By Barbara Starr
It was after dinner at Camp Bastion on Friday, September 14, when the first shots rang out. Maintenance officer Maj. Greer Chambless was with fellow U.S. Marine Lt. Col. Christopher Raible, the squadron commander, moving some gear.
"We looked up the flight line and quickly realized that the airfield was under attack. There was maybe one second where we were thinking what to do and then Col. Raible sprang into action," Chambless told CNN.
Before the night was over, a brutal firefight raged across the airfield. As helicopters backed them up with fire from the air, U.S. and British troops fought together on the ground for hours against Taliban insurgents attacking the base in Afghanistan.
It would be become a night of tragedy and heroism for many.
It was an audacious insurgent attack right from the start. Fifteen Taliban fighters infiltrated onto the base by blasting through a security fence along the eastern perimeter. Dressed in American military-style uniforms they quickly divided into three groups of five; one group headed right for the flight line.
"Col. Raible was positioned to the north of me. We see flaming aircraft. We see the enemy shooting at us. We're seeking cover. We're hearing small arms fire," Chamless said.
"Then at some point soon there after, we see another (rocket-propelled grenade) shot towards us and towards our building. So during this whole time I'm hearing Lt. Col. Raible directing the Marines and positioning them to continue to fight the enemy in order to protect the airfield and protect the rest of the Marines."
As squadron commander, Raible's job was to fly the unit's AV-8B Harrier jets providing air cover for troops on the ground. But many of the Marines on the airfield on that late night shift were maintenance or fuel specialists, getting the planes ready for the next day in the skies over Afghanistan.
That did not matter when Raible initially asked for Marines to go outside onto the field with him.
"They were Marines so he said 'Hey, I need volunteers to bring the fight to these guys,' and we had to choose from the volunteers because there were many of them," Chambless said.
Chamless said what confronted them next was a chaotic scene. "Surreal is probably a better word for it," he added.
Six jets were on fire and destroyed, the fuel storage area was ablaze. Taliban fighters were shooting at the Marines from behind concrete bunkers on the airfield.
"We're hearing ammunition beginning to cook off as well as their rounds that they are firing at us. We're hearing the sounds of fire as the gases release from the aircraft. So, it was, like I said, a surreal scene to behold," Chamless said.
A short distance away, Staff Sgt. Gustavo Delgado - a supply sergeant - was leading another small team in the counterattack. He had just come from his nightly gym workout when the attack erupted.
He knew he had two Marines on duty on the airfield, and he raced to find them. The Marines all found safe positions from which they could fire back. But Delgado said it was like something out of the movies.
"The fire was huge you can smell it, you can hear all the snapping and cracking and all around the walls, all around you. You see all the rounds that are coming from us that are impacting the wall where we knew the insurgents were. You just smell the gun powder, you see just nothing but rounds impacting all around you.
"I think more or less it's the sound, that you know that it's pretty close, especially when it's - you have your back against the wall and you feel the rounds that are right next to your ear. That's when you realize that you're in a firefight."
Delgado got to the airfield so fast, that he suddenly realized all he had was his pistol, so he ran back for his rifle. But Raible and Chambless stayed in the firefight armed only with those same 9mm weapons. For another Marine, Sgt. Bradley Atwell, and for Lt. Col. Christopher Raible, it would be their final mission. Both men died of their wounds on the airfield.
"He saw a challenge and he took action. He took decisive action. He led his Marines and he led them from the front," says Chambless of Raible. "He embodied the Marine Corp ethos."
For Delgado, part of the challenge now is talking to all of his young Marines about the loss of one of their leaders.
"We have to dig deep and remember why it is that we're in the Marine Corps and why we're here in the first place," he said. "You know, for some of the Marines, for most of us, we never see some of this stuff on an everyday basis but, you know, as a leader, we have to be able to ... let them know, reassure them, hey, everything's gonna be all right."
For now, an investigation remains underway on how the Taliban were able to breach security at the base. All attackers were killed during the fight except for one who was captured.
On Monday, NATO reported it arrested one of the Taliban leaders behind the attack.
Military officials are also still looking at two videos posted by Taliban groups that show potential reconnaissance of the base and a group of insurgents training in the field and planning in front of a hand-drawn map that may be of Camp Bastion.