Michael Patrick Murphy, Lt., USN, SEAL, Medal of Honor
By Ed Marek, editor
October 22, 2007, updated November 26, 2012
November 26, 2012: The USS Michael Murphy (DDG 112), an Arleigh-Burke class destroyer, arrived at her homeport of Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii on November 21, 2012. She and her crew are now ready to support 7th Fleet Pacific operations.
November 11, 2012: Arliegh Burke-class destroyer USS Michael Murphy (DDG-112) made its very first port of call October 16, 2012, in Barbados while operating in U.S. 4th fleet area of operations. She was on her way to her homeport in Pearl Harbor. The 510-foot Arleigh-Burke class destroyer is a multi-mission, guided-missile vessel designed to operate in multi-threat air, surface and sub-surface threat environments.
Sailors assigned to the guided-missile destroyer USS Michael Murphy (DDG 112) run aboard to man the rails "bring the ship to life" during her commissioning ceremony, October 6, 2012, in New York City harbor. The ship will be based in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
May 15, 2011: Maureen Murphy, mother of Lt. Michael Murphy, USN (SEAL) and ship's sponsor, breaks a bottle of champagne across the bow of the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer Pre-commissioning Unit (PCU) Michael Murphy (DDG 112) during the ship's christening ceremony at General Dynamics Bath Iron Works in Bath, Maine, May 7, 2011. Murphy posthumously received the Medal of Honor for his actions during Operation Red Wings in Afghanistan in June 2005. He was the first Sailor to receive the Medal of Honor since the Vietnam War.
May 5, 2011: Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead poses for a photo in front of the keel of the guided-missile destroyer USS Michael Murphy (DDG 112) during a visit to Bath Iron Works, February 23, 2011.
June 27, 2010: Maureen Murphy, left, and Edwin Bard inscribe the signatures of Lt. (SEAL) Michael Murphy's family on an iron plate during a June 18, 2010 dedication ceremony for Pre-Commissioning Unit (PCU) Michael Murphy (DDG 112). The iron plate will be affixed to the ship's hull during construction. Murphy was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions during Operation Red Wings in Afghanistan in June 2005. He was the first Sailor awarded the Medal of Honor since the Vietnam War. Photo credit: MCS2 Dale Patrick B. Frost, USN
May 8, 2008: Secretary of the Navy, Donald C. Winter announced on May 7, 2008 at a ceremony in Lake Ronkonkoma, N.Y., the name of the newest Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer will be USS Michael Murphy. Designated as DDG 112, the name honors Lt. Michael Murphy who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions during Operation Red Wing, in Afghanistan on June 28, 2005.
Today, October 22, 2007, the family of Lt. Michael Patrick Murphy, USN, SEAL, received the Medal of Honor (posthumous) on behalf of their son in America's House, the White House.
At this writing, only two military people have received the Medal of Honor for combat actions in the Global War on Terror. Both Medals were posthumous, both were for action in Iraq.
Paul R. Smith, Sergeant First Class, USA
Jason L. Dunham, Corporal, USMC
They were received by the families of Sergeant First Class Paul R. Smith, USA, and Corporal Jason Dunham, USMC.
Lt. Murphy will be the first to receive the Medal for action in Afghanistan.
The Medal of Honor rests on a flag beside a SEAL trident during preparations for an award ceremony for Lt. Michael P. Murphy. Photo credit: Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Brandan W. Schulze. Presented by militarypotos.net
The Medal of Honor is the highest award for valor in action against an enemy force which can be bestowed upon an individual serving in the Armed Services of the United States.
More than 70 Medal of Honor recipients gather for a group photo in front of USS Constitution, the world's oldest commissioned warship afloat, for a turnaround cruise and Medal of Honor flag presentation in Boston Harbor, 2006. Photo credit: Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley, USN. Presented by Leatherneckm31
Believe it or not, it's even more meaningful than that. Listen to survivors who have received the Medal. They will, we think to a man, tell you that they are not heroes, but instead represent all those heroes who have fought for their country and did not receive this Medal. They wear the Medal proudly, but not for themselves, instead for all those others, especially to honor those who did not survive the battle.
