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THE family of Lance Corporal Stephen McKee have spoken of their grief at the loss of a much loved husband, son and brother.

The well-known McKee family said they were struggling to find words to describe how they are feeling.

They said they have been left with wonderful memories of Stephen and they will cling to these as they try to come to terms with his tragic death in Afghanistan last week.

In a statement the family said, “Stephen was a brilliant son and as parents we are so proud of everything he achieved in his short life. He was a wonderful and loving husband to Carley, and an amazing brother.

“Above all that, Stephen was a soldier and we as a family take great comfort from the fact he died doing a job he loved. Stephen’s life was the army and we have been touched by the many tributes people have paid.

“He was a fine soldier, trustworthy and courageous and his memories will live on in our hearts forever,” his family said.

They are now making plans to travel to England for the repatriation and will then bring Stephen’s remains home to Banbridge for his funeral.

“Stephen and wife Carley lost their precious baby daughter Keeley almost a year ago in the most tragic of circumstances,” they said. “Stephen will now be reunited with his little girl when he is laid to rest beside her in Banbridge.

“We thank everyone for their kind prayers and support, for the hundreds of callers to the house and the messages and cards. We can never thank all these people individually, but want them to know it is much appreciated and helping us face the dark days ahead.”

Funeral arrangements have yet to be confirmed, but the family have stated they will be released as soon as possible.

Stephen’s wife Carley described her husband as her hero and said he and their baby daughter Keeley are now her two guardian angels.

“You will always be my hero and every step I take in life, I will have my two angels looking after me,” said Carley. “You truly are the best husband, father, son and brother anyone could ask for. Till we meet again. Love you always.”

Lieutenant Colonel Colin Weir said the McKee family characterised the Royal Irish Regiment.

“The death of Lance Corporal Stephen McKee has sent a wave of shock and sadness through this Battlegroup,” said Lieutenant Weir.

“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.

Paying a personal tribute to Stephen, Lieutenant Weir said he was a man of great qualities.

“Stephen McKee was the finest of men; he was irrepressible, he was utterly reliable and he was a fearsome warrior. Not only was he the finest of Irish soldiers, he was a man with great depths of resilience.”