On Tuesday 24th June 2008 Joe Whittaker was killed by a suspected Improvised Explosive Device whilst checking the road for mines. Joe Whittaker, a reserve soldier aged 20, and a Private serving with 4th Battalion The Parachute Regiment, was attached to 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment.
On the same day Michael Williams was killed during a firefight. He was on a deliberate operation against the Taliban in the Upper Sangin Valley when he was fatally wounded. Michael Williams, aged 40, was a Warrant Officer class 2 serving with 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment.
Joe's mother, Naomi Whittaker, said:
"Joe was a truly wonderful son. He was generous, funny, brave and loyal to his friends. He was doing what he wanted to do and he was immensely proud to wear his 'maroon beret'.
"He has wanted to be in the army since joining the School Cadets at the age of 13. He chose to undertake a tour of duty as a private soldier with the Parachute Regiment before going to RMA Sandhurst next spring. He hoped to join the Army Air Corps eventually.
"Joe lived life to the full. He loved his family and friends and was loved by everyone who knew him. His sister Kate and I will miss him more than words can express. We are so proud of him, his courage and his determination to serve his country."
Following their deaths, 2 PARA's Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Joe O'Sullivan, paid the following tribute:
"Yesterday the battalion lost one of its most senior and its most junior soldiers. Sergeant Major Michael Williams joined the regiment in 1986, Private Joe Whittaker was a reserve soldier from 4 PARA and part of a 48 strong contingent of 4 PARA integrated into 2 PARA Battle Group for our tour.
"Sergeant Major Williams died commanding C (Bruneval) Company's Fire Support Group while the Company was in contact in the Upper Sangin Valley. Private Whittaker was part of a mine detection team and was killed helping to ensure that the large vehicle resupply convoys could reach our Forward Operating Bases.
"Sergeant Major Williams had given most of his working life to the Parachute Regiment; Private Whittaker was just starting his working life. Sergeant Major Williams was a Warrant Officer and part of that very special group of men, the Senior Non-Commissioned Officers of the battalion, who are its glue and its heart, and who lead the engine room of the Sergeants' Mess.
"Private Whittaker had already passed the Army Officers Selection Board, and was soon to begin his training to become an Army Officer and, he hoped, an Apache pilot.
"These two men were very different in age, experience and rank, but both were inspired by the challenge of service with the Parachute Regiment, and the very difficult task that confronts us each day here in Northern Helmand. Both were respected and both will be sorely missed by their friends and the Battle Group, but most of all by their families.
"They join five other brave members of 2 PARA who have given their lives in recent weeks. The Regimental Motto is 'ready for anything'; Sergeant Major Michael Williams and Private Joe Whittaker were ready for the risks they calmly accepted on the day that they died. They are an example to the rest of us, and their courage and commitment will spur us on to give our best to improve the situation here, no matter how difficult or dangerous other people may tell us that will be. Utrinque Paratus."
Private Joe Whittaker was born on 11 January 1988. He attended Warwick School and then Stratford Upon Avon College. He played hockey for Stratford Hockey Club and ran for Stratford Athletic Club. Joe joined the TA in Stratford in 2005.
He eventually joined 4 PARA in October 2007, after transferring from 37 Signal Regiment, having completed his basic training with the Royal Signals in June 2006. He was highly regarded throughout his time with them and was considered to be one of their top recruits. He was a particularly fit soldier; able to complete the one and a half mile run in a time of 8.09 minutes. His field craft and personal skills were considered the best in the platoon.
Joe had a wicked sense of humour and was usually the ringleader in the fun and games out of working hours. His natural ability and enthusiasm for adventure and challenge channelled his aspirations towards applying to join the Parachute Regiment Reserve. He completed the Combat Infantryman Course and P-Company with 4 PARA in November 2007. He gained a strong pass after working extremely hard on the course.
Joe Whittaker operated from 10 Company, 4 PARA based in London. He established himself quickly and it did not take him long to volunteer to serve with the Regiment on operations in Afghanistan. He mobilised in April 2008 and after completing all the necessary training joined 2 PARA in May.
Joe Whittaker was an outstanding young soldier who possessed all the qualities that one would expect from a young paratrooper. He had a flair for life, was fun and had a great sense of humour. His fitness was astonishing, and he possessed the courage, discipline and loyalty of a man many years his age.
In the time he spent with 4 PARA it was clear that Joe Whittaker had a bright future and he had the intellect and character for great things. Joe Whittaker was a kind and considerate soldier and he will be sadly missed by all his friends and colleagues in 4 PARA.
The Commanding Officer of 4 PARA, Lieutenant Colonel Ben Baldwin, said:
"Pte Joe Whittaker was 19 years of age when he passed P-Company, allowing him the honour of wearing the maroon beret. Joe had that infectious optimism that goes with all young Paratroopers. Forthright and courageous, he showed great spirit and committed himself wholeheartedly in any task given to him. His slim build belied strength beyond his years.
