Bomb hero killed in action given second George Medal

AN Army bomb disposal expert killed in Afghanistan while trying to defuse a mine became one of the UK's most decorated soldiers today.

Sergeant Major Gary O'Donnell, who was born in Edinburgh, was awarded a second George Medal for "repeated and sustained acts of immense bravery".

Two other Lothians soldiers have also been given gallantry awards in recognition of their efforts while fighting in Afghanistan last year.

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Major Nick Calder, 35, and Corporal Shaun Whitehead, 24, are to be presented with the Military Cross.

Sgt Major O'Donnell was trying to clear a path for soldiers when he died last year. He leaves four children – Cayleigh, 16, Dylan, 14, Aidan, eight, and Ben, eight months. Ben was born nine weeks before Sgt Maj O'Donnell was killed and saw his dad for just ten days.

His widow, Toni O'Donnell, 40, said: "You cannot describe the feelings I have. I am so proud of him.

"I'll tell the children about him. He was a brave man. A big man.

"He was a larger-than-life character. He just got on with it. He loved his job. He did what had to be done.

"He would be chuffed about this."

Lieutenant General Sir Graeme Lamb, commander of the British field army, said Sgt Maj O'Donnell was "as brave as a lion".

He said: "Look no further for your 21st Century role models. These are our real heroes – they are truly the right stuff."

Major Nick Calder and Corporal Shaun Whitehead, from Delta Company of the 5th Battalion, the Royal Regiment of Scotland (5 Scots) appeared on the acclaimed Sky One documentary series Ross Kemp's Return to Afghanistan which followed the unit during last year's deployment on Operation Herrick 8.

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Married father of three from Penicuik Major Calder, who featured strongly in the series, won the prestigious medal for his "unflinching physical and moral courage".

He said: "Its a tremendous honour, it represents all the hard work and sacrifices that were made by 5 Scots and in particular Delta Company."

Corporal Whitehead, a former Firhill High School pupil, won his Military Cross for "exhibiting the highest standards of professionalism, leadership and courage".

During deployment in the volatile Musa Qaleh district of Helmand Province, Corporal Whitehead was a section commander and led an attack on the Taliban then helped repel an enemy ambush the same day.

The citation says that throughout both actions, Corporal Whitehead "showed the highest standards of professionalism, leadership and courage. His calmness under fire and the example he set were exceptional".

The corporal said: "I'm overjoyed and shocked.

"Its an amazing award which was only achieved with the help of my platoon and company, I'm honoured to receive this."