On Wednesday 12th November 2008 Robert McKibben and Neil Dunstan 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.
Robert Joseph McKibben, aged 32, known to most on his unit as 'Frank', was a Marine from 42 Commando, Royal Marines serving on Operation Herrick 9 with the Brigade Reconnaissance Force (BRF), United Kingdom Landing Force Command Support Group, as a Reconnaissance Operator.
Marine McKibben, 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."