‘Leader of men’ with five-star career cut down

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The family of Corporal Jake Hartley, one of the six soldiers killed in the blast in Afghanistan, said they were “devastated” at the death of their “best friend”.

Tragically, the soldier from Dewsbury would have marked his 21st birthday tomorrow.

In a tribute, he was described by his commanding officer as a “top soldier... a dedicated leader of men” who he predicted had been destined to rise through the ranks.

Cpl Hartley’s stepfather Mark Taylor, 44, who lives at New Mill, near Holmfirth, said: “We’re devastated at the loss of our son.

“He’s our best friend as well.

“Jake was always in the limelight.

“He was a larger than life character.

“He was really determined to do well in Army life.”

Mr Taylor said his 20-year-old stepson was “destined to achieve great things”.

Describing his character, he said: “He was kind, generous, heart of gold, an absolutely wicked sense of humour.

“He loved all his family and friends.

“He had such big group of friends both in the Army and civilian life.

“It’s a massive, massive loss, just taken away so quickly.”

Jake was “a natural-born leader”, Mr Taylor said.

“All his mates, and the same with the lads in the Army, they’d follow him to the nth degree.”

Asked about his army career, Mr Taylor said: “He was an absolutely fantastic soldier.

“All his commanding officers, everybody that’s worked with him, they’re just full of praises for him.”

Comforted by Jake’s 12-year-old brother Ethan Taylor, his mother Natalie Taylor, 39, and his uncle and best friend Luke Kemp, 20, Mr Taylor said he was the youngest in his battalion to be made a corporal.

“His career was just five star,” he said.

Asked how the family reacted when he was deployed to operations in Afghanistan, Mr Taylor said: “We were all scared of him going, but it was his job, that’s what he loved.”

He was due to celebrate his 21st birthday tomorrow.

Instead his family said they would gather with his friends to celebrate his life.

His mother Natalie added: “He’s going to be missed.”

His commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Zac Stenning, of 3rd Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment, said the soldier, who like many of his comrades had enlisted when he was a teenager, was known as “JJ” to his friends.

“Fit, motivated yet always understated, JJ was a top soldier,” he said.

“His rise through the ranks had been swift and rightly so; he was a natural leader as exemplified by his top position on the gruelling Infantry Section Commanders Battle Course.

“He was a selfless, dedicated leader of men and a future Regimental Sergeant Major.”

Cpl Hartley was a student at Earlsheaton Technology College in Dewsbury.

Head Paul Levey said the thoughts of those at the school were with his family.

He said: “Jake is remembered in school as a vibrant, lively, unassuming, good-natured and very determined boy.

“He had a distinct sense of responsibility to other people.

“He is a credit to his family and our thoughts go out to them and his friends at this awful time.”