Unlike many of you, I have not seen the recent movie “Lone Survivor,” but I have read the book by the only survivor of Operation Redwing Marcus Luttrell (with Patrick Robinson). Since a movie rarely measures up to the book because of time constraints, I’ll review the more complete story.
The book begins with SEAL Team 10 departing Bahrain in the late spring of 2005 aboard a C-130 Hercules bound for Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan. During the long trip across the Persian Gulf and western Indian Ocean through Pakistan airspace into Afghanistan, Luttrell recounts his SEAL experience.
Texan Marcus Luttrell joined the Navy in 1999 with the intent to become a SEAL (sea, air, land) Special Forces operator. Both he and his twin brother Morgan spent more than a year preparing for the ultimate BUD/S training before enlisting and attending basic fleet training. As soon as that was finished, he was off to Coronado, California and SEAL indoctrination training.
Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) is an incredibly difficult and strenuous training program, probably the most rigorous in the world. Even though candidates are prescreened before entry, the dropout rate is incredibly high – only one in six including Marcus graduated from Class 228. BUD/S training is seven months long followed by specialist training in things like medical skills and parachuting. Once a new SEAL is assigned to a team, the training continues. In the process, the team becomes incredibly close.
Luttrell describes this experience in detail as well as an assignment in Iraq before Team 10’s deployment to Afghanistan. Here they learned the tactics used by Taliban fighters in the mountainous Hindu Kush region on the Pakistani border. Soon, they honed in on a murderous leader that Luttrell refers to as Ben
Sharmak (actual name Ahmad Shah). He proved to be a tough target to nail down but after numerous false starts, the mission was on.
Operation Redwing was an assassination mission targeted against Sharmak. A recon team of four was inserted near the location where intelligence said their target was located. Lieutenant Michael Murphy led the team and his three cohorts were Danny Dietz, Matthew Axelson (Axe), and Marcus Luttrell. Marcus was one of the two snipers in the team.
On the side of a mountain above the village where Sharmak was located, there wasn’t much cover for the SEALs, but they dug in as best they could. It wasn’t long before three goat herders and their flock stumbled on the four. The mission was compromised; they had been discovered. Now, what to do? There were two options: either kill the unarmed men or turn them loose and find a new position. They decided on the later. Immediately, the goat herders ran, presumably to betray the SEALs location to the Taliban and their leader.
Now in a new location, the SEAL team was soon discovered by a band of heavily armed Taliban fighters. The Taliban were coming down to their position from above. Soon fire began. The SEALs were heavily outgunned and outmanned by the enemy. When Murphy ordered the SEALs to fall back, they actually fell down the steep slope hundreds of feet. Now they were both wounded from AK-47 automatic weapon fire and grenades from RPGs as well as injured from the fall.
When Dietz’s radio failed to make contact with the SEALs home base, Lieutenant Murphy ran into the open to make a cell phone call. He was successful but severely wounded when he exposed his position.
Danny Dietz was the first to die, succumbing to his sixth wound. Next, Michael Murphy went silent. Marcus and Axe were blasted from their position by a grenade. Luttrell fell down the mountain further. He had lost nearly all of his equipment in the first fall but miraculously, his M-12 sniper rifle was always at hand, permitting him to return fire.
In the last third of the story, Luttrell describes his rescue by Pashtun villagers who apply the ancient custom of “lokhay” to care and protect a stranger who falls into their midst. Also included is the downing of a MH-47 helicopter rescue mission summoned by Murphy’s sacrificial phone call which costs the lives of 16 special operators. For six days, a vigil grows at the Luttrell family ranch in East Texas for their missing son and teammate. Finally, a rescue mission locates and recovers a grievously wounded but alive SEAL. They also recover their dead brother comrade-in-arms from the mountain as well as the crash site. Among the decorations for their bravery and sacrifice, Lieutenant Michael Murphy is posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
“Lone Survivor” is a good read and I recommend it if you want a more complete description of the mission and the dedication that every special operator, but especially the SEALS, exhibit on behalf of their teammates, their country, and each of us.