Olympian Heather Stanning back from Helmand tour

Gold medallist Heather Stanning: "Soldier respect what I did last summer but at the same time I am here to do a job"

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Olympic gold medallist Heather Stanning has taken part in a homecoming parade in Hampshire after finishing a six-month military tour of Afghanistan.

The 28-year-old army officer trained on rowing machines to keep in shape while working at Camp Bastion.

Capt Stanning is now preparing for the Team GB rowing trials later this month as she aims to compete in Rio.

She and Helen Glover made history when they became the first British female rowers to win an Olympic gold medal.

Capt Stanning joined her Royal Artillery Regiment colleagues at a homecoming parade at Thorney Island near Emsworth, Hampshire.

Describing training in the Afghan desert, she said: "It was pretty hot and dusty, and when the sand storms came up you could really feel the dust in your lungs. It was challenging.

"I was based in Camp Bastion, and there are a few good gyms there so I had the kit to keep fit.

"I've spent an awful lot of time on the rowing machine in the last six months and I'm looking forward to getting back on the water."

Capt Stanning is a battery operations officer, planning and managing the sorties and tasking of the Army's unmanned aircraft, which provide intelligence for British and Afghan troops on the ground.

Capt Stanning in Afghanistan Capt Stanning was commissioned into the Royal Artillery in 2008.

She said using rowing machines had kept her fit but she was not yet ready for international competition.

However, the athlete believes focusing on something different was good for her overall well-being.

"I think it's healthy for the body and mind to have a break," she said.

Capt Stanning - who has been back in the UK for a little over a week - has still not been back in a boat.

"The plan is to get back to being a full-time athlete by the end of the year," she said.

Asked if she missed the water when she was in Helmand Province, she said: "I did. I don't know when I last saw a vast expanse of water."

Following her triumph in the coxless pairs - winning Team GB's first gold medal of London 2012 - Capt Stanning returned to her career with the Royal Artillery.

After intensive pre-deployment training and specialist training working with the Royal Artillery's unmanned air systems she deployed to Afghanistan in April.

She said: "It's nice to be back. I think it was quite successful for us.

"There's a lot of change at the moment, so everything's quite strange but everything went to plan for our battery."

Capt Stanning was commissioned into the Royal Artillery in 2008 and took a two-year career break to train for the London Olympics.

Chief of the General Staff General Sir Peter Wall said: "The Army is about people who work hard and play hard. Heather Stanning is the ultimate example: Olympic gold last year; on the front line this year. Amazing."

Earlier this year Capt Stanning, Ms Glover and their trainer, Robin Williams, were presented with MBEs by the Queen in recognition of their Olympic success.

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