At least four Marines who served with the Harrier squadron attacked last year at Camp Bastion, Afghanistan, have received the Purple Heart, Marine officials said in a news release published Thursday.
Lance Cpl. Cole Collums, Sgt. Jonathan Cudo and former Cpl. Matthew Eason received the award Aug. 1 for wounds sustained in the Sept. 14, 2012, attack, Marine officials said. Maj. Eason, Collums and Cudo are the second, third and fourth Marines from VMA-211 who acted at Camp Bastion to receive Purple Hearts. They were all with Marine Attack Squadron 211, out of Marine Corps Station Yuma, Ariz., when the attack occurred.
Maj. Greer Chambless, a former pilot with VMA-211, received the Purple Heart previously for wounds sustained in the attack, the news release says. The squadron’s commanding officer, Lt. Col. Christopher Raible, and a Marine in another unit, Sgt. Bradley Atwell, were killed during the melee. Atwell was assigned to Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 13, also out of Yuma, and killed in a separate skirmish during that night on Camp Bastion.
The attack received widespread attention, but the Corps did not disclose details about the Aug. 1 Purple Heart ceremony until nearly a month later. In the news release, several of the Marines honored that day reflect on the battle, in which 15 insurgents armed with assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades coordinated a complex attack that destroyed six AV-8B jets and badly damaged two others. Three refueling stations also were destroyed, and six soft-skin aircraft hangars were damaged.
The Marines awarded the Purple Heart were part of the group that Raible led in a counterattack on the insurgents, the news release says. Sixteen of the 50 Marines on hand at the time pushed out of the hangar, said Staff Sgt. Jesse Colburn, an ejection seat mechanic who was among them.
Collums said he was the first one out the door, and “thought it was an entire militia attacking” at the time. “I completely believed that I was going to die that night,” he said.
A bit more:
When the counterattack began, the VMA-211 Marines took up positions outside their hangar before the insurgents could respond. Collums advanced to a forward position within throwing distance of the enemy. He began firing at one of the insurgents while taking fire from multiple locations.
“He kept popping his head out, and I kept shooting at him; I thought, ‘This guy is an idiot. He just keeps sticking his head out,'” said Collums. “Only later did I realize that I was doing the same thing.”
After neutralizing the insurgent, Collums heard the telltale sound of a grenade landing near his position.
“I knew exactly what it was when I heard it,” said Collums. “I know this is going to sound ridiculous, but I knew because it was exactly the same as in Call of Duty. When I heard it, all I could think was R2.” [R2 is the button used in the video game, Call of Duty, to throw a grenade back]
The grenade went off before Collums had a chance to react. He was impacted by a concussive blast, hit with shrapnel and launched through the air. Despite the explosion and his injuries, Collums got back up and rejoined the rest of the VMA-211 Marines positioned roughly 10 meters to his rear. He remained in the fight after other Marines quickly treated his wounds.
After the grenade blast and a subsequent lull in the fighting, the insurgents fired a rocket-propelled grenade at the Marines’ position. One of the Marines shot the insurgent firing the RPG, so it strayed high and detonated on the wall of the hangar behind the Marines. Shrapnel from the explosion wounded Cudo, Collums and Eason.
“I was thrown up against the wall and there was ringing and disorientation,” said Cudo. “I had no idea what was going on, and I just remember being dragged back into the hangar. It was just a small piece of shrapnel in my face but there was blood everywhere so they didn’t know how bad it was at first.”
Marine Corps Times has reported on the attack extensively, including in this piece published during an embedded assignment in Helmand province last year. Raible was put up for the Silver Star, Marines at Camp Bastion said at that time.
More recently, however, accountability issues have been raised about the attack. In April, a Washington Post report said it was each to breach the wire because a number of watchtowers were unmanned and patrols around the base had been cut back the month before as part of the drawdown in U.S. forces across Afghanistan.
In May, Commandant Gen. Jim Amos asked U.S. Central Command to conduct an investigation into what occurred at Bastion, some eight months after the attack. A promotion for the two-star commanding general in Helmand last year, Maj. Gen. Charles “Mark” Gurganus, has been put on hold until the investigation concludes.