Tim Frank, in 1999 a Kansas State University graduate student, interviewed a host of Medal of Honor recipients as part of his master's degree thesis. He told the Topeka Capital-Journal this at the time:
"As I was walking along, I saw a man with a sky blue ribbon around his neck --- I knew immediately he was a Medal of Honor recipient ... I never thought I would meet a living recipient, so I ran up and introduced myself as a history student ... Many of these men don't like the word hero, but really that is what they are ... They are a good cross section of the American military and America in general. They came from all walks of life, some were drafted, some enlisted, some went to military academies. They have different economic, race and cultural backgrounds ... These men are walking history books ... They were ordinary men who at some point in a battle did something extraordinary."
Former US Senator Bob Kerrey, a Medal of Honor recipient, has said this:
"Most of them (the recipients of the Medal of Honor) feel that they received it for others and that their own actions were not especially heroic."
As Lt. Murphy's family received this Medal on his behalf, it was our duty to take pause to honor him, those who did not survive the battle for which he is being honored, and those who participated in the extraction attempt, multiple rescue operations, and those who participated in the recovery work.
This battle was part of Operation Red Wing, an operation set up to capture or kill high level Taliban and al Qaeda leadership in Afghanistan. It occurred on June 28, 2005. A US Army MH-47 "Night Stalker" helicopter crew from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR) inserted four Navy SEALs in the mountains of Afghanistan. Only one of the four survived. Several days after the battle, he was rescued.
Sixteen others came to reinforce and extract these SEALs while they were in the heat of battle. All were killed when their helicopter was shot down: eight Navy SEALs and eight Army Special Operations Forces (SOF).
It took until July 6, 2005 to recover the last body, but our forces got them all out. More than 300 men and countless aircraft crews were involved in the lone rescue and in recovering all the bodies of the deceased.
One from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR) put it this way:
"If we put them in, we take them out."
We'll introduce you to the four SEALs led by Lt. Murphy.
Lt. (SEAL) Michael P. Murphy, USN, 29, of Patchogue, New York, second in command of a platoon from SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team 1 (SDVT-1), Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Medal of Honor (posthumous).
Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class (SEAL) Danny P. Dietz, 25, of Littleton, Colorado from SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team 2 (SDVT-2), Virginia Beach, Virginia. Navy Cross (posthumous). Photo presented by hamptonroads.com
Sonar Technician (Surface) 2nd Class (SEAL) Matthew G. Axelson, 29, of Cupertino, California from SDVT-1, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Known to his colleagues as "Axel." Navy Cross (posthumous)
Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class (SEAL) Marcus Luttrell, USN, from SEAL Team 10 (ST-10), Virginia Beach, Virginia. Navy Cross. Photo presented by hamptonroads.com
With these introductions, we'd like to present a quick primer on Navy SEALs.
The SEALs are a maritime force. So what were (and are) they doing in landlocked Afghanistan? In broad military terms, the SEALs have multiple missions: counterterrorism, unconventional warfare, special reconnaissance and direct action. USSOCOM has been tasked, among other things, to seek out terrorists, especially terrorist leaders, in Afghanistan. USSOCOM has called on all the services' special operations forces to participate, and the SEALs have responded.
For example, in 2002 they conducted an eight-day mission searching out more than 70 caves over a three mile ravine near the Pakistani border, and found caches of weapons, ammunition, supplies, and a wealth of intelligence information. Just prior to the Desert Storm invasion of Iraq, a very small group of SEALs set up and set off a large amount of explosives on a beach to make the Iraqis think Marines visible offshore would land there. The Iraqis diverted forces to this location, but the SEALs and Marines were gone, and the ground invasion was launched in the famous "end around" over land from an entirely different location. In Somalia, a small SEAL team swam ashore to chart the landing zone in detail for the Marines who would land. Also in Somalia, some SEALs hid along the route of an incoming group of Marines, spotted a sniper waiting to pick off the Marines, and killed him.
The Navy has about 2,500 SEALs and 600 Special Warfare Combatant-craft Crewmen (SWCC), along with a 1,200-person reserve of approximately 325 SEALs, and 125 SWCC. SEAL Teams, STs, are organized on paper each with six platoons, each platoon with 16 men, two officers and 14 enlisted. A platoon may be divided into two squads (8 men each) or four elements (4 men each). As a general rule, the SEAL advantages are the ability to operate in very small teams, go places where others cannot, and conduct clandestine operations in a stealth mode with the capacity to take on multiple tasks against targets that larger forces cannot approach undetected.
