Operations in Afghanistan

Marine Neil David Dunstan and Marine Robert Joseph McKibben killed in Afghanistan

It is with deep regret that the Ministry of Defence must confirm the deaths of Marine Neil Dunstan and Marine Robert McKibben, both from the UK Landing Force Command Support Group, on Wednesday 12 November 2008.

Ministry of Defence crest

Both men were killed by an explosion in the Garmsir District of southern Helmand, at 1647 hrs local time, while operating as part of Task Force Helmand’s Information Exploitation Group. They were taking part in a routine joint patrol with soldiers from the Afghan National Security Forces when their Jackal vehicle was struck by an explosive device.

Royal Marines Neil Dunstan and Robert McKibben (All rights reserved.)

Royal Marines Neil Dunstan and Robert McKibben (All rights reserved.)

Despite the best efforts of medics, both men were pronounced dead at the scene. A member of the Afghan National Security Forces also lost his life and a third Royal Marine was seriously injured.

Marine Neil David Dunstan

Marine Neil David Dunstan was serving on Operation Herrick 9, with the Brigade Reconnaissance Force (BRF), United Kingdom Landing Force Command Support Group (UKLFCSG), as a Reconnaissance Operator.

Marine Dunstan, aged 32, successfully completed Royal Marine Commando training with 854 Troop in 2003 at the age of 27 - quite an achievement in itself! He joined J Company 42 Commando in Plymouth and, in recognition of his innate skills as a soldier, was selected to work in the unit’s Reconnaissance Troop.

Marine Neil Dunstan (All rights reserved.)

Marine Neil Dunstan (All rights reserved.)

He travelled the world, visiting the USA, Ghana, Egypt and Bavaria. He also worked in close defence of the UK’s independent nuclear deterrent, serving with the Fleet Protection Group Royal Marines. He developed a keen taste for mountaineering when working for the Mountain Leader & Reconnaissance Company. After a winter deployment to Norway and a number of mountaineering trips to Switzerland he succeeded in selection for the Brigade Patrol Troop where he fulfilled his goals of becoming a reconnaissance soldier and a trained military parachutist.

A confident soldier, he deployed to Afghanistan on Operation Herrick looking forward to proving himself on the battlefield; an aspiration which he rapidly and convincingly fulfilled. He had great ambition and huge potential; he passed the Royal Marines Mountain Leader selection course with flying colours and would have made an outstanding Mountain Leader.

With an honours degree in French and Tourism he was fluent in spoken French. Marine Dunstan came from a small loving family in Bournemouth where, until meeting his fiancee Kate, he lived with his mother and brother. He was due to be married to Kate in the summer of 2010. He also leaves behind his father and grandmother who, like all his family, have supported him throughout his life and career.

Kate Miller, Neil’s fiancee, paid this tribute:

Neil was so proud to be a Marine and lived each day to the full. He was my soul mate and the love of my life. Neil was very much loved by all the family.

Neil’s family made the following statement:

From Sue (Mum), Keith (Dad) and Andrew (Brother): Neil Dunstan BSc. Neil lived life to the full, he loved his time in the Marines. He had recently got engaged to Kate and they had bought a house together. He was a happy individual and a dutiful son, brother and partner. He was a keen supporter of Arsenal, even having the results sent to Afghanistan. He will be very much missed by his family and friends.

Keith Dunstan, Neil’s Dad, said:

Neil was a fine, upstanding, happy, healthy young man, with most of his life still to be enjoyed. He was a thinking soldier who always tried to do the right thing. Any man would be proud of a son like Neil and I consider myself privileged to be his father. He will be much loved and missed by all who knew him.

Lieutenant Colonel Andrew J McInerney Royal Marines, Commanding Officer United Kingdom Landing Force Command Support Group, said:

Marine Neil David Dunstan possessed Commando qualities in abundance; his quiet confidence and humility was an inspiration to all those who worked with him. A quiet but natural leader, his maturity and intellect made him a valued role model and mentor to the men with whom he served. He excelled as a reconnaissance operator, a role he was passionate about and which demanded initiative and guile, qualities for which he was never left wanting. Tough and committed he was always prepared to go the extra mile for his comrades. He eagerly anticipated the challenges of demanding reconnaissance work on Op Herrick, and prepared himself fully. He died serving his country, unit and comrades with courage, humility and dedication. He was dearly loved within our tight knit organisation, his sharp sense of humour making him a friend to all. We will remember him and continue the vital work that he died conducting. It is with deep sorrow that we mourn his passing, our thoughts and prayers are with his family and loved ones at this most painful time.

