Bomb expert died on last day of Helmand duty

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The Independent Online

After a relentless tour in which he risked his life daily to save others, Staff Sergeant Olaf Schmid died on his last day in Helmand attempting to defuse a bomb.

Heartfelt tributes were paid today to the 30-year-old, a man described as a legend, who was adored not just for his extreme bravery but for his wicked sense of humour and self-effacing modesty.

“In all my time in the Army, I have never met, nor am I ever likely to meet a man like SSgt Schmid again; he truly was a once in a generation phenomenon,” said Major Tim Gould, officer commanding Joint Force EOD Group.

The loss of another experienced bomb disposal expert will prove a blow to the military at a time when their services are in such a demand. In just over a year, SSgt Schmid’s tight-knit unit, 11 EOD Regiment, Royal Logistics Corps, has already lost two colleagues in Afghanistan – WO2 Gaz O’Donnell and Captain Dan Shepherd - as they attempted to tackle the increasing surge in IEDs (improvised explosive devices) in Helmand.

He was killed instantly on Saturday near Sangin while trying to defuse a bomb as commander of an Improvised Explosive Device Disposal (IEDD) team who were conducting a search to clear devices in the area near a Forward Operating Base.

His widow Christina, mother of his step-son Laird, said last night: "Oz was a phenomenal husband and loving father who was cruelly murdered on his last day of a relentless five month tour. He was my best friend and soul mate. The pain of losing him is overwhelming. I take comfort knowing he saved countless lives with his hard work. I am so proud of him."

Born in Cornwall, he served much of his career in 3 Commando Brigade and was swiftly selected for promotion before transferring to the RLC.

Thrown in at the deep end when he arrived in Afghanistan on 10 June this year he served during Operation Panther’s Claw, the major British operation this summer to capture Taliban strongholds in Central Helmand. During the course of his tour, he managed to make 64 IEDs safe.

Pointing out that many of his men now returning home to their families owed him their lives, commanding officer Lieutenant Col Robert Thomson said: “Every single Company in 2 Rifles adored working with him. I adored working with him. No matter how difficult or lethal the task which lay in front of us, he was the man who only saw solutions….Superlatives do not do the man justice. Better than the best. Better than the best of the best.”

Lieutenant Colonel Gareth Bex RLC, said they had been robbed of a superb talent and a true legend.

"His courage was not displayed in a fleeting moment of time; he stared death in the face on a daily basis. Many soldiers and ordinary Afghans owe their lives to SSgt Schmid's gallant actions and his sacrifice will never be forgotten,” said Commanding Officer Counter IED Task Force.

He continued: "With his tousled hair and boyish grin his effervescent presence was always good for morale and he had an infectious enthusiasm. Once met, never forgotten his wicked sense of humour was legendary; he received so many accolades from the Battle Groups for his professionalism, courage and vibrant personality.

"It was an honour to serve with him and a privilege to have been his Commanding Officer. He will be revered for ever in 11 EOD Regiment RLC as a hero and an inspiration to all who follow him; he takes his rightful place alongside recent fallen comrades WO2 Gaz O'Donnell (who was posthumously awarded a second George Medal for bravery) and Captain Dan Shepherd.

"SSgt Schmid stood proud amongst some formidable men serving here in Afghanistan; the tag 'legend' is frequently bestowed nowadays but in his case it is rightly justified - SSgt Schmid was a legend.”

Lt Col Nicholas Kitson, Commanding Officer 3 Rifles Battle Group, which recently took over from 2 Rifles, added: “He was both our greatest source of morale back in the FOB and our most precious military asset in the deadly cat and mouse game we play daily with the insurgent bombers…He has saved many lives and he made the ultimate sacrifice doing just that.”