Let's now move on to Operation Red Wing, June 28, 2005.
Lt. Murphy led a four-man SEAL team tasked with finding a key Taliban leader in the mountainous terrain west of Asadabad, Afghanistan. The Navy has said that the target was Ahmad Shah, AKA Muhammad Ismail, who led a guerilla group known as the "Mountain Tigers" that had aligned with the Taliban. Others say they were targeted against Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and Mullah Omar. Shah was closely allied with those three so perhaps both explanations have merit.
Marcus Luttrell, the only survivor of this mission, has written that they were a "four man sniper watch team sitting on a capture-kill task to locate, monitor the activity of a high-ranking Taliban official with known ties to Osama bin Laden."
In his book, Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10, Luttrell wrote this:
"Our mission may have been strategic, it may have been secret. However, one point was crystalline clear ... This was payback time for the World Trade Center. We were coming after the guys who did it. If not the actual guys, then their blood brothers, the lunatics who still wished us dead and might try it again. Same thing, right?
"We knew what we were coming for. And we knew where we were going: right up there to the high peaks of the Hindu Kush, those same mountains where bin Laden might still be and where his new bands of disciples were still hiding. Somewhere."
During the early morning hours of June 28, 2005, a US Army Special Forces MH-47 helicopter crew from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR) "Night Stalkers" inserted the four SEALs. Lt. Colonel Matt Brady, the commander of the 3rd Battalion 160th SOAR flew them in. Brady inserted Murphy's team in the Karangal (Garangal) Valley of Afghanistan, in the mountainous Konar (Konar) Province, an area known as the Hindu Kush, south of the Pech River and infamous Pech Road. Konar Province is shown on the Google Earth image above. The red dot roughly marks the Karangal Valley.
MH-47 Night Stalker, presented by RofaSix.
The CH-47/MH-47 is one of few helicopters that can operate at high altitudes such as exist in the area where Murphy's team was inserted, and over long distances. The 160th SOAR was the only outfit at the time equipped with this aircraft in Afghanistan We believe the aircraft launched from Bagram Air Base (AB), Afghanistan, just north of Kabul. As the crow flies, it was about 100 miles to the insertion point, another 100 back. Weather, requirements for a clandestine, stealth insertion, might have made the trip longer.
By "inserted," we have seen reports that the SEALs "fast-roped" down from the MH-47. We'd like to spend a few moments on this, because it helps explain the value of small teams for these kinds of operations.
Marines fast rope out of a CH-46E Sea Knight Helicopter at Landing Zone Hansen during a fast rope qualification course August 30, 2005. The CH-46 is the Navy variant of the CH-47. Presented by wikipedia.
Fast-roping is a technique for descending down a thick rope in a hurry. It is useful for deploying troops from a helicopter in places where the helicopter is unable or unwilling to touch down. Several people can slide down the same rope simultaneously, with a gap between them, so that each one has time to get out of the way when they reach the ground before the next person lands on them. This technique is especially good for where Murphy's ST was working, in difficult mountain terrain.
We might also mention that this was a clandestine operation that would place the SEALs within reach of their target. The MH-47 crew probably needed to get them out the door, down the fast rope in a hurry, and then get the MH-47 the hell out of there so the ST can get on with business, all undetected. We understand the insertion was at night and it was raining.
The technique demonstrated by this photo shows US Marines conducting helicopter rope suspension training. In this instance, you see five Marines hanging above the ground. It would be possible, as the helicopter gets close to its target, for the SEALs to maneuver themselves into this position in advance, set the rope on the ground, let them unlatch, and the MH-47 can speed away. Conversely, such a rope could be dropped to a team already on the ground for extraction, the men could latch on, and the helicopter could hoist it a bit and pull away, out of harms way, drawing the men in during flight. Photo credit: Lance Cpl. Brandon R. Holgersen. Presented by US Marines in Japan.
This is a closer look at the Karangal (Garangal) area, presented by Google Earth. The yellow arrows roughly designate the Karangal Valley. You can see the steep mountains on both sides.
Here is a 3-D look at the terrain.
This photo gives a good view of the Hindu Kish. The C-130 in the photo upper left is weaving around rocky mountain peaks to land at Bagram AB, to the southwest of where the ST was. You need only imagine what it was like to be deep in the Hindu Kush on the ground. Photo credit: TSgt. Cecilio M. Ricardo, Jr., USAF, presented by Air Force Magazine, September 2007 edition.