Major Chris Haw MC Royal Marines, Officer Commanding Brigade Reconnaissance Force, said:

The BRF has lost a good friend and brother today. Marine Neil Dunstan was a very bright and capable man whose positive but laid back attitude to life was an example to us all. He was hugely popular amongst what is a very close knit organisation and he was a father figure amongst the Marines. His humour and modesty was reflected in all that he did and these qualities made him an outstanding character within the squadron. He loved his work and relished every opportunity to be in the field as a soldier where he was in his element. He made rapid progress during his short career in the Royal Marines and had been selected for promotion and the Mountain Leaders’ Course that he had aspired to for some time. I know that he would have made an excellent commander and Mountain Leader and the Royal Marines, especially the Brigade Reconnaissance Force, will feel his loss hard. My thoughts and prayers are with Neil’s family and his fiancee Kate.

Warrant Officer Class 2 ‘Ginge’ Booth, Brigade Reconnaissance Force Sergeant Major, said:

I first met Neil, affectionately known as ‘Old Man Dunstan’, on his Recce Troop selection in 42 Cdo. It was apparent from the start that Neil had a flare for reconnaissance work and a spell working in the jungles of Ghana was to prove this. We deployed to Norway in the Arctic winter, where Neil conducted his Novice Ski and Survival Course alongside the Mountain Leaders’ Course. It was probably the toughest Novice course that you could possibly endure as a Marine, but Neil rose to the occasion and completed it with style. I have had the privilege to work alongside Neil on three occasions over the years, his professionalism, dedication, unselfishness and cheerfulness has always impressed me. In Switzerland I discovered that he was fluent in French, but not until I had made a complete fool of myself trying with the few words I could remember from my school days to get us through the Swiss/French Border. He even succeeded in making the French Border Police laugh, probably at my expense! It was during this Switzerland trip, in the high mountain peaks, that Neil discovered his hidden passion for climbing and mountaineering. He would make it his mission to participate in as many trips out climbing and mountaineering as possible. His easy manner and humour made him a pleasure to work with and popular with all the members of the Squadron. To me, not only was Neil a first class Marine with whom I had the honour of working alongside, he had become a good friend whom I will never forget. He will be sorely missed by all. My condolences to his family, friends and his fiancee Kate.

Sergeant ‘Banjo’ Haigh Royal Marines, Team Commander, Brigade Reconnaissance Force, said:

It was a pleasure to know and work with Neil. He encapsulated the Commando Spirit. Professional and a great ‘run ashore’; he is what all young marines should aspire to be. With his catchphrase ‘Alrighty then’, if it wasn’t for Neil’s sleight of hand and humour in the Mountain Leaders’ store I would never have passed my Mountain Leaders’ course. He would have made an excellent Mountain Leader and will be sorely missed by all. Take care Neil; keep playing that big guitar in the sky.

Neil’s comrades in 1 Troop Brigade Reconnaissance Force said:

Neil Dunstan was a professional reconnaissance operator. He was a constant source of morale with his guitar and always quick to learn a new tune. He was a laid back but selfless team member always willing to help anyone. Always cheerful, even on the worst of days, he demonstrated the ability to embrace the ‘Commando ethos’. Neil was a one in a million guy and leaves a void that cannot ever be filled. On return from this tour Neil was due to attend his Junior Command Course and continue on to undertake Mountain Leaders’ training, furthering his contribution as a key member of 3 Commando Brigade Reconnaissance Forces. He will be sadly missed by all in the troop and our thoughts are with his family, friends and his beautiful fiancee.

The lads of 24 Recce Troop, BRF, said:

Neil Dunstan was the laid back adopted Grandad of the troop, a quiet but confident Recce Operator who would have been an asset to the Mountain Leader branch. He will be sorely missed by all. Our condolences to Neil’s family and friends.

Scouse Davies, who worked with Neil, said:

Rest In Peace Neil, you will not be forgotten.

Marine Robert Joseph McKibben

Marine Robert McKibben, known to most on his unit as ‘Frank’, was serving on Operation Herrick 9 with the Brigade Reconnaissance Force (BRF), United Kingdom Landing Force Command Support Group, as a Reconnaissance Operator

Marine Robert McKibben (All rights reserved.)

Marine Robert McKibben (All rights reserved.)

