The price of wearing the maroon beret

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The Independent Online

They revel in their image as the steely élite of the British Army, but the Parachute Regiment was last night once more counting the cost of being regarded as the hard men of the armed forces.

They revel in their image as the steely élite of the British Army, but the Parachute Regiment was last night once more counting the cost of being regarded as the hard men of the armed forces.

The Ministry of Defence confirmed that one soldier from the ranks of 1 Para was killed and a further 11 injured as they launched their raid yesterday on Sierra Leonean rebels in the half light of a tropical dawn.

It is a familiar tale for the wearers of the famous maroon berets and winged cap badges who have fought in some of the most heroic, bloody and plain brutal of Britain's military conflicts over the past 50 years.

The fact that it was the Paras who were chosen to descend on a heavily fortified swamp fortress to do battle with the West Side Boys is none the less of little surprise given their history of derring do.

Rokel Creek, the river island attacked by the Paras, now joins such names as Goose Green, Bogside, Arnhem and Pegasus Bridge as places inextricably linked to the regiment - for reasons good and bad.

The Paras' reputation has been carefully nurtured since the foundation of the regiment in June 1940, when Winston Churchill sent a note to the War Office suggesting it form a corps of 5,000 parachutists.

The modern Parachute Regiment, whose 1,800 men split into three battalions to form the core of the country's new air mobile force, continues to guard its image as a hardened élite with a rigorous training course.

Regarded as the toughest basic training in the regular forces, the course is split into two 14-week sections to cover skills ranging from 40-mile endurance runs to jumping out of an aircraft.

Survivors are entitled to "Para pay" - an extra £3.56 per day. But crucially they are also allowed to don the beret that gives the regiment its other name, the Maroon Machine.

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