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A Tribute to Robert (Frank) McKibben Royal Marines

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A Tribute to

Robert Joseph (Frank) McKibben Royal Marines.

 

 

On a cold November day, thousands of miles from the Afghanistan battleground where he lost his life in a Taliban attack a Royal Marine made his final journey through his hometown of Westport, County Mayo.

       

        Robert (Frank) McKibben (32) was the son of Tony and Grainne (O'Malley) McKibben from Carrownalurgan, Westport, County Mayo in the West of Ireland, born 3rd June 1976. He was killed in action when his Jackal vehicle drove over a pressure plate mine IEDs (improvised explosive devices) in Afghanistan on 12th November 2008 along side Marine Neil Dunstan (32), They were killed in an explosion in the Garmsir district, Southern Helmand, Afghanistan. The two men died alongside an Army Afghan comrade when their Jackal vehicle hit the mine in a dried out river bed during a patrol in a low risk area.

       The two men were part of the UK Landing Force Command Support Group a third Royal Marine was also injured and was flown to Sellyoak Hospital in Birmingham, and made a full recovery. The Marines were pronounced dead at the scene and a post-mortem examination revealed they died of multiple blast injuries. Mne McKibben, who was driving, had been given full training in the vehicle and in IEDs. The convoy had been shadowing a logistics team across the "moonscape" terrain, deliberately not taking the main paths. They were operating as part of Task Force Helmand's Information Exploitation Group. They both served with 42 Commando unit which is based in Plymouth was serving on Operation Herrick 9, with the Brigade Reconnaissance Force (BRF), United Kingdom Landing Force Command Support Group (UKLFCSG), as  reconnaissance operator’s. He joined the Royal Marines at the relatively advanced age of 27 and, after completing Commando Training, Number PO62679G, 867 Troop joined J Company, 42 Commando based in Plymouth.

          He proved to be an excellent all round field soldier and went on to pass Recce Troop selection, joining 42 Commando’s Recce Troop. With this unit he learned the ‘pleasures’ of soldiering in the winter Arctic conditions of Norway, and passed the arduous Recce Operators’ course with flying colours. He served in Afghanistan on Op Herrick 5 where he performed with great enthusiasm, compassion and gallantry. Following this operational tour he volunteered to move to Brigade Patrol Troop, where he travelled to America, Norway and Switzerland, amongst other places overseas. A very experienced operator, he hoped to fulfil his long-term ambition of becoming a member of UK Special Forces. Robert had been expected home on leave before Christmas and was in line for promotion. Major Chris Haw MC Royal Marines, Officer Commanding Brigade Reconnaissance Force, said. The Brigade Reconnaissance Force has suffered a tragic loss. Marine ‘Frank’ McKibben was a large, friendly and robust Irishman who always had a smile on his face. He proved time and time again that he was a strong field soldier under the most demanding of conditions and was passionate about his job. “His commanding officer Lieutenant Colonel Andrew J McInerney paid tribute to him: “Mne Robert Joseph McKibben was a larger than life character, with an easy smile and quick wit. He was an immensely capable man, yet his humility made him an example and inspiration to all he served with.“A true commando, tough, unassuming and hugely convivial, he viewed life as a glass half full. Mne McKibben had an indomitable sense of humour in the face of any adversity. Regardless of the task or conditions his can do attitude helped him and others overcome every test they encountered,”

        The pair were on patrol in a new Jackal armoured car when they were hit by the roadside bomb in Garmsir district of Southern Helmand, Afghanistan.The £600,000 vehicle was designed to be mine-resistant and was tested last year by the SAS. Although the new vehicle is sturdier, it has open sides and the driver and gunner are not protected by armour. Garmsir was only recaptured from the Taliban in May. A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence said the incident showed that whatever the level of extra protection, there was no guarantee of surviving a bomb attack.The seven tonne Jackal, which has a top speed of 75mph and is fitted with electronic equipment to detect roadside bombs, is seen as an alternative to the controversial Snatch Land Rover in which 36 personnel have been killed by mines and bombs. Commander Paula Rowe, of Task Force Helmand, said: ‘This is a tragic blow to us all in the task force, but our loss is nothing compared to that of their loved ones.

            Robert's family released a statement saying: “We are all extremely proud of our Robbie. He had very definite plans of how he wanted to live his life; he was always thoughtful, considerate and had an amazing sense of humour that touched so many lives. He was so full of life and was loved so much by his family and by all his friends. Robbie has left a huge void in our hearts and he will never be forgotten.” Mr McKibben was well known in Westport through his involvement with various sporting clubs, the scouts and later serving in the Fórsa Cosanta Áitiúil (FCÁ) (local defence force), Growing up, he was an adventurous young man, involved in everything,” Martin Keane, a family friend and member of the Westport Town Council, said yesterday.“We are devastated here in Westport that one of our own has been killed in Afghanistan, in a career of his own choosing,” he said.