Everyone involved knew this was not going to be a pleasure cruise. Intelligence estimates provided to the team prior to mission launch said there would be up to 200 enemy in the area. We have seen a report that said US surveillance assets had spotted a large group of enemy moving through a pass in the Hindu Kush from Pakistan to Afghanistan. This report suggested that the intelligence analysts concluded that there was a likelihood that such a large force was protecting important enemy leadership.
A painting of a Pashtun man. Presented by the Pashtun Research Advocacy and Policy Centre, Canada.
This area of the country is largely inhabited by the Pashtun ethnic group, most of whom are goat herders, farmers, woodcutters, and nearly all of whom see themselves as brave and daring warriors. They are generally Sunni Muslims. Most of the population of Afghanistan and much of western and northern Pakistan are Pashtuns. There are about 50 million of them world-wide. As an aside, Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai is an ethnic Pashtun.
Pashtuns Straddle Afghanistan and Pakistan. We added the red dot to show approximately where Murphy's ST was operating. Presented by YaleGlobal Online.
But, the ethnic Pashtun people are not monolithic. In the region under discussion, they have divided into multiple tribes, and are loyal to their tribes, which has caused conflict among them in the past. Their history is one where political entities have taken advantage of them to pursue other geopolitical goals. They have a warrior lineage. Many have joined the Taliban, the Pakistani and Afghan Armies, and tribal militias. Many are avid nationalists, and would like to form a new national entity they would call "Pashtunistan." Important to our story here, most of them abide by an intractable ethical code, known as the "Pukhtunwali," which requires every insult to be revenged and, conversely, every guest to be protected.
We will demonstrate a little later how different the Pashtun can be.
Following their insertion, the ST walked most of the night to the place where they would hide, elevation about 10,000 ft. During an interview with Glenn Beck, Luttrell said this:
"We were monitoring our target, didn't have a good visual on -- on -- on the initial site, so we relocated, got a better visual."
This statement has led us to conclude the ST felt it knew fairly precisely where their target was, they understood the terrain as best they could from the intelligence imagery and maps they studied, they had a plan, they had various locations marked in their minds (and we understand on a computer they carried), including stop-and-hide points, and they were approaching their target area.
Goat herder in Afghanistan. A video grab from "Nomadic herders go high tech," presented by CNN.
In his book, Luttrell said about two hours passed when "we were walked on by some civilians, some Afghani goat herders." We took a video clip of some Afghan goat herders and have shown it hear. Murphy's ST was in a much more difficult setting, in a heavily forested area, on the side of a mountain, and on a clandestine mission. That said, we learned from this video that goat herders, including those in Afghanistan, are starting to use GPS and cell phone systems to locate where they are and where they want to be. We have no evidence the goat herders experienced by our ST had such capabilities, but it's a point to keep in mind while thinking about modern-day and future warfare.
Luttrell said the Afghans had about 75-100 goats. Luttrell was hiding under a tree, and one of herders walked directly over his position, and looked right at him. So, this, a clandestine mission, had been compromised.
Then Axel informed Luttrell that two more Afghans were coming, one an adult, one a teenager, making three in all. They were unarmed, though one carried an axe for chopping. This is all very typical of the Pashtun people.
So, the ST mission was compromised. The challenge now was to assess the likelihood that these herders were friend or foe, and what to do. This is an area where many familiar with this mission have done a lot of second-guessing. We'll not do that. But the reality was that for the moment, the fate of these Afghans belonged to the SEALs and whatever decision was to be made was going to affect this mission.
The SEALs could talk with the Afghans and they had equipment with them which allowed them to communicate more clearly where necessary. We understand Lt. Murphy tried to interrogate them, to little benefit.
The ST members labored over what to do. Their mission was to last 72 hours, and they had just started. They could immediately leave the area and call for extraction. Or, they could continue their mission. In both cases, they were still left with the decision about how to handle the three Afghans. Some options would include killing them, tying them up and hiding them and their 75-100 goats, or let them go.
According to Luttrell's book and subsequent interviews with him, Lt. Murphy seemed to favor killing them, pressing ahead with the mission, and taking his chances with the media and the courts later. Luttrell said Murphy polled each man, and got a 2-1-1 vote against killing them: Luttrell and Axel against, Murphy voting to kill them, and Dietz abstaining. As a result of the vote, however, Luttrell said Murphy decided to let them go.
