Two of the versatile helicopters returned to the base last week, while more were due back yesterday.

However, the majority are still in the Middle East, helping to move troops, reposition equipment and distribute humanitarian aid.

“The crews and engineers are continuing to work hard in support of various elements of the coalition force,” said an RAF Odiham spokeswoman.

“These include transporting UK and US marines from ship to shore and taking trucks and equipment from bases in the desert back to the ships.”

The 185mph Chinooks are now operating out of Basra in support of ground forces, including 3 Commando Brigade and 16 Air Assault Brigade.

“Some members of 27 Squadron have returned home as the force is drawn down due to the change in tempo of the operations,” said the spokeswoman.

“The personnel in theatre continue to support the humanitarian efforts in southern Iraq.

“Morale is high among personnel, although they are all keen to return home safely to families and loved ones.”

Twenty Chinooks and about 650 crew from RAF Odiham helped in the war on Iraq.

In the build-up to the war, the helicopters helped to transport vital back-up crew such as technicians, refullers, air traffic controllers, caterers, medics and engineers.

The 51-foot Chinooks, which can carry up to 54 troops, 24 stretchers, two Land Rovers or ten tons of freight, were also involved in a number of search and rescue operations involving stranded or lost troops.

MP James Arbuthnot, a former Tory Defence Procurement Minister whose constituency includes RAF Odiham, said the men and women from the air base were “a great source of pride in Hampshire”.

“In circumstances of danger and deprivation they have represented their country in a task that had to be done,” he said.

“We are lucky we can turn to them and ask them to do that.

“Freeing Iraq from a regime that is intent on building up appalling weapons — and that has already used them against its own people — was a difficult challenge but we knew that in the men and women from RAF Odiham we had people who were up to it.”

Mr Arbuthnot said RAF Odiham personnel were well trained for the job.

“We in Hampshire have all watched them in their exercises and seen the work they do.

“We have welcomed them in our communities and we have campaigned for the base to stay in Odiham because we are so proud of them.

“While most of our thoughts may have been with those in the Gulf, perhaps even more difficult was, and still is, the role of the families and colleagues waiting at home, constantly watching the news and waiting for each new piece of information.

“They are the support team without which the front line could not operate at all.

“We are proud of them too, the unsung heroes of this war.”

RAF Odiham has a strong welfare package in place, which offers constant support.

Families on the base are given regular briefings and have access to notice boards containing the most up to date news from theatre and 24-hour welfare points of contact.

Local schools with pupils from families at RAF Odiham have also been doing all they can to make life as smooth as possible before, during and after the war on Iraq.

“Everyone, whether at home or abroad, is working hard and looking forward to the safe return of all our personnel,” said the spokeswoman.

“The personnel of the Joint Helicopter Force have been highly praised for their commitment, determination and professionalism throughout the operation.”