Belfast Telegraph

I share family’s pain, says woman who lost RIR son

By Lesley-Anne Henry

The grieving mother of a Northern Ireland soldier killed in Afghanistan last year has extended her sympathies to the family of Lance Corporal Stephen McKee.

The 27-year-old from Co Down died when his vehicle drove over a roadside bomb in the Nad-e-Ali region of Helmand province on Wednesday.

The Royal Irish Regiment soldier, whose two brothers, father-in-law and cousin are also in Afghanistan, was on his second tour of duty and had one of the most dangerous jobs in Helmand.

He is the third member of the RIR to be killed since the tour began last October.

Margaret McCormick, who lost her son Aaron (22) in an explosion last November, said her heart goes out to the McKee family.

“I have been talking to the McKee family and have expressed my sympathies,” she said. “We know exactly how the family are feeling. Words cannot express it.”

Aaron, an RIR Ranger, was clearing roadside bombs when he was killed on Remembrance Sunday. Mrs McCormick added: “Some days are better than others. It was very hard when it was his birthday because he was due to be home on leave. Also, because they are all starting to come back, and we know Aaron won’t be coming home, that will be difficult.”

L/Cpl McKee, who leaves behind wife Carley, had been due home from the frontline in two-and-a-half weeks. Tragically, the couple’s two-day-old daughter Keely died almost a year ago.

In a statement released yesterday 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.”

At the family home in Banbridge yesterday the soldier’s parents Bobby and Heather were too upset to speak. They are said to be numb with shock and grief but extremely proud of their son.

It is understood his younger brother Michael is still serving on the frontline.

In an interview given to the Belfast Telegraph weeks before his death, L/Cpl McKee said he had joined the Army to keep up a proud family tradition after his uncle, a UDR soldier, was murdered by the IRA in 1981.

Among those giving the tributes was Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel Colin Weir.

“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,” he said.

Lieutenant Colonel Max Walker, Commanding Officer of the 2nd Battalion Royal Irish, told British Forces News: “It’s always incredibly difficult.

“It comes on the back of the deaths of Rangers Dalzell and McCormick and that causes incredible sadness. But, in many ways, it strengthens our determination and fortitude.”

Secretary of State Owen Paterson, First Minister Peter Robinson and UK Defence Secretary Liam Fox also extended condolences yesterday.

It is not yet known when L/Cpl McKee’s body will be repatriated back to the UK.

Background

Hundreds of Ulster soldiers are in Afghanistan with the Royal Irish Regiment and Irish Guards. They deployed for six months last October and will start to return in three weeks. Ranger Aaron McCormick (22) from Macosquin, Co Londonderry, died on Remembrance Sunday. Ranger David Dalzell (20) from Bangor died in ‘friendly fire’ in February. In all, 359 British service personnel have died in Helmand since 2001.

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