AN RAF engineer and his family have completed an eye-opening charity mission, following in the footsteps of wartime invasion heroes.
Sergeant Richard Atha, who is part of Air Surveillance and Control Systems at RAF Boulmer, his wife Amanda and their three young children, tackled the Help for Heroes European 4x4 Rally 2011 last month, raising thousands of pounds for the cause.
The arduous expedition saw them join more than 40 other teams and travel through six countries in just under two weeks, clocking up more than 3,100 miles in their own Range Rover.
The 4x4 challenge, which was part military history tour, part off-road driving, part club-type social and included fun activities, followed the route and told the story of the Allied Invasion from 1944-45 through Europe, and included parts fabled by the Band of Brothers book and television series.
In addition to Normandy, the rally route visited the Market Garden and Rhine offensives at Arnhem, Holland, and Bastogne in Belgium, as well as the Dachau concentration camp in Bavaria, Germany.
The journey ended at Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest at Berchtesgaden, also in Germany.
Richard, 32, whose family team was named Airborne Ranger Rovers, said: “It was exhausting and expensive – we spent the best part of £1,000 on fuel – but very rewarding.
“Taking the whole family was a challenge.
“The days were very long, sometimes spending 15 hours a day in the car travelling between countries and sites.
“But it was rewarding and we wouldn’t have seen the places we did see if we hadn’t taken part in the rally.
“The prison camp at Dachau was emotional and seeing the foxholes at Foy and Bastogne was quite an experience.
“The views at Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest were spectacular and there was a huge relief when we got there as we had got to the end of the rally.”
And it proved to be a winning trek for the Athas, who won the family event and came 11th overall.
Richard and Amanda, 37, who were joined by Jessica, 10, Joshua, six, and Charlotte, five, said: “To come 11th overall out of 43 teams was great and we were more than surprised to win the family event, which was fantastic, and we have got a nice first place trophy.”
The epic journey has seen the family raise close to £8,500, smashing their initial target of £2,500.
Richard admits they are ‘massively delighted’ and thanked everyone for their support and generosity.
But with the sponsorship window open until mid-August, he is urging people to continue to donate to the cause to support both the charity and the rally itself, which has raised more than £148,000 from this year’s event alone.
For more information about the team’s feat and to sponsor them, visit http://airbornerangerrovers.com