         Everyone in the family is in terrible shock. This is really a time when they need space and need privacy. It's a nightmare scenario to lose a son and a brother in such tragic circumstances. Mr McKibben, went to Rice College secondary school in his home town and was well known in the close knit community. He worked in the Allergan pharmaceutical plant as a teenager where his mother Grainne worked. He left Westport at 18 and completed a degree in Environmental Science, before joining the Royal Marines "His mother said all his friends from school called out to the family home yesterday, they've been a great support as has all the community," said Father Mannion."He was 27 when he joined the Royal Marines and that's what he always wanted to do. He was happy doing that, even though he was in Afghanistan, a very dangerous place."His family are very proud of him, he was a lovely, humorous guy and very popular."Everyone in the family is in terrible shock. This is really a time when they need space and need privacy he said. Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin extended his condolences on the tragedy. "It is a terrible tragedy. I would like to offer my sincerest sympathies to the families concerned," he said.

 

        An inquest into their deaths was told yesterday that the area in which they were conducting their intelligence operation was considered so "low-risk" that they had removed their helmets. Captain Charles Breach told a court his unit was the first to use the Jackal on a full tour in Afghanistan. Previously, more lightly armoured stripped down Land Rovers had been used and said he had more confidence in the Jackal as the armour was better, it had a better range, better endurance and air suspension, giving a smoother ride. Captain Breach, who was in charge of the unit, described the area as being "a benign environment". Wiltshire and Swindon Coroner David Ridley noted that helmets would not have saved the two Marines, who were wearing body armour, from the 25kg of explosive in the roadside bomb. He recorded a verdict of unlawful killing after hearing that no intelligence reports suggested the area was high-risk. The Taliban responsible would be charged if they were ever caught, the inquest in Trowbridge was told. Capt Breach said: "Everybody had body armour on. People may not have had helmets on because of temperature conditions. The assessments at the time were low risk. The explosion was at 1647. (Local Time) The first report that came back was literally a shouted message that there were casualties and we needed to get (a helicopter) here fast. Information would trickle in. Assessments came back that there were two people (KIA) killed in action and two (VSI) very seriously injured. "Dr Nicholas Hunt, who carried out post-mortem examinations on the men, said that body armour and helmets would have been unable to prevent "most, if not all, of these injuries".


         A North Devon Journal reporter Chloe Hubbard was with the Marines in Afghanistan and was close to the scene of the explosion."Dusk had just set when we heard an explosion and saw flames on the horizon, followed by several flares being shot into the air for lighting. "All of the vehicles in the convoy turned off their lights to hide, and as we waited we heard the Medical Emergency Response Team from Camp Bastion arrive in a Chinook. "At this stage over the radio we were told it was an Afghan Army vehicle that had been struck. "The two lads in the cab of the vehicle I was in went into themselves and suddenly became very alert. "One of them said: 'Someones's been hit, keep your wits about you. "The CLP (Commando Logistic Patrol) then changed its route away from the river bed, and we camped out in the desert for the night."The marines had been eating alongside CLP at the forward operating base just minutes before both parties left the base. "We were informed about the British deaths when we returned to Camp Bastion at 4pm this afternoon after driving through the desert for 10 hours."Everyone in the camp is shaken, and those on the CLP are visibly aware of how close they came. "Flags at Bastion are all flying at half mast. Colonel Andy T W Maynard of Chivenor, who broke the news to us said: 'It is very, very sad.' "It is thought that insurgents may have seen the CLP convoy enter the base, and laid the mines to ambush it on the return.

 

         Captain Rob Hoey RE who knew Robert as a colleague spoke over the weekend of how much the Westport-man loved home. “I first met Frank (as he was known in the Marines) when he was on his parachute course at Brize Norton in the summer of 2007. During the many hours waiting to jump we chatted about his home in County Mayo. He was thrilled that someone else knew his home turf, it was clear that he had a real passion for the west coast of Ireland. I could see the sparkle in his eyes when he talked of home. He was always interesting to chat to and rarely seen without a smile on his face. We will miss him but not forget him.” Brigadier General Richard Blanchette of the Nato led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said "Our deepest sympathies go out to their family, friends and fellow soldiers their lives are irreplaceable to all of us who fight for the peace and stability of Afghanistan." Following a vigil at Camp Bastion in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan, the bodies of Frank and Neil were repatriated to the UK through RAF Lyneham in Wiltshire.

