The inseparable pair saving lives every day
As he hunts out Afghan bombs with his search dog Tink, Private Connor Darton is determined to protect his friends’ lives.
For the 20-year-old - one of the youngest serving dog handlers in Helmand province - is on his first tour scouring the terrain for deadly booby traps.
The former Flegg High School pupil is in the Royal Anglian Regiment and trained in Germany and the USA to join the military working dog squadron.
He flew out to Camp Bastion on March 3 and spends his days on patrol - surrounded by rivers and marshes - scouting out Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) with his highly trained golden labrador.
The duo have uncovered more than half a dozen bombs which have been safely defused, and Pt Darton says his work is “very rewarding”.
His wife Caitlin, 20, explained: “He’s enjoying it thoroughly and says it’s very rewarding, as they could find something that saves the lives of friends and colleagues he’s with.
“He knows most of the guys in the Anglians, and they’re all brothers out there. It’s been quite dangerous and they’ve all had a few scary moments but they’ve found quite a few bombs - about six.”
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Caitlin Darton wed her husband in December 2011. They share a home on the married quarters estate at Bulford Barracks, near Salisbury, Wiltshire, where Pt Darton’s regiment is based.
And while the law student misses her husband, she says he is living his dream - having followed in the military footsteps of his father Martyn, now a factory manager in Yarmouth.
“He’s always wanted to join the army,” revealed Caitlin. “He never thought he could train as a dog handler but once he was told he could he was stupidly happy and it was the only thing he talked about for months.
“They knew he had an interest in dogs and is very enthusiastic.
“Most of the handlers are in their late 20s and early 30s - he was the youngest on the course.”
After finishing at Flegg High, Pt Darton trained at Harrogate Army College for two years then joined the Royal Anglian Regiment.
While serving in the infantry, he was offered the chance to train as a dog handler - in July 2011.
He leapt at the chance as he has always been a dog lover, having had a German Shepherd called Ben as a child in Horsey.
A fortnight’s attack training in Germany was followed by a five week course in South Carolina, USA, where Pt Darton was paired with 18-month-old Tink - a golden labrador trained as a pup. And Caitlin says they have grown to be inseparable since flying out to Afghanistan in March.
“He loves her to pieces and he’s hoping she will be able to be re-homed after the tour,” she said. “He goes out on patrols most days and they look for IEDs where the locals live.
“The dog signals they’ve smelt something and lies down in front of where it is - they then call the patrol to defuse it.
“They’ve done really well so far and haven’t lost anyone in the regiment.”
Pt Darton is due to finish his first tour at the end of September and his friends and family - including his brother Reece, 17, and sister Andrina, 21, who both live in Yarmouth say they are looking forward to him returning home safely.
Pt Darton sent his best to fellow army dog handler Leigh Gedney, from Beccles, and all other dog handlers from East Anglia.
And Caitlin said her other half is always on her mind, adding: “I send a few play toys for the dog.”