THE FIRST Gurkha soldier to be killed fighting in Afghanistan was only there because he had volunteered to go on a second tour after a fellow soldier in his battalion fell ill, it emerged yesterday.
Rifleman Yubraj Rai, of the 2nd Battalion The Royal Gurkha Rifles, was shot dead on Tuesday in the Musa Qala area of southern Afghanistan when a patrol came under attack from the Taliban.
The 28-year-old, from the Khotang district in eastern Nepal, who joined the army in 1999, was the first Gurkha soldier to be killed in action since 1999, the Ministry of Defence said.
He was taking part in a joint International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) and Afghan National Security Forces operation in Helmand Province.
Major Ross Daines, commander of B Company, 2nd Battalion, the Royal Gurkha Rifles, said Rifleman Rai "died as he lived his life, selflessly and with great humility". He added: "Willingness to do the hard graft and share danger was his hallmark."
He said the Gurkha's death was a "great sadness", adding: "He was a fine man and I miss him already."
Lieutenant Colonel Chris Darby, Commanding Officer, 2nd Battalion The Royal Gurkha Rifles, said: "Yubraj Rai was an extraordinary character and a hard professional soldier with a proven operational record.
"Having served his time as a driving force in 5 Platoon, he moved to a supporting role in Musa Qala, but it was typical of the man that he volunteered for a place on the operation in Dagyan when another member of his company fell ill, and a measure of his professionalism that he did it so seamlessly.
He added: "Big, strong and highly experienced, Rifleman Yubraj was one of the cornerstones of his company and he was known throughout the battalion for his presence, drive and his ability as a soldier. Part of a small and tight-knit team, he understood intuitively what needed to be done, how, when and by whom, and would move heaven and earth to ensure he got the support to his friends and comrades whatever the circumstances.
"Yubraj was a proud Nepali, a proud soldier and was exceptionally proud of being a Gurkha Rifleman.
"He knew the dangers involved in becoming a soldier and understood better than most what it meant to go to war; this was one of his greatest strengths. He died doing what he did best, among his greatest friends and admirers and for a cause he had taken the time to understand.
"He was brave, strong, hard and noble; he epitomised all that makes the Gurkhas great – the best. I am proud to have known him; he will not be forgotten."
The Secretary of State for Defence, John Hutton, said: "I was very saddened to hear of the death of Rifleman Yubraj Rai. I am told he stood out as a selfless, tough and dependable soldier. These qualities marked him out very early in his career as an ideal candidate for service with one of our three Gurkha Reserve Companies.
"Clearly the loss of Rifleman Rai is sorely felt by all those who worked with him and I extend my condolences to his family, comrades and friends."
The fallen Gurkha, who was the main breadwinner for his mother, sister and three brothers living in Nepal, had served in Bosnia, Sierra Leone and Iraq. A MoD spokesman said: "He received medical treatment at the scene but died later from his wounds.
"He had been eager to deploy back to Afghanistan, his selfless attitude once again coming to the fore."