          The Funeral Mass was concelebrated by two of Robert's uncles, Fr Terry O'Malley and his brother Fr Brendan O'Malley (USA) “Everyone in the family is in terrible shock. It's a nightmare scenario to lose a son and a brother in such tragic circumstances. His Uncles was joined on the altar by a number of Priest’s  Fr Michael Sharkey Chaplain to the Royal Marines and also by Fr Mannion, Fr Paddy Gill, Fr Willie Spicer, Fr Vincent Kelly and Church of England Minister, Reverend Albert Hempenstal a former Chaplain to the Royal Marines. He was survived by his parents Tony and Grainne, his brother, Raymond, and his Three sisters, Carmel, Maggie and Rachel and girlfriend Nicola. Michael Ring, Teachta Dála (MP) who lives close to the McKibben home in Westport, said the family were distraught."I know the family very well and naturally enough, they are devastated," he said Marine McKibben was very involved in the small west of Ireland community as a youngster and played gaelic football and hurling during his school days, according to Mr Ring."I knew Robert when he was growing up, and he was a very nice young fellow from a decent family," he said. "He always wanted to be a soldier and he was a fine man well cut out for the job. He was a well known and well liked member of his community back home in Mayo.

         Robert’s (Frank) Coffin was flown into West Airport Knock, Ireland and transferred to his family home at Carnalurgan on Saturday afternoon, 22nd November, where following a wake he was brought to St Mary’s Church in Westport at 7pm on Sunday evening for reception carried by Royal Marines. The coffin was draped in the flag of the Royal Marines with his dress cap and stable belt on top.  More than 1,000 mourners turned out in Westport, County Mayo for the funeral service. The service was held at St Mary’s (RC) in the centre of Westport on Monday, which was full to capacity again. At the start of the Mass, Fr. Denis Carney, administrator, Westport, called for prayers for Neil Dunstan and a third colleague who is recovering having been injured.  A grieving comrade, Warrant Officer Thomas Roberts, told mourners in St Mary's that Robert was "a gentle giant". Mr Roberts told a hushed congregation: "He used his ample stature to assist never to intimidate and loved the west coast of Ireland and smiled every day when his country was mentioned and was known as the big Irish Fella", Frank was Six foot plus.

 

             Despite the bitter cold, huge crowds lined the streets of the town of Westport and flowed in behind the cortege, Six uniformed Royal Marines walked along side the coffin and assembled on the hillside of Aughavale Cemetery, stopping briefly outside at the family home, with many as Sixty Royal Marine colleagues some in uniforms most in suits, also dignitaries and members of the Garda and Irish defence forces, 51st Reserve Infantry Battalion, McKibben's old FCA battalion were in attendance. The sight of  Royal Marines carrying the coffin of an Irishman through the streets of an Irish town would have been inconceivable a generation ago. The British ministry of defence was represented by Capt John Holloway of the Royal Navy. All business’s  in the town were closed as a mark of respect and lights dimmed as the cortege passed. Royal Marine bugler Alaine Shaespeare sounded the Last Post and Reveille as the coffin of the "gentle giant" Robert McKibben was lowered into his grave by six Royal Marines on Monday the 24th November at Aughavale Cemetery, Westport, County Mayo, Republic of Ireland, Row 18 Grave 7.  It would hardly have seemed likely when Robert McKibben joined the British Royal Marines five years ago that his untimely death would become such a poignant symbol of the normalisation of relations between Britain and Ireland.

 

           Marine Robert (Frank) McKibben is honoured by being added to the names on the Mayo Peace Park and Garden of Remembrance in Castlebar, County Mayo officially opened by the Irish President in October 2008. A granite memorial bench has being installed in the garden of remembrance in his memory. Roberts family regulary attend commemorations at the Mayo Peace Park, Castlebar and RBL Commememoration at Islanbridge, Dublin, he is also remembered at the National Memorial Arboretum, Staffordshire and the Royal Marines Memorial Wall, Lympstone, CTCRM.

 

True heros, gone but not forgotten”


            Large numbers of people paid their respects to Royal Marine Neil Dunstan (ML), who lost his life with fellow Marine Frank McKibben while serving in Afghanistan, where a full military funeral took place at Christchurchs Historic Priory on Friday 28th November 2008. Neil was laid to rest at St Mary the Virgin churchyard, Bransgore, Dorset.

 

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

 

 

Martin Coyle.

(Former RMR.London).

Mayo Peace Park Committee.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mVqNHryJpyc

 

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