The attack on Camp Bastion in Afghanistan was horrific in many ways, The loss of six aircraft to a successful raid was awful but the men who fought to repel the attack and kill the enemy deserve to be the real story. One was the commander of the air unit and here is his tale told by a friend.
I attended the memorial service for LtCol Chris “Otis” Raible this past Monday at my former base in Yuma, Arizona. It was a moving ceremony that required overflow seating set up outside the chapel in Yuma’s typical 100 degree heat and not a seat went empty. But while certainly Otis’ story has permeated the Yuma community, the rest of the country is disappointingly apathetic to what happened last week on the night of 14 September at Camp Bastion, Afghanistan. To some extent this is not wholly their fault, the media coverage of this incident has been woefully inadequate. Prince Harry’s safety was not the story of the night.
As many have heard upwards of 15 insurgents breached the perimeter of our airfield wearing US Army uniforms, armed with weapons ranging from suicide vests to RPG’s and even crew served machine guns. They succeeded in destroying six USMC Harrier attack jets, severely damaging two others, and putting one of our light transport airplanes out of commission for some time. What you have not heard much about is who defended the rest of the area that included buildings that housed hundreds of Marines and dozens more USMC aircraft on the flight line; and what you have not heard is who commanded them.
Marine Attack Squadron 211 (VMA-211) took the brunt of the hit and they were commanded by LtCol “Otis” Raible. Upon hearing the initial shots and explosions, Otis grabbed his body armor and his pistol and began to lead the counter attack which his squadron Marines had already undertaken. As the night unfolded the insurgents were pinned down in a fight that lasted over two hours and all but one were killed. While Marines proudly claim “every Marine a rifleman” and there certainly is some truth to that, these were aviation maintenance Marines and attack jet pilots led by their commanding officer. They don’t train to this mission. They fix and maintain highly complex aircraft; they fly missions at 500 knots in the skies over Afghanistan in support of ground operations. And yet they performed heroically, effectively killing the enemy on a dark confusing night before any more casualties or significant damage were suffered. We have since learned that the insurgents were not only targeting aircraft, but also intended to blow up housing facilities in order to kill as many Marines as possible while they slept. The Marines of VMA-211 and the Commanding Officer LtCol Raible thwarted their plan. Sadly “Otis” and Seargent Bradley Atwell were killed during the battle. LtCol Raible leaves behind a wife and three children. THIS WAS THE STORY OF THE NIGHT and the leadership and the media have been remiss in their duties in bringing it to the American people.
In thinking about this story and the expanding turmoil in that area of the world, I am observing striking similarities in the lack of consideration Americans are giving these serious events and it concerns me greatly. Not long ago our enemies attempted to strike a decisive blow to lower Manhattan and we paid attention for a few weeks. Then they brought down a building housing US military personnel in Saudi Arabia and we barely noticed. A few years later they attacked our embassies in Africa and we spent the media equivalent of five minutes considering the ramifications of such an act; “hey the market is booming, why do I care what is going on in that continent”, seemed to be the prevailing attitude. And then a few years after that, a remarkably brazen attack on a US warship in port garnered little attention from the populace. Our enemies were paying attention though. We all will never forget what took place less than a year later and Americans now were finally paying attention. One of the biggest misconceptions about September 11, 2001 is that the world changed that day. The world did not change that day, it just changed for us as Americans. The world had been experiencing events such as these for decades, now we were brought into the mix.
I am afraid we are letting history repeat itself. In the span of three days two US embassies and a major coalition air base were attacked. A US Ambassador and his aides killed, a squadron commander killed defending his Marines and aircraft on the ground, over $200 million worth of US military equipment lost on a single day; and the media barely addresses these events past the day of occurrence. For reference, the attack on Camp Bastion represents the largest loss of military equipment and capability in a single day since the Vietnam War. Along with that, dozens of US personnel have recently been shot and killed by their trainees. This is all being explained by the White House press secretary as having no operational impact on our policy and the media seems to accept this with very little challenge and moves on. Besides being terribly insensitive to the families of the fallen, this explanation is flat out wrong. A front line attack jet squadron losing its commander and most of its aircraft has an impact; Marines and Soldiers being killed by the very people we are there to help has an impact. Trust amongst our forces is absolutely vital to the policy we have undertaken and it has eroded. Security at our embassies around the world is essential for our diplomats and it is negligently inadequate. During the Iraq War every incident that occurred was thoroughly investigated and covered by all media outlets; some of it warranted some of it not, but at least they were asking the questions. Now these major events receive scant coverage and the American people are the worse for it.
To my former classmates from NYC and to all in general, begin to scrutinize this administration and its policies. Don’t accept flippant explanations that clearly are uttered in the hopes the issue goes away. Pay attention to more than just one issue at a time. It is not just all about the economy; we paid a huge price for that thinking before. Demand to know why security was so lax for our state department personnel in these trouble-spots. Be inquisitive about the choice of the President to not meet with world leaders in New York this week, but instead finding time for Letterman and The View. The media has clearly been absent on this front and we should not stand for it.
While the similarities between the recent and past events that I have outlined should be cause for concern and America’s apparent apathy is worrisome, I still remain optimistic because there is one major difference now that the enemies of civilization have to contend with today. We have men like LtCol Chris “Otis” Raible and tens of thousands like him manning the front lines. We owe it to them to “pay attention” and combined, we cannot be defeated. Rest in peace Otis, your brothers will take it from here.
Major USMC (Ret)