Harrier jet squadron leader killed and six AV-8B Harriers damaged in attack
Lt. Col. Chris "Otis" Raible, commanding officer of the jet squadron whose Harrier fleet was decimated last week at Camp Bastion, was among two Yuma Marines killed when insurgents infiltrated the main NATO strategic base in southwestern Afghanistan.
Raible, 40, died early Saturday during an unprecedented breach on the sprawling base in Helmand province that also resulted in the destruction of six AV-8B Harriers and significant damage to two more jets from the unit he commanded, Marine Attack Squadron (VMA) 211.
Also killed was Sgt. Bradley W. Atwell, 27, of Kokomo, Ind. The electrical systems technician served with Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 13, the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing announced Monday.
Both units are part of the airwing headquartered in San Diego at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar.
In addition to the two deaths, nine other coalition personnel were wounded in the brazen overnight assault on Camp Bastion, according to details released Saturday by NATO’s International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. The injuries do not appear to be life-threatening.
Three refueling stations were also destroyed and six aircraft hangars damaged during the attack on both fixed wing and rotor craft, coalition officials said. With each of the six Harrier jets destroyed costing at least $24 million, damages in the attack total well over $144 million.
The deadly rampage on the Bastion flight line left the Marine Corps' relatively small and tight-knit aviation community reeeling with sadness and rage.
Some questioned whether the drawdown of more than half the Marine force in Helmand province over the last year had compromised the security of remaining personnel. The Marine force swelled to about 20,000 during the height of the surge, but has since dropped under presidential order close to 7,000.
Marine airwing commanders vowed to remain steadfast in their combat mission.
Maj. Gen. Gregg Sturdevant, the San Diegan serving as commanding general of the Marine air element in Afghanistan, said "Despite this tragedy, our Marines, sailors and civilians remain focused on the protection of our force and execution of our mission. I ask that you please keep the families of the fallen in your thoughts and prayers."
Brig. Gen. Steven W. Busby, commanding general of 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, said: "The deaths of Lt. Col. Chris 'Otis' Raible and Sgt. Bradley Atwell are a stark reminder of the selfless service and extraordinary sacrifices made by our Marines and Sailors and their families each and every day.
"Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families, friends and loved ones of those brave Marines. We will honor their memories and continue to support our Marines and Sailors still in the fight and their loved ones here at home," Busby said.
Raible's Arizona-based squadron, nicknamed “the Avengers,” is the only Marine Harrier unit serving in Afghanistan. After deploying to Afghanistan in April, VMA-211 relocated its fleet of AV-8B Harrier jump jets from Kandahar Airfield to the British-run airfield at Camp Bastion this summer, because of the drawdown and consolidation of Marine forces.
Raible flew the first jet to the base in Helmand province on July 1.