Page last updated at 22:06 GMT, Friday, 12 September 2008 23:06 UK

Killed soldier had George Medal

Warrant Officer Class 2 Gary O'Donnell
Gary O'Donnell's widow said his loved ones were "proud of who he was".

A UK bomb disposal expert killed in an explosion in Afghanistan was a father of four - including a newborn son - who had been decorated for his bravery.

Warrant Officer Class 2 Gary O'Donnell, of the Royal Logistic Corps - who died in Helmand on Wednesday - had earned a George Medal for bravery in Iraq.

The 40-year-old's widow, Toni, said he was "living the dream", in Afghanistan.

WO2 O'Donnell, was originally from Edinburgh, but had been living with his family in Leamington Spa, Warwickshire.

His death takes the number killed on operations there since 2001 to 118.

The soldier - known as Gaz - died while leading a small team sent in to clear an improvised explosive device found by a Royal Engineers search team.

The cause of the explosion is being investigated.

His widow added: "We are all very proud of who he was and he will be missed greatly."

[He] died amongst work colleagues that have shared sweat, blood, toil and tears with and for him - we will ensure that his sacrifice is not in vain
Major Wayne Davidson

WO2 O'Donnell saw his nine-week-old son Ben for the first time a few weeks ago while on leave.

He also leaves Aiden, eight, and two children from a previous marriage, Dylan, 16, and Kayleigh, 14.

Lt Col Dave Wilson, commander of the joint force engineer group, paid tribute to an "amazing" man who was "hugely talented and unbelievably brave".

He said: "He was at the very top of his extremely dangerous and difficult trade. It was a trade at which he excelled.

"It was his passion and he took immense pride in making places safer for other people. The danger to his own life rarely seemed to affect him."

Men of WO2 O'Donnell's calibre were "extremely rare" and his death would be a great loss to the bomb disposal community and the Army, he added.

'Selflessness'

WO2 O'Donnell joined the Army in 1992 and had served in Sierra Leone, Northern Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan as both an explosives disposal technician and a weapons intelligence specialist.

He was awarded the George Medal last year for courage displayed while serving in Iraq in 2006.

His medal citation said he had shown "selflessness and composure in challenging and distressing situations".

He was decorated for two particular incidents in Basra, southern Iraq, one of which involved him spending four hours in a protective suit in boiling temperatures, deactivating a bomb made of 23 large explosive charges.

Colleagues said his life-saving work in Afghanistan had included one operation over the summer when he defused eight deadly booby-traps in a single day.

Major Wayne Davidson, officer commanding the joint force explosive ordnance disposal group, said his sacrifice would make the trade and regiment stronger.

"WO2 O'Donnell has died amongst his work colleagues that have shared sweat, blood, toil and tears with and for him. We will ensure that his sacrifice is not in vain."

'Anguish'

Members of the search team and bomb disposal squad, who were with WO2 O'Donnell at the time of his death, said his "heroics" had "saved many lives".

"His charisma, sense of humour and zest for life will be missed by all that knew him and he will live on in our memories, as he would say, 'living the dream'."

Defence Secretary Des Browne said he was "deeply saddened" by the news.

"I have no doubt that in his extraordinary career he was personally responsible for saving thousands of the family, friends and comrades of others from the anguish that is currently being felt by his own."

Most of Britain's 8,000 troops in Afghanistan are based in Helmand province.

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