RAF Odiham crews providing vital support for British and American troops trying to topple Saddam Hussein have been declared “heroes” by their MP.

James Arbuthnot, a former Tory Defence Procurement Minister, said the men and women from RAF Odiham are a great source of pride in Hampshire.

“In circumstances of danger and deprivation they are representing their country in a task that has 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 — is a difficult challenge but we know that in the men and women from RAF Odiham we have people who are up to it.”

Mr Arbuthnot, whose Hampshire North-East constit-uency also covers Fleet, Hook and Hartley Wintney, 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.”

He added: “We must now leave it to them, without second guessing or armchair criticism, to get on with their essential role in the action.

“While most of our thoughts may be with those in the Gulf, perhaps even more difficult is the role of the families and colleagues waiting at home, constantly watching the news and waiting for each new scrap 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.”

A spokeswoman for RAF Odiham said crews involved in the war on Iraq and their families back home were both coping well.

“Morale among the deployed personnel is high,” she said. “They have regular access to e-mail and telephones and are constantly updated on events at home.

“The families at RAF Odiham are continuing to be briefed on a weekly basis and have access to notice boards containing the most up-to-date news from theatre and 24-hour welfare points of contact.

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

Twenty helicopters and about 650 crew from RAF Odiham are helping in the war on Iraq.

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

About 60 women from RAF Odiham are in the Gulf.

Most of the crew have been away from Odiham for about two months, putting pressure on their families who are eagerly waiting for their safe return.

But RAF Odiham has a strong welfare package in place which offers support 24 hours, seven days a week.

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

Hart chairman Jonathan Glen led prayers for RAF Odiham crews in the Gulf and their families back home during a full council meeting last week.