The father of a British soldier killed while off-duty in Kenya has told of his pride in his “special” son.
Major Kevin McCool, 32, died in the African country on November 29, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) said on Saturday.
He was shot while on a motorbike trip away from base, his father Joseph McCool said.
Mr McCool said his son, from Northern Ireland, was due to finish his tour of duty in Kenya three days after his death.
The MoD said Maj McCool, who saw service in Europe, the Middle East, the Falklands and Africa, “thrived in the military environment”, adding that “he was at his best when deployed, and at his very best when the conditions were at their very worst”.
Mr McCool told the PA news agency: “I don’t know what to say. Every life is precious but this guy was really, really special.
“He was 1,500m Ulster champion. He ran for Ireland. He played piano, harp, tin whistle.
“He went to Sandhurst. He progressed up the ranks very quickly to be a major.
“He won several military cross-country races and various sporting events. A very strong sporting guy.
“He was loved, I am tempted to say adored, by his fellow officers. We are getting that from the horse’s mouth. That is what we are being told by top brass because he was so good.”
Mr McCool said his eldest son Fergal and wife Joan travelled to Kenya to be with Kevin before he died from his injuries.
He said: “He was due to leave Kenya in three days. He had three days left on that tour of duty.
“He decided to go out on his scrambler motorbike for one last ride up a local mountain.
“He went up a road and two guys jumped out at him with a gun.
“It seems that he thought the gun was a dummy, he didn’t think it was real.
“He made the mistaken assumption that the gun was artificial and they shot him.”
Mr McCool said his family is weathering the storm as best it can.
He said: “We are all in bits.
“We are incredibly proud of our son and what he has done.”
Maj McCool was commissioned from Sandhurst in August 2014 and the MoD said he had the “unwavering loyalty” of the recruits in his platoon and rifle company.
His commanding officer said he will be missed “but never forgotten”.
They added: “Kevin McCool was living his best life, doing a job he loved, with people he loved. A man of the utmost integrity, he was fearless and oozed moral courage.
“I will never forget my final memory of him, which was on operations; he had just come off the ground having slept a handful of hours in as many days. We discussed the possibility of having to deploy another team into the operational furnace from which he had just come. He stopped me mid-sentence, fixed me with his piercing blue eyes, and simply said, ‘Send me’.
“A bright light has gone out amongst our ranks. He will be missed, but never forgotten.”
Maj McCool’s officer commanding said: “Kevin McCool’s eyes shone with his spirit of adventure and with his focussed, determined nature. He was a pilgrim soul in the truest sense.
“Intelligent, pro-active and selfless, he was at his best and at his happiest whilst serving others and whilst facing challenges ‘in the arena’.
“As a soldier, his courage and talent were proven on operations. As a leader, he had a compelling character and easy charm that all who met him warmed to. And as a man, he had a deep humility which displayed a wisdom beyond his years.
“Spotting opportunities, restless to serve and to seek out challenges, pushing himself to the frontiers, helping others; that is how we will remember him. He was the best of us.”
Defence Secretary Grant Shapps said: “It’s clear from the tributes of those who knew him that Maj McCool was an exceptional person and an exceptional soldier, loved and respected in equal measure, who served his country with distinction.
“My thoughts and sympathies are with his family, friends and colleagues currently coming to terms with this most tragic loss.”
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: “My heart goes out to Maj McCool’s family, friends, and fellow soldiers today in the face of their tragic loss.
“The tributes pouring out for him show a man who served his country with pride, integrity and bravery.
“His service will not be forgotten.”
The British Army has a permanent training support unit based mainly in Nanyuki, 124 miles north of Nairobi, with a small element also based in Kenya’s capital.
It provides “demanding training to exercising units preparing to deploy on operations or assume high-readiness tasks”, according to the Army’s website.
The British Army Training Unit Kenya (Batuk) consists of around 100 permanent staff and a reinforcing short-tour cohort of another 280 personnel.
Under an agreement with the Kenyan government, up to six infantry battalions per year carry out eight-week exercises in Kenya.