Death in Iraq: Soldier 100

The army officer who last week became the 100th British soldier killed in action in Iraq battled severe dyslexia to get into Sandhurst. By Martin Hodgson
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The Independent Online

His ambition was always to join the Army, but 2nd Lt Jonathan Bracho-Cooke had to struggle harder than most to make that childhood dream come true.

Diagnosed at an early age with severe dyslexia, he was described by those who knew him as a "model of determination", overcoming his learning difficulties to qualify for Sandhurst, and going on to become a "bright, enthusiastic and charismatic" young officer.

This summer, he was due to marry his fiancée.

On Monday, the 24-year-old became the 100th member of the British armed forces to die in action in Iraq, when his armoured vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb in Basra.

Lt Bracho-Cooke, of the 2nd Battalion, the Duke of Lancaster's Regiment, was one of two British troops to die in Iraq this week. On Friday, another soldier was killed by a roadside bomb, which hit his lightly armoured vehicle in southern Iraq. Three others were seriously injured in the attack.

Born in 1982 to a Mexican mother and British father, he grew up in Hove, East Sussex. Friends and family describe a charismatic child who grew into an "inspirational" young man.

His mother, Patty Cooke, told the Brighton Argus: "He was a very special boy. A very loving and caring son."

With the support of his parents and older sister Lucy, Lt Bracho-Cooke battled successfully with his dyslexia and went on to complete an A-level GNVQ in business studies at Cardinal Newman Catholic School.

Writing in an internet book of condolence, former schoolmate Chris Ransley said Lt Bracho-Cooke was an "honest person who always had time for his friends and took his friendships very seriously.

"He was a natural talker, striking up conversations easily with the shyest of people, and he was also an attentive listener. He had a fantastic sense of humour and an infectious laugh."

Headteacher Peter Evans said he had been an "inspirational presence" at the school. "Going to Sandhurst without a degree and without a traditional academic route is phenomenal. What Jonathan gave to pupils was that he was a model of determination ­ an example to follow," he said.

While still at school, Lt Bracho-Cooke joined the Territorial Army, aged 17, and went on to complete a six-month tour of Bosnia with Nato forces.

After joining the Army aged 22, he won a place at Sandhurst in 2005, despite his lack of a university degree. His father, Jonathan Cooke, said: "We were extremely proud of Jonathan. It was something he felt he wanted to do and we encouraged him."

Known to his fellow officers as "BC", Lt Bracho-Cooke passed out of Sandhurst last May and had been in Iraq since the new year. According to his father, Lt Bracho-Cooke had misgivings about the conflict, but felt bound to serve. "His views on Iraq were the same as 99 per cent of the country but he had to do his duty. He was happy because he went to do that duty and help others," he said.

In the field, Lt Bracho-Cooke was known as a popular and compassionate platoon commander. 2nd Lt Chris Ibbotson, who went through basic training alongside him, said: "He was faultless; the nicest guy you could hope to meet. His sense of humour was key to who he was. He was fit, too, and a better runner than most, no matter how many cigarettes he smoked."

Lt Bracho-Cooke leaves behind his fiancée, Laura Bottomley, 24, whom he was due to marry this summer at Sandhurst College chapel.

Describing the moment they met, Ms Bottomley said: "He was very macho and so handsome. It was as close to love at first sight as you could get."

While in Iraq, Lt Bracho-Cooke stayed in regular contact with his family and fiancée via emails and telephone calls. The last time he spoke to his family was last Sunday, when he rang his mother's mobile.

Mrs Cooke said: "We were talking about the things everybody talks about. 'How are you? Are you OK?' I did detect something, though. He wasn't very talkative. I asked him if he was homesick and he replied he was too busy to be homesick."

He died while leading a patrol of Warrior armoured vehicles in Basra. The attack, which also wounded a number of Iraqi civilians, was further proof of the growing threat from improvised explosive devices deployed by Iraqi insurgents.

Since the US-led invasion in 2003, guerrilla forces have developed a range of increasingly sophisticated roadside bombs able even to pierce the armour plating of allied battle tanks.

Lt Bracho-Cooke's commanding officer, Lt-Col Simon Hutchinson, said: " Jonathan Bracho-Cooke was a fine young platoon commander who had quickly established himself under very difficult conditions. He really stood out as a bright, enthusiastic and charismatic officer. We are very proud that he chose to be one of us, and are desperately sad to have lost him."

Des Browne, the Secretary of State for Defence, described Lt Bracho-Cooke's death as "tragic news", adding: "My prayers are with his loved ones and comrades on this sad day, and all those serving in Iraq are in my thoughts. Our armed forces' courage and devotion to duty are inspirational, and their contribution to rebuilding Iraq will not be forgotten."

A total of 132 military personnel have died in Iraq, including victims of road accidents, friendly fire and illness.

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