AN RAF serviceman based in the region who was killed in southern Afghanistan was named today as Senior Aircraftsman Marcin Wojtak.

The 24-year-old airman, from 34 Squadron Royal Air Force Regiment and based at RAF Leeming in North Yorkshire, died in a blast near Camp Bastion in Helmand province on Thursday afternoon.

Colleagues said Leicester-born SAC Wojtak was known as "Big Ted" because of his teddy bear-like qualities.

He had deployed to Camp Bastion only last month, the MoD said.

SAC Wojtak joined the Royal Air Force in 2005 as a gunner in the Royal Air Force Regiment and completed operational tours in the Falkland Islands and Kandahar.

In May last year, he was posted to 34 Sqn Royal Air Force Regiment.

The Leicester City supporter, who had volunteered to become one of the squadrons trauma risk managers, was described as a respected serviceman with leadership potential.

Appointed as a Fire Team Commander and given Acting Corporal rank, SAC Wojtak was due to attend a training course to make the appointment formal upon his return from Afghanistan.

The airman had also been looking forward to setting up home with his girlfriend Sam, according to the MoD.

His family said: "Marcin adored life and was loved by everyone around him.

"He was a gentle giant who was admired for his caring nature and endless kindness.

"He placed his happiness in the happiness of others.

His love of the military led him to a career in the Royal Air Force where he remained loyal and courageous to the end.

"We are so proud of him.

"Marcin is a beloved son, grandson, brother, uncle and boyfriend. His life was short but well lived and he was loved by all. Always and forever."

Paying tribute, his commanding officer - Wing Commander Shaun Ryles - said: "Senior Aircraftsman Wojtak was a man of great strengths; both as a formidable gunner and as a person who displayed outstanding leadership potential.

"He was widely respected by all that had the honour to serve with him."

"He was one of those steady, competent, reliable men that form the backbone of any unit; the sort that, as a commander, you rely upon, said his Squadron Commander - Squadron Leader George Formby.

"I relied upon him enough to appoint him as a junior commander for our time in Afghanistan. He was not short of friends in the Squadron and he fitted in well, displaying a soft side that earned him the nickname Big Ted or just Ted."

Corporal Dave Hayden described SAC Wojtak as a "big figurehead".

"He was the big teddy bear who loved to help whatever the problem," he added.

Senior Aircraftsman Tom Peterson said: "I knew Teddie for about five-and-a-half years.

"He wasnt your typical squaddie; he could always be relied upon to step in when there was something someone couldnt do, no matter who you were.

"He was always thinking about others rather than himself."

Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth said: "I was deeply saddened to learn of the death of Senior Aircraftsman Marcin Wojtak.

"This brave young man earned the respect and praise of his colleagues not only for his skills as a gunner but also for his caring and supportive nature, and his passing will leave a gulf in the Regiment.

"My thoughts and condolences are with his family, his partner, and his friends and colleagues at this difficult time."

The RAF Regiment is tasked with protecting the security of the airfield at Camp Bastion so British aircraft can safely take off and land there.

SAC Wojtak was taking part in a regular patrol to prevent insurgents launching an attack on the base.

His death took the number of British troops killed in Afghanistan since the mission began eight years ago to 219.