During an interview with Glenn Beck, Luttrell makes a telling comment:
"Because of the ROEs, rules of engagement, we have to -- placed upon us and stuff like that, you know, if we would have executed them, you know, we'd have wound up in prison. And it wasn't -- I'd rather -- you know, we'd rather take our -- the decision was to take our chances with -- in a gunfight than take our chances in the court system ... Eventually the bodies would be found and their IO (media) campaign is a lot better than ours."
We must point out, however, that Lt. Murphy's father, Daniel, a former prosecutor and now a law clerk, disputes Luttrell's version of events in his book and interviews. Mr. Murphy has said this:
"That directly contradicts what he (Luttrell) told (Murphy's mother) Maureen, myself and Michael's brother John in my kitchen ... He said that Michael was adamant that the civilians were going to be released, that he wasn't going to kill innocent people ... Michael wouldn't put that up for committee. People who knew Michael know that he was decisive and that he makes decisions ... (Michael) would not have changed his mind even though he knew the result. That's the type of leader he was ... I think he (Luttrell) did a disservice to Axelson and even to Danny Dietz to even suggest that they were ambivalent and prepared to dispose with civilians. Michael would never ... allow that to happen, ever."
Whatever the case, Lt. Murphy released the Afghans and the team continued with its mission.
We've arguably spent too much on this issue. We did so for those of us at the home front. We citizens need to understand that our combatants are forced into tough, life and death decisions every day. Quite often they have only seconds to decide what to do. They know their Rules of Engagement (ROE). But you cannot write a rule for every occasion. Our combatants run into situations where there is room for interpretation, where the ROE is not exactly clear, where the ROE does not completely fit with their situation at the moment, which can be especially true for men in the clandestine special operations mode. We also know that our combatants have deeply held moral beliefs and values, and these often fly in the face events that create risks to themselves and to their mission.
If you'll only accept half of what Luttrell said on this issue to be exactly how it went down, you'll see that these men had to wrestle with all this, they knew the media at home would come down on them like flies on ointment if some no-nothing junior reporter were to make a big deal out of their decision, and they didn't trust the court system that might handle their case. They also knew that our politicians and media at home had long ago ceded the information battlespace to the enemy in Afghanistan. And finally, they did not want to commit murder. Their calculus was complex.
That's all we need to say on the subject.
Murphy decided to let them go. The Afghans and their goats walked away out of sight, the SEALs watching them leave. The ST was less than a mile from its target, so it pressed ahead and took its chances. After all, the notion that they might be on the verge of grabbing a guy like bin Laden had to weigh on their thirst to get the dirtbag. The ST moved up the mountain and took up defensive positions.
Then, worst fears realized. About two hours later, a large force of more than 50 enemy (Luttrell estimated maybe 100, we have seen figures as high as 140) came upon the SEALs' location. Was this by chance, or did the recently released goat herders inform the local militia? We'll probably never know.
We do know our forces have done a lot of work to get close to the Pashtun people in this region, and have achieved a great deal of success. But many of the Pashtun remain skeptical about the Americans, having fallen victim to so many groups in their past who used them for other political reasons. Many of the Pahstun are good, hard-working people who want to live in peace, but many are tied into the enemy network, either for some kind of compensation or out of terrifying fear.
At this point in the ST's day, all that was moot. The enemy approached in large numbers and attacked from superior tactical positions, at night, in the rain. These SEALs were far better equipped and trained, but the enemy vastly outnumbered them, and held the the high ground. As events unfolded, the enemy attacked from three sides.
Each of the SEALs was wounded early on in the fight. The SEALs had trained for quick departures under hairy conditions. They began moving down the mountain, leaping at times 20 and 30 feet down, all the while having to cover each other and beat back the enemy. They knew there was a village down there that could provide improved defensive concealment and a more flat area from which they could engage the enemy coming down the mountain with greater effect. They tried to get there.
After 45 minutes of fighting, Danny Dietz stayed on some higher ground while the others went down the hill. He was a communications expert and hoped he could get a call out for help. He was shot five times, but kept firing and calling on the radio. Finally, he was shot in the head, a fatal blow. Danny was known at home as "DJ." His parents would say, "He was doing what he loved, and he was good at what he was doing. His shoes are going to be hard to fill --- if they ever will be."
