I've always had a reverence for the U.S. Military, it began when I was a child. I'm not sure why, but somehow I understood that what those in uniform did was somehow more special than what the rest of us were doing in our everyday lives. Not more special in the sense that it takes a special talent like hitting a ball, running fast, being able to sing, or playing an instrument; but more special in the sense that those who serve do so out of a sense of duty and honor that comes from somewhere deep inside. Plenty of us love our country, but very few of us would do what some have done in service to our country.
Every now and then you see an account of a story or an event that truly touches and changes you. Of course 9/11 had that effect on countless millions of us, but I'm talking about more obscure events. Events that, if not for someone's courage, would probably have gone unknown or unnoticed. The story of Operation Red Wings is one of those events, for me.
A few years back I read the book Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell. I've read the book through twice, skipped around too many times to count, seen the movie starring Mark Wahlberg twice, recounted the story to many in my family who haven't ever heard of it countless times, and yet, I'm still unable to wrap my mind around just exactly what those heroes did on that mountain in Afghanistan. I can't shake the story.
If by chance you've been living under a rock the last several years, here's a summary of the events that took place on June 28, 2005 in the Hindu Kush of Afghanistan. An excerpt:
On June 28, 2005, deep behind enemy lines east of Asadabad in the Hindu Kush of Afghanistan, a very committed four-man Navy SEAL team was conducting a reconnaissance mission at the unforgiving altitude of approximately 10,000 feet. The SEALs, Lt. Michael Murphy, Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class (SEAL) Danny Dietz, Sonar Technician 2nd Class (SEAL) Matthew Axelson and Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class (SEAL) Marcus Luttrell had a vital task. The four SEALs were scouting Ahmad Shah – a terrorist in his mid-30s who grew up in the adjacent mountains just to the south.
Under the assumed name Muhammad Ismail, Shah led a guerrilla group known to locals as the "Mountain Tigers" that had aligned with the Taliban and other militant groups close to the Pakistani border. The SEAL mission was compromised when the team was spotted by local nationals, who presumably reported its presence and location to the Taliban.
A fierce firefight erupted between the four SEALs and a much larger enemy force of more than 50 anti-coalition militia. The enemy had the SEALs outnumbered. They also had terrain advantage. They launched a well-organized, three-sided attack on the SEALs. The firefight continued relentlessly as the overwhelming militia forced the team deeper into a ravine.
What transpired between these four American heroes and a small army of Islamic terrorists is, for lack of a better term, hard to believe. No, I'm not saying I don't believe Luttrell's account, because I absolutely do. What I'm saying is that I'm in such awe of what these men did that I simply cannot fathom what drove them to be able to do it. I put myself in their place and I have a hard time believing that I would have been able to do what they did.
In Luttrell's book and in subsequent talks he's given, he speaks about the brotherhood of the SEALs. He has spoken about their sense of duty, honor, and courage. Still, it's hard for us who haven't lived it to fully comprehend it. And if you haven't lived it and profess to understand it, I respectfully disagree with you. You may think you get it, but I truly doubt that you do.
Another great movie that may shed some light on this group of men, is a documentary called Murph: The Protector. It's a tremendous telling of the life of team leader Lt. Michael Murphy who was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroics on that day. SEAL of Honor is a great site with a ton of info on the operation and heroes.
Today marks the nine year anniversary of Operation Red Wings and the largest loss of life for Naval Special Warfare since WWII. Lt. Murphy, Matthew Axelson, and Danny Dietz, members of the four man SEAL team were all killed in an epic firefight. While trying to support the team under fire, an MH-47 Chinook carrying eight SEALs and eight Army Night Stalkers was shot down with an RPG, killing all aboard.
Today is a day to reflect and remember. Remember what these heroes did. Reflect on why they did it. Pray that there will always be those who will have that special something, deep inside that drives them to protect and defend the rest of us.
God bless, and RIP heroes of Operation Red Wings and all of those like them. God speed to those out there now, in far corners of the world, living the miraculous stories that we will someday only read about, stories of heroism, courage, selflessness, and brotherhood. Patriotism of the highest order.
"When you watch somebody fight that hard, it makes life seem pretty easy, ya know?" -Marcus Luttrell
(cross-posted at Rotten to the Core)