The younger brother of a British soldier killed in a landmine blast in southern Afghanistan was one of the first on the scene after the explosion, it emerged yesterday.
Lance Corporal Stephen McKee, who died in the Nad-e Ali district of Helmand Province when his vehicle hit an Improvised Explosive Device (IED), served alongside his brother Michael in 1st Battalion, the Royal Irish Regiment.
He was close by when the bomb detonated on Wednesday and rushed to the stricken armoured truck.
L/Cpl McKee is the second member of his family to die in the line of duty. His uncle, Richard, a member of the UDR (Ulster Defence Regiment), was murdered by the IRA during the Northern Ireland Troubles in 1981.
L/Cpl McKee, 27, from Banbridge, Co Down, had strong family connections with the regiment. As well as his brother, his cousin and father-in-law also serve in the 1st Battalion, with another brother serving in the 2nd Battalion.
The soldier was described as a “doting husband and family man” who had showed “enormous strength” after his two-day-old daughter died last year.
He leaves a wife Carley, parents, Heather and Bobby, his brothers, Michael, Gareth and Robert and sisters, Kelly and Rebecca.
Paying tribute to her husband, Mrs McKee said: “You will always be my hero and every step I take in life I will have my two angels looking after me.
“You truly are the best husband, father, son and brother anyone could ask for. Till we meet again. Love you always.”
Family friend and Ulster Unionist representative Danny Kennedy has visited the family home to pass on his sympathies.
“Michael was fairly quickly on the scene after this happened,” he said.
“I have known Stephen’s father and the McKee family for many years and I would like to confer my profound sympathy to them on the loss of their son.
“The McKee family has a proud history of service to this country and this tragedy, resulting from a cowardly attack by the Taliban, sadly mirrors the same fate which befell Stephen’s uncle Richard, a member of the UDR (Ulster Defence Regiment), who was murdered by the IRA during the Troubles.
“The sacrifice of the McKee family should not and must not be forgotten.”
L/Cpl McKee joined the 3rd Battalion, the Royal Irish Regiment, as a part-time soldier in 2003, the Ministry of Defence said.
He transferred to the 1st Battalion, based in Tern Hill, Shropshire, in 2007, where he was posted to B Company, before moving to the Machine Gun Platoon in D Company early last year.
The Commanding Officer, 1st Battalion, the Royal Irish Regiment, Lt Col Colin Weir MBE, said L/Cpl McKee’s death had “sent a wave of shock and sadness” through the battlegroup.
He added: “Everyone knows the McKees. Everyone respects the McKees. The McKees are in the First Battalion and the McKees are in the Second Battalion.
“It is families like the McKees that make this regiment what it is – they are the fibre that runs through us and what gives us our fighting spirit. It is because of families like the McKees that we are the winners in this fight.”
Lt Col Weir also described L/Cpl McKee as “the finest of men”.
“He was irrepressible, he was utterly reliable and he was a fearsome warrior,” he said.