Former UDR and RIR colleagues of murder victim William ‘Pat’ McCormick have praised the Co Down man as having served his community with pride.
Mr McCormick’s body was recovered from a lake near Ballygowan on Tuesday afternoon.
The 55-year-old father of four was last seen alive in the Comber area on May 30.
A man aged 26 and a 21-year-old woman were arrested yesterday on suspicion of murder and were last night being questioned by police.
Ex-Royal Irish soldier Anto Wickham served with Mr McCormick and said the former lance corporal was “one of the real characters” of the regiment with the “biggest, kindest heart”.
An anonymous tip led police to conduct searches in several lakes in the Ballygowan area over the three days prior to the discovery of Mr McCormick’s remains. Detectives believe he was killed in or around the vicinity of flats in Castle Street, Comber.
Mr Wickham said: “I worked in the Royal Irish training depot in the late 1990s with Pat and he was one of the real characters – small, wiry, as cheeky as they come, always laughing and always up to no good.
“He was always up for a laugh and one of the nicest characters you could ever meet, with the biggest, kindest heart.
“If he had one cigarette left he would either give it to you or share it with you.
“He worked in the stores in Ballykinlar and was great at making sure everybody had what they needed, and everybody knew Pat.”
Mr Wickham said it was an “absolute honour” to have served with the long-serving lance corporal.
“He was proud to serve his community and keep people safe, both in the Ulster Defence Regiment and then with the Royal Irish,” Mr Wickham said.
“Some of our former colleagues work in the search and rescue business in GB, with specialist cadaver dogs, but were prepared to travel back to Northern Ireland voluntarily to help search for Pat’s body.
“They would have dropped everything to come across if they got the go-ahead from the police.”
Mr Wickham said the ex-Royal Irish community is very close knit where everyone looks out for each other.
“We had people out walking the streets looking for the van that was being sought by the police,” he said.
“We are really happy for Pat’s family that they now have him back, and they now have somewhere to go and speak to him – and we have somewhere to lay a wreath every year.
“It’s closure for us too as we are also his family.”
• Police have conducted 38 searches to date and spoken to 235 witnesses.
Six people have been arrested during the course of the investigation, all of whom were subsequently released on bail pending further inquiries. The two people in custody had previously been arrested on June 3.
DCI Pete Montgomery said: “While finding Pat’s body brings to an end some of the distress caused to his family they now want to see those responsible brought to justice.”
Mr McCormick’s wife Alison has thanked the Comber community for their support.