On Wednesday 12th November 2008 Neil Dunstan and Robert McKibben were on patrol in a Jackal vehicle in the Garmsir District of southern Helmand 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, at 4.47pm, their Jackal vehicle was struck by an explosive device. Neil and Robert were killed by the explosion.
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.
Neil David Dunstan, aged 32, was a Marine serving on Operation Herrick 9, with the Brigade Reconnaissance Force (BRF), United Kingdom Landing Force Command Support Group (UKLFCSG), as a Reconnaissance Operator.
Neil Dunstan 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.
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 fiancée 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 fiancée, 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 fiancée 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 fiancée 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 fiancée."
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."