, based in Abingdon, and members of 11 Explosive Ordnance Disposal Regiment, based in Didcot, will also be sent.
Joining them will be 15 members of 23 Pioneer Regiment, based in Bicester.
Oxfordshire personnel from 7th Battalion The Rifles, 15th Signal Regiment (Information Support), 29 Postal Courier and Movement Control Regiment and 2 Military Intelligence (Exploitation) will also be deployed.