In the dead of night in September 2012, a U.S. Marine Corps outpost in Afghanistan awoke to the sound of gunfire and explosions. Taliban fighters had infiltrated Camp Bastion and were destroying high-value AV-8B Harrier Jump Jets sitting on the tarmac. The squadron commander of Marine Attack Squadron 211, deployed to Bastion in support of ground operations in Afghanistan, ran towards the sounds of chaos with only a pistol, organizing Marines to repel the attack before he was fatally wounded.
Six years later, that commander’s legacy was honored when a Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II from VMAF-211 carried out the first U.S. F-35 combat strike ever against a fixed Taliban target in Afghanistan with his name inscribed on the fuselage.
While the stealth fighter was loaded up with some unusual armaments in newly released photos of the Sept. 27 F-35 strike against Taliban targets — namely GBU-32 JDAMs, GBU-12 Paveway II laser-guided bombs, and a GAU-22 gun pod — the most important addition is visible just underneath the canopy: the name ‘Lt. Col. C.K. ‘Otis’ Raible’.
Traditionally the name of the pilot flying the aircraft is printed below or directly on the canopy. But this time, it appears to be an act of remembrance; Lt. Col. Raible was the commander of VMA-211 on that fateful day when the Taliban launched a complex attack that allowed fighters to infiltrate the isolated outpost.
The U.S. Navy confirmed to Task & Purpose that an F-35B with Lt. Col. Raible’s name did fly in today’s combat mission in the AOR, but could not confirm at this time that it was the aircraft that carried out today’s strike.
As Lt. Col. Raible was making his way back from a chow run, explosions and gunfire rocked the base. Raible quickly took command of the situation and organized Marines on the flight-line to repel the attackers while armed with only his side-arm. The cadre of Taliban fighters swept through the base, destroying six Harriers on the ground and badly damaging two more before they were subdued by U.S. service members and armed contractors.
Raible and Sgt. Bradley Atwell were killed while organizing the flight-line defenders, but their efforts helped stop what could have escalated into a devastating and demoralizing attack. For his heroic actions, Raible was nominated for the Silver Star.
Six years later, VMFA-211 has clearly not forgotten Raible’s actions on that September night in Afghanistan. And while the Marines may have lost Raible to the Taliban that day, the Corps’ F-35Bs are flying into combat to not just remember one of their own, but avenge him on the field of battle.