Marine McKibben, aged 32, was born in June 1976, and before joining the Corps he lived in County Mayo, in the Republic of Ireland. He joined the Royal Marines at the relatively advanced age of 27 and, after completing Commando Training, 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. In addition to his impressive military exploits, he held an honours degree in Environmental Science.

Marine McKibben leaves behind a loving family in County Mayo and a girlfriend he cherished.

Robert’s family paid this tribute:

As a family, 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.

Lt Col Andrew J McInerney Royal Marines, Commanding Officer, United Kingdom Landing Force Command Support Group, said:

Marine 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. Marine 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. His recent performance on the Special Forces aptitude course was clear testament to his motivation, ability and potential. An operationally experienced soldier, he died serving his unit and comrades in a role he relished. Marine McKibben was a key personality within our tight-knit unit of professional specialists; he was held dear by his colleagues and leaves a great void with his passing. The unit will honour his passing, remember him and ensure we continue the valuable work he died conducting. His family have lost a marvellous son; the thoughts and prayers of the unit, and the wider Royal Marines family, are with them and his loved ones at this tragic time.

Maj 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. He relished the prospect of serving on Op Herrick 9 with the BRF and had done his utmost to ensure that he would perform to the highest of standards. Throughout the many hardships presented to him during his career in the Royal Marines he maintained an enviable relaxed attitude to life and conducted himself with great humility. His enthusiasm to achieve the best that he could was infectious and he could always be relied upon to get a job done. Frank was one of life’s characters who touched many of us in a genuine and understated way. My thoughts and those of all of the members of the BRF are with Frank’s family and his girlfriend who he was so proud of. He will never be forgotten.

WO 2 Ginge Booth Royal Marines, Sergeant Major Brigade Reconnaissance Force, said:

For the relatively short time that I have known Robert ‘Frank’ McKibben I have been impressed by his professional attitude to get the job done, passing Special Forces Aptitude is testament to this. It is always a pleasure to have guys within your organisation that you only have to ask once and Frank certainly was one of these guys. Frank was huge in stature and in personality who will be sorely missed by all who knew him. My heartfelt condolences go out to his family and friends.

Colour Sergeant Andy Ives Royal Marines, Brigade Patrol Troop 2IC, said:

Robert ‘Frank’ McKibben was the big Irish fellow in the troop who could be tasked with the things that needed the mindful touch and sometimes just a little bit of an oafish twist to complete! A man that was working towards his goal and achieving the level as proved with the successful completion of the Special Forces Aptitude. A likeable man whose size was never used with harmful intent and a genuine caring man. Rest in peace Frank our thoughts will always be with you - and stay away from the doughnuts!

Sgt Lees Royal Marines, BPT, said:

Rob ‘Frank’ McKibben joined my team prior to Royal Chamois 07. A big and robust Dubliner, he was always keen to perform well. His recent success at Special Forces Aptitude hints at his potential, and he will be missed by the men of BPT.

Captain Rob Hoey RE, Officer Commanding 2 Troop BRF/24 Engineer Recce Troop, said:

I first met Frank when he was on his parachute course at Brize Norton in the summer of 07. 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.

Marines Dan Claricoats, ‘Ross’ Rosser and Lance Corporal Matt Silcock said:

We first all met together whilst in 867 Troop, where we were introduced to Rob’s many loveable and unique characteristics. He was intelligent, dependable, extremely strong minded and determined, always seeing the job through to its end. We all enjoyed many what we would describe as ‘lover’s tiffs’ with Rob as a result of his sometimes unique perspective on things. We’ve all shared highs, lows and many laughs with him and without ever thinking about it before€¦ been bonded as a family through our shared times. There is a large gap that we now feel and know will be an unfillable void. We look back already with fond and happy memories of Rob ‘Frank’ McKibben. He will be sadly missed, and our thoughts are with his family and friends.

Marine Kev O’Gorman said:

I only knew him for a short time, but he became one of my best friends in BRF and a really good mate outside of work. One of the nicest guys I’ve ever known.

Secretary of State for Defence, John Hutton MP, said:

I was extremely saddened to hear of the deaths of Marine Neil Dunstan and Marine Robert McKibben. I understand from their commanders that both were capable, committed and brave Royal Marines who served with dedication and distinction. The work they were doing was important for the national security of the UK as well as for Afghanistan, but today we remember the individual cost of that work. My thoughts are with the families of these two brave young men.

Published 14 November 2008