Remember Operation Red Wing this Memorial Day
Almost five years ago, on June 28, 2005, four Navy SEALs were tasked with killing or capturing a Taliban leader, Ahmad Shah (also known as Mohammad Ismail or “Sharmak”) in the mountainous Hindu-Kush region of Afghanistan. The counter-insurgency operation was named Operation Red Wing.
The four Navy Seals from SEAL Team 10, were Lieutenant Michael P. Murphy and petty officers Matthew Axelson, Danny Dietz and Marcus Luttrell. After a helicopter insertion and a treacherous four mile hike, the SEALs found a hiding space overlooking the Afghan village where Shah was suspected and prepared to stalk him.
Two local goat herders and a fourteen year old boy happened upon them. Michael Murphy, the leader of the squad, put their fate to a vote. Axelson voted they should be killed, a sad, but militarily efficient result. Dietz abstained. Murphy told Luttrell that it was up to him. Worried about the consequences, and giving what he called the “liberal media” a chance to drag them and the SEAL name through the mud, Luttrell spared the three Afghans.
That decision, as noble or moral as it may have been, led to the worst day of casualties in U.S. Special Forces history. Two hours after the Afghans were released, a force of about 80 Taliban swarmed the SEALs. The SEALs, perched on a perilous cliff with radios that did not work, were alone. In the brutal firefight that followed, the SEALs were forced to peal off and slide down a nearly vertical mountain of shale. Several times.
Danny Dietz, shot three times, once in the throat, continued to fire on the enemy, even as Taliban reinforcements arrived. The fourth shot, to the head, killed him instantly. After nearly an hour holding off the Taliban, Dietz killed, and Murphy, Lutrell and Axelson each shot at least once, Michael Murphy did something that defies belief. Already shot in the stomach, he climbed out from behind his covered firing position and into the center of the firefight to call for help using his own cell phone. He raised the Special Forces command, and reinforcements were on their way. As he returned to his covered position, he was shot in the back, through the chest. This act bravery was later honored with a Congressional Medal of Honor.
“We sleep soundly in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm.”
- Winston Churchill
Murphy covered their displacement down the hill again, but was overpowered and killed. Axelson was soon shot in the head, but incredibly, continued to fight, defending his shipmates. Luttrell was left to fend off the scores of Taliban while rendering aid to a dying Axelson. A grenade blew Luttrell out of his position, killing Axelson, and ironically, saving Luttrell.
Luttrell’s body was blown clear of the firefight, and the Taliban presumed him dead. Far away, the SEALs’ reinforcements were landing, but the Taliban had staged an ambush. When the Chinook helicopter lowered its ramp, a Taliban RPG screamed into the opening, destroying the helicopter and killing eight Navy SEALs and eight Nighstalker crew members.
The Navy SEALs were FCC Jacques J. Fontan, ITCS Daniel R. Healy, LCDR Erik S. Kristensen, Jeffery A. Lucas, LT Michael M. McGreevy, Jr., QM2 James E. Suh, HM1 Jeffrey S. Taylor, and MM2 Shane E. Patton. The Nightstalkers were Staff Sgt. Shamus O. Goare, Chief Warrant Officer Corey J. Goodnature, Sgt. Kip A. Jacoby, Sgt. 1st Class Marcus V. Muralles, Master Sgt. James W. Ponder III, Maj. Stephen C. Reich, Sgt. 1st Class Michael L. Russell, and Chief Warrant Officer Chris J. Scherkenbach. In all, 19 Special Forces operators were killed.
For the next five days, Luttrell was hidden and protected from the Taliban by Pashtun tribesmen in a small village. The village elder carried a note from Luttrell to the Special Forces command center, and Luttrell was soon rescued. Shah survived his encounter with the SEALs, but he did not live long. Less than three years later, he was killed in a firefight with Pakistani police forces.
Murphy was given the Congressional Medal of Honor, posthumously. In 2008, a Navy destroyer was named after him. Axelson, Dietz and Luttrell were each awarded the Navy Cross for their actions during Red Wing. Luttrell later wrote a book, one you should read: Lone Survivor. A movie is rumored for next year.
Luttrell has always maintained it was self-preservation, not mercy that lead him to spare the lives of the goat herders. He knew that killing them was the correct thing to do, but worried about the media and a politically correct Navy court martialing him. As if to prove Luttrell’s concerns legitimate, this year, three Navy SEALs were court martialed for allegedly punching a terrorist. All three have been acquitted.
Luttrell’s suffering was not over, however. Luttrell was given a dog, DASY, as part of his rehabilitation. The name is an acronym for his comrades, Danny, Axe, Southern Boy (Luttrell) and Yankee (Murphy). In 2009, in an act of unfathomable cowardice, two teenagers shot and killed his dog, DASY in Texas. Luttrell gave chase, and fortunately for the scum, the police apprehended them before Luttrell did.
Keep these men in your mind and heart this Memorial Day. Enjoy your hot dogs and your day off. But don’t forget what these rough men have done and stand ready to do, to protect your freedom.