Semper Fi, Marine! 9/11/12;
A Marine's Marine! The Stuff of Legends
by Colonel Bob Pappas, USMC, Retired
A lot of people talk about Marines and a lot of Marines like talk about themselves. The recent attack on Camp Bastion is one more reason for both. For those "would be" or armchair Marines there are books...lots of books extolling Marines, the most reputable ones are worth the time to read. One could make a career of reading about Marines and probably never repeat a book in the process, and that's good. Those non-Marine readers would find it a revealing growth experience to learn about the depth and breadth of bonds shared by those who earned the title, "Marine," and of the love they have for themselves and one another in a unique Band of Brothers called, The United States Marine Corps.
All Marines are trained in ground combat, whether it is the enlisted-cook or the officer-pilot of an AV-8B, Harrier II, they all know how to perform ground combat. It was that training, and his warrior spirit that motivated Lt.Col. Christopher Raible, Commanding Officer, VMA-211 Avengers, flying AV-8B Harrier II aircraft, to stand alone and fight when Muslim-Taliban attacked his aircraft at Camp Bastion, Afghanistan.
Even without his record I instinctively know that Lt.Col. Raible was a Marine's Marine. He was stalwart, handsome (all Marines are handsome, or lovely for the women Marines in the crowd), and fit, being required to pass the same physical fitness test as Marines who were twenty years younger. As their leader, Raible likely scored higher than most members of his Squadron on the Physical Fitness Test and in weapons qualifications. His Command Guidance shows careful thought of his role as Commander and his expectations of the Squadron's pilots. He may or may not have been liked, but likeability is not a prerequisite for successful command. But there is no doubt in my mind that he was respected, and when he commanded, "Jump" the response was, "How high?" Like all Marine leaders I have known, Raible knew his vocation and led by example, from the front.
The following paragraphs are my analysis, opinions and narrative of the attack on VMA-211's aircraft at Camp Bastion, Afghanistan on that fateful, moonless night of September 11th, 2012 and of Lt.Col. Raible's single-handed effort to stop it. It is based on sketchy information of the event.
After dinner and some camaraderie, Lt.Col. Raible began his nightly routine, first stopping by the flight line desk. He chatted with the Marines gathered there for few minutes before continuing on his way to check his $288 million dollar inventory of combat assets. Unbeknownst to all, it would be his last visit, and the last time he would perform this self-imposed leadership duty.
The night air temperature was pleasant as he walked alone, not hurriedly, but with purpose. His senses were heightened by the darkness past the fence line, but being alone on the flight line tonight did not evoke fear. He had done this a hundred times and there was no reason to expect this time would be any different. Yes, he was mindful that this was September 11th, the fateful date that Americans should never forget and that, at least initially, was the underlying reason for his presence at this far off, isolated base. And yes, he didn't like the fact that there was no moon because night vision technology or not, when it's dark there is an instinctive rise in tension. But, even without a flashlight or moon he could see clearly because there was plenty of ambient light radiating from the base. From a distance it looked like a dazzling jewel set on a vast expanse of a black velvet desert. There was no way Muslim-Taliban could approach undetected; but they did.
Tension or not, he was confident in the base defenses that protected his and other combat assets, along with the thousands of military personnel and civilian contractors located at the Base. The roster of military personnel included Prince Harry fresh off his "Royal exposure" tour of Las Vegas. But Raible wasn't thinking of Prince Harry, rather his thoughts were of his aircraft, and as he walked past each, he noted its overall condition, whether or not it was properly chained, tires inflated, intake covers in place, sensor covers on the pitot tube and angle-of-attack probe, and pin flags dangling from the landing gear. He checked for "FOD" (loose objects on the ground) the natural enemy of his aircrafts' powerful Rolls Royce, Pegasus turbofan engines. As he walked, his mind wandered toward home and family in Yuma and elsewhere in the States because, it was for them, and for all Americans that he was here. He wondered how the Cardinals would do against the Patriots and how the kids were doing in school. He would call home on Skype and find out upon returned to his quarters once he finished this task.
As he walked, he could smell JP from the power generators running muffled in the distance; he was aware of the velcro patches on his shoulders: a camouflage VMA-211 Avenger patch on one shoulder and American flag on the other, and of the one on his left chest that bore an embroidered set of Naval Aviator wings, his name and Lt.Col. USMC. He had a sense of pride in his Squadron because earlier today he and his wingman had supported Marines on the ground, and that was what he was there to do. His maintenance personnel worked hard to keep these aircraft combat ready and he felt a strong affinity for them...a father son or daughter relationship known only to commanders; they were family. He knew of course that there were more ethereal reasons, for being here, but his focus was to support Marines, not to win the unwinnable hearts and minds of savages.
As he walked, reflecting, listening and watching, out of the blackness suddenly dashed shadowy figures that headed directly toward his flight line. He stopped, momentarily confused by the unexpected activity and by the figures: "I wonder what those guys are doing?" They were dressed in western military uniforms not traditional Muslim-Taliban garb, so for a moment his actions were delayed. Then came a roar, a bright flash and thunderous explosion and he knew that these were not "friendlies," they were attacking his aircraft!
He drew his pistol and began firing at them as they darted about; he glanced around and realized that he was hopelessly exposed and outnumbered. This was a hell of a place to be, wide open with no cover except aircraft struts. He continued firing until he ran out of ammunition, the noise from the explosions was distracting, but that didn't matter for long. Suddenly, a jolt slammed him so hard that it spun his 190 pound frame around and he fell, totally out of control toward the ground. He felt no pain but was stunned by the force of whatever it was that hit him. He sensed that he was falling in slow motion and watched helplessly, his hand still gripping the 9 MM pistol but unable to fire or throw it at the attackers as one after another his planes lit the black sky.
Once down all he could see was the bright light from the burning aircraft. His vision quickly narrowed to a tunnel, something he had experienced under the high "G" forces generated while maneuvering the Harrier, but this time his vision didn't recover. It grew dim then dark and he lay, unable to move, conscious of the strangely comforting warmth from the burning aircraft. He could hear the muffled and rapidly fading sound of gunfire. Yes! His Marines and the base Reaction Force were repelling the attack; everything would be soon be okay. Moments later he lay in total silence and his body relaxed as his spirit took flight.
Despite his failed single-handed attempt to protect his aircraft, Lt.Col. Raible distracted the Muslim-Taliban attackers long enough for his Squadron Marines to respond and for the Base Reaction Force to get underway. He had no warning, so he did all he could with what he had; and he did it until he could do no more. Run?! Hide?! Hell No! The thought never crossed his mind! He did what he had to do: he stood, fought and died while fighting overwhelming odds. He fought for his family, his Squadron and its mission, and for the United States of America. He had the "stuff" of legends; and now he is one for future generations of Marines...and all Americans.
Long live the memory of Lt.Col. Christopher "Otis" Raible, the Corps, and the United States of America!
"With every decision, think seven generations ahead of the consequences of your actions" Ute rule of life.
“We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children”
― Chief Seattle