"Afghanistan was his first operational tour, and he showed no fear when chosen to be part of the Op BARMA team, a job fraught with danger. In fact, Joe relished the chance to be out on the ground and prove himself to his more experienced comrades. Joe Whittaker died a paratrooper.
"Even at such a young age he displayed all of the attributes specific to men of The Regiment, and we are proud to have known him and to have stood alongside him. Today, a good soul has left us, and he will be greatly missed. We, his brothers who are left, will never forget him."
Joe's Company Commander, Major Mike Shervington, paid the following tribute:
"Pte Joe Whittaker joined D Company Group on 12 June as one of a substantial contingent from 4 PARA attached to 2 PARA Battle Group for Op HERRICK 8. He had deployed to FOB ROBINSON with a troop of Scimitar vehicles from the Scots Dragoon Guards to work alongside D Company 2 PARA. His role within his troop was as a member of the critically important Improvised Explosive Device team. Although I knew him all too briefly he struck me immediately as a man of great spirit, boundless energy and selfless commitment.
"His friends tell me that he was always first to volunteer for difficult tasks and it was therefore typical that he found himself doing such an important job for his troop. He was extremely proud to be a member of 4 PARA serving alongside members of 2 PARA in Afghanistan, many of whom were his friends. All of them are shocked and deeply saddened by his death, which leaves an irreplaceable hole in so many people's lives.
"He was excited to be attending the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst in May 2009, where he hoped to fulfil his dream and become an Apache helicopter pilot. He will be sorely missed."
Captain Tim McBride was Joe's Troop Leader with the Scots Dragoon Guards:
"Pte Joe Whittaker was working with the Scimitar Troop from The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards with three of his comrades from 4 PARA. They approached the challenge of working with armoured vehicles with the vigour and professionalism that one would expect from members of The Parachute Regiment, and none more so than Joe: He was the embodiment of a professional soldier who relished being a paratrooper.
"He was a quietly confident individual, always enthusiastic and extremely generous. He will be sorely missed by us all. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and loved ones."
Lieutenant Steve Edwards, a 4 PARA Platoon Commander, said:
"In the short time that I knew Private Joe Whittaker, he struck me as being a very enthusiastic and optimistic young soldier, refusing to be tainted by cynicism. He was extremely fit, and welcomed any opportunities put upon him to increase his contribution to the team, such as volunteering eagerly to be the section gunner. Although he had only been in 4 PARA for a short while, Joe Whittaker's devotion to The Regiment, and the Army as a whole, could not be doubted.
"He had already passed his Officer Selection to enter Sandhurst, as well as the Army Air Corps' aptitude test, so he was looking forward to a career as a helicopter pilot. For Tuesday night training with 4 PARA, he travelled the best part of 200 miles, commuting from Stratford-Upon-Avon to his unit in London.
"Joe Whittaker was also a part-time coach for an under-19 ladies hockey team, a role which he missed when joining his fellow Paratroopers in 2 PARA on Operation HERRICK 8. Having been posted to the Op BARMA team, Joe Whittaker died at a tragic and youthful age doing a particularly dangerous and unenviable task."
Lance Corporal Simon, also from 4 PARA, was Joe's Section Commander:
"Joe to me was an ideal 'Tom' to have in my section. He was keen, enthusiastic and eager to get on with the job, never complaining about any task no matter how unattractive the task was. He was also very strong physically and a very intelligent bloke. Goodbye Joe. Utrinque Paratus".
Private Storey, Joe's friend from 4 PARA and comrade in D Company Group, said:
"Joe was always keen to get out on the ground and do the job. He was a popular and good humoured bloke who oozed confidence, which helped to secure him a place at Sandhurst where he was due to start in May next year. He was sponsored by the Army Air Corps, and dreamed about becoming an Apache pilot".
Private Steven Fisher, 4 PARA, was serving alongside Joe:
"Joe and I had become close friends. He was great for morale, always upbeat and optimistic, and he approached all tasks with verve and enthusiasm. The thing that always impressed me about Joe was his desire to be the best soldier he could be. Joe was incredibly popular, which was evident by the amount of mail he received from back home, always catching envious glances from the blokes. Joe will be sorely missed, and he will not be forgotten".
Private Richard Thorburn, 4 PARA serving with D Company:
"Joe excelled at every aspect of being a Paratrooper. His fitness and infectious smile never ceased to amaze both me and our section commander during our training together in Catterick in November 2007. We would always remember a cold night spent out on the training area clinging to each other for warmth! His dedication and enthusiasm to the Regiment, and his friends, rightly made him a character everyone wanted to call a friend.
"I count myself privileged to have known him and admire his courage and willingness to put the job and his mates before his own safety. John 15:13 – Greater love has no one than this; that he lay down his life for his friends. Utrinque Paratus."