By this time the enemy had maneuvered such that the ST was now taking fire from above and below, being hit by small arms fire and grenades. There was no way they could retrieve Dietz's body.
The team continued sliding down the mountain and found a good defensive position, from which it made a stand. Luttrell, in his book, says this:
"They (the enemy) were up and screaming at us, yelling as the battle almost became close quarters. We yelled right back and kept firing. But there were still so many of them, and then they got into better position and shot (Lt.) Mikey Murphy through the chest. And then I saw Axe stumbling toward me, his head pushed out, blood running down his face, bubbling out of the most shocking head wound."
Luttrell could not tend to Axel because of the ferocity of the fight. Axel was shot in the chest, but kept on fighting, even after being shot in the head. He soon succumbed. His mom would say, "Matthew was always kind of a quiet young man, an observer. He always said he felt fortunate to be born in America. And before he went on in life, he felt he needed to give back to the country." His wife Cindy said, "When he went into the Navy, it wasn't to be in the Navy; it was to be a Navy SEAL."
The team was now down to two men, Murphy and Luttrell.
Lt. Murphy was wounded, as best we can tell, shot in the stomach. He ran out of ammo, and despite his wounds, asked Luttrell for another magazine. Then Murphy left his defensive position of cover to wide-open ground hoping to get a clear signal to communicate with his headquarters.
Bagram AB, Afghanistan, courtesy of Google Earth.
He got through to the Special Operations Force (SOF) Quick Reaction Force (QRF) at Bagram Air Base. During his call, Murphy took at least one bullet in the back, right through to the chest and out. Murphy continued his transmission, providing his unit's location, enemy strength, and a situation assessment. He was told help was on the way, and incredibly, responded:
"Roger that, sir. Thank you."
Pause. It is at this point I cry. It is here where I go speechless. Bullet in the stomach, bullet through the back and chest, two of his team dead, enemy all around him, firing at him, and Murphy, trained to never give up, trained to explore every option, maintains a cool, professional demeanor at its highest level: "Roger that, sir. Thank you." These kinds of people come from our neighborhoods, from our churches and schools, from our families, our playgrounds, from our hearts and from our souls. God Almighty has blessed us with so many like him, it's time to pause and reflect.
His communications complete, Murphy returned to his defensive position to continue the fight until he finally succumbed to his wounds. At the Medal of Honor ceremony today, his mom said he was "someone who always stuck up for the underdog." His father said he was "honest, kind, caring -- probably the antithesis of what you would call a warrior."
There is now only one member of the four man team left, Corpsman Luttrell.
While Luttrell was alive, he too was wounded, he was alone, and the enemy wanted him badly. Luttrell's fight to survive is gripping. His face took a beating from flying shrapnel, he had a broken nose, three cracked vertebrae, "hunks of metal and rocks sticking out of (his) legs," and a bullet in the thigh. He crawled through the night employing every escape and evasion technique he could muster, approached a pool of water, and saw an Afghan. He grabbed his rifle, the villager said "American" and gave him a big thumbs up, and said he was "No Taliban." Other villagers arrived, some armed with AK-47s. They too were Pashtuns. They took him, tended to his wounds, fed him, and clothed him. In particular, a man named Mohammed Gulab, a father of six, took Luttrell under his wing, fully understanding the risks.
Sure enough, Taliban arrived in the area, and demanded Mohammed Gulab surrender Luttrell. Here's where the intractable Pashtun ethical code, known as the "Pukhtunwali," came into play. Once the villagers decided to rescue the American, that was it, he was their guest, and it was their duty to protect him. They knew that the moment they took him. They had already made their decision, much like Murphy's decision to let the goat herders go. They would have to live with the decision and press on. And that's what they did.
Murphy's call got through.
The USAF launched a Predator unmanned aerial reconnaissance vehicle mounted with an infrared camera to locate the SEAL team and relay live imagery of what was happening. In short order, command and control authorities saw the SEAL team surrounded. We understand they decided the combat was too close to employ an AC-130 Spectre gunship.
The 160 SOAR was alerted to launch a quick reaction force (QRF) to reinforce and extract the SEALs. The 3rd Battalion, led by Lt. Colonel Matt Brady, did so with dispatch. Two MC-47s were launched. One, callsign was "Turbine 33," carried eight SEALs and eight Army SOF.
