A soldier shot dead in Afghanistan was repatriated today – alongside his loyal search dog which died just hours later.
Lance Corporal Liam Tasker, 26, was killed by a sniper in Helmand Province on March 1 and his springer spaniel Theo died soon afterwards from a seizure.
Their remains were flown into RAF Lyneham in Wiltshire yesterday afternoon and were later driven through the nearby town of Wootton Bassett in a sombre cortege.
The inseparable pair worked together searching for hidden bombs and weapons and 22-month-old Theo had discovered a record-breaking 14 secret caches in five months.
Together they were credited with saving ‘countless lives’ in Afghanistan and colleagues said they were ”made for each other”.
Friends and family yesterday gathered in Wootton Bassett along with dozens of police and military dog handlers and their pets who turned out to pay their respects.
Theo’s ashes are due to be presented to members of Lance Corporal Tasker’s after the ceremony.
Speaking after his death, L/Cpl Tasker’s girlfriend Leah Walters said: ”Liam never met anyone without touching their lives in some way.
”I am the proudest girlfriend there could ever be and there will be an Liam Tasker-sized hole in my life forever. Sleep well my darling, my soul mate, my best friend.”
His mother Jane Duffy, his father Ian Tasker, his brother Ian, and his two sisters Laura and Nicola paid tribute to their ‘hero’.
They said: ”There are three words that best describe Liam, larger than life. He lit up every room he walked into with his cheeky smile.
”He died a hero doing a job he was immensely passionate about. We are so proud of him and everything he’s achieved. Words can’t describe how sorely he will be missed.”
L/Cpl Tasker, of the 1st Military Working Dog Regiment, was on patrol with Theo when he was engaged in a fire fight and was struck and killed instantly.
His stricken dog Theo was taken back to Camp Bastion unharmed but later suffered a seizure and died just hours after his master.
Major Caroline Emmett, Officer Commanding 104 Military Working Dog Squadron, said: ”He and his dog Theo were made for each other.
”He and his dog had more operational finds than any individual team has had in Afghanistan to date and he saved many lives as a result of this.”
Wiltshire Police dog section Sergeant Steve Jones, who attended the repatriation with his explosives search dog Chaz, said the event was a ‘poignant’ one.
He said: ”You always view the dogs as working dogs – they are not pets but you train and work with them and often you will spend more time with them then you do with your family so a very close bond develops.
”That is shown in particular in this case when the dog died, presumably through the stress of what it experienced.”
L/Cpl Tasker, from Kirkcaldy, Fife, was deployed to Afghanistan in September as an Arms and Explosives Search dog handler.
He joined the army in 2001 and was transferred to follow his passion for dogs in the Royal Army Vetinary Corps in 2007 where he became a star trainer.
Major Alexander Turner, Officer Commanding No 2 Company, 1st Battalion Irish Guards, recalled the strong bond between dog and man.
He said: ”A natural with animals, he had an affection for his dog that truly was a window to his soul. His fortitude and zeal for that perilous task was humbling – it imbued us all with confidence.
”He used to joke that Theo was impossible to restrain but I would say the same about Lance Corporal Tasker.”
Defence Secretary Dr Liam Fox said: ”He and his dog Theo had saved many lives and we will be eternally grateful for this.
”From the accounts made by his military colleagues and his family, it is clear that he was a dedicated and highly capable soldier whose skills in handling dogs were second-to-none.”