SEVEN months supporting peace efforts in Afghanistan has come to an end for Isle of Wight naval officer, Rachel Smallwood MBE, who said receiving the County Press in the post every week had been a highlight while she was away.

The 44-year-old commander has returned to Ryde with an American medal in recognition of her outstanding efforts serving with US Forces, having “worked her socks off” in Kabul.

The Royal Navy says her time in Afghanistan has left its mark on the country’s defence and security forces, making them more effective and better value for money, as well as training political advisers.

The main focus of Rachel’s time in Afghanistan had been making Afghan National Defence Security Forces more effective and affordable.

This meant synchronising training and advising personnel across three ministries ­— the Office of National Security, the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of the Interior.

It also included leading a new department to co-ordinate security operations and plans with Afghan ministers, helping to plan and run a national conference, and introducing new training for ministerial advisers.

Senior US officer at the headquarters, Lieutenant General John Deedrick, presented Rachel with the US Meritorious Service Medal, typically awarded to American personnel, including Gulf War I leader ‘Stormin’ Norman Schwarzkopf and Vietnam veteran and US senator, John McCain.

According to the citation, “her outstanding leadership, expertise and dedication to duty significantly enhanced the success of the command’s mission during military operations and set the standard for others to emulate".

Rachel said the medal was a lovely surprise.

“I feel privileged to have been part of the Royal Navy’s contribution to the NATO mission to bring peace and security to the Afghan people, and honoured to have been presented with the US Meritorious Service Medal," said Rachel.

“I joined the Armed Forces 24 years ago, with the plan of serving four years.

“I’m still serving because I gain immense satisfaction from making a positive difference to the lives of others, whether they be my fellow servicewomen and servicemen, or people in countries where conflict and instability makes life very challenging for them.”

Originally from Ventnor, Rachel started her military career as a Royal Marines musician.

She performed in the Isle of Wight Youth Concert Band and Symphony Orchestra before joining up in 1996, subsequently becoming a Royal Navy training officer.

Back in the UK, she’ll resume her work helping to chair the Naval Servicewomen’s Network which champions the work of females in the Royal Navy, and enjoying family time with her son and husband, a retired Royal Marines director of music.