An AH-64D Apache from Company B, 1st "Attack" Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment, 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, flies over a residential area in the Multi-National Division-Baghdad area October 12, 2007. Photo credit: Photo by Chief Warrant Officer 4 Daniel McClinton, 1st ACB
Turbine 33 was also accompanied by Army attack helicopters, which usually means the AH-64D. We have seen several reports which say that Turbine 33 was escorted by three other MH-47s. We do not think that is correct. The NSW issued a statement saying Turbine 33 was "escorted by heavily-armored, Army attack helicopters." John Barry and Michael Hirsh, writing, "Chopper down over Kunar," published in the June 11, 2005 edition of Newsweek, added that "a pair of A-10 Warthog jets overhead (along with Apaches) were flying shotgun, but they could do nothing."
We're going to digress here for a moment because we want to make a point about flying conditions in Afghanistan. AH-64s frequently fly escort for CH-47s but have trouble operating at the altitudes involved and achieved by the CH-47s. AH-64s weigh a lot and lack the power to climb easily to such altitudes. NSW acknowledged that the attack helicopters were heavily armored.
The CH-47/MH-47 is designed to operate at high altitudes at speeds up to about 170 mph, and over long distances, so they are able to handle the conditions faced in this operation. In the optimum situation, the attack helicopters would fly above the MH-47 so their crews can more easily spot threats and dispense with them. However, quite often, in the mountainous terrain of Afghanistan, the escort helicopters have to fly along side or below the CH-47s. That detracts from their ability to spot threats to the Chinooks.
Back to the fight. The NSW statement said this:
"The heavy weight of the attack helicopters slowed the formation’s advance prompting the MH-47 to outrun their armored escort. They knew the tremendous risk going into an active enemy area in daylight, without their attack support, and without the cover of night. Risk would of course be minimized if they put the helicopter down in a safe zone. But knowing that their warrior brothers were shot, surrounded and severely wounded, an unconventional decision needed to be made. The rescue team opted to directly enter the oncoming battle in hopes of landing on brutally hazardous terrain."
So here we are again. The MH-47 skipper's decision to go in was "unconventional." There was not time to fool around. The boss decided to go in, trust his airmanship, trust the quality of his MH-47, and look for some good luck. Again digressing, the capacity to make a decision on the fly is arguably the greatest attribute of the American in combat.
It was still daylight, though approaching dusk, as Turbine 33 entered the hot zone.
Lt. Colonel Matt Brady was the commanding officer of the 3-160 SOAR at the time. He has written that the MH-47 approached the target area 50 feet above the ground. As he approached the landing zone, he had to slow to under 100 knots. Let's pause again just briefly. This Night Stalker is in hazardous terrain, it's raining, the sun is setting, there are enemy all over the place in battle, and he's got his big bad machine screaming in at 50 feet above the ground at a speed somewhere below 100 knots. That'll get your attention.
The SEALs were still fighting against this potent force. But there was another group of enemy that was not engaged with the SEALs. This group took the MH-47 under small arms and rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) fire. Enemy forces in Iraq and Afghanistan frequently employ the RPG in this role. The RPG is not guided, but one RPG hit Turbine 33. The skipper was right to trust his bird. He was able to pull his stricken aircraft away and fly for about a mile, and then was able to set her down on a ledge.
The CH/MH-47 is built to take a beating, and indeed they do take a beating from ground fire all the time, ever since they were initially deployed to Vietnam. It is not all that easy to bring a Chinook down. It has to be hit in certain areas. Apparently the RPG severed critical components and drive shafts. Nonetheless, the crew babied her in to a small ledge on the side of a mountain and ravine. This is first-class airmanship.
Brady went on to say:
"The hard landing and the palpitations of the rotors were too much for the small landing zone and weak ground. It was their time, the aircraft rolled off of the ledge on to its side and down the mountain into the valley below. 8 SEALs and 8 aviators from Task Force 160th were gone."
Lt. General James Conway, director of operations for the US Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), said the RPG shot was "pretty lucky."
We ran across an article by Debbie Whitmont, writing "Winter in Afghanistan: Travels through a hibernating war," published in March 2007 by The Monthly of Australia, where she describes what it was like when she flew on a helicopter into the Kunar area:
"We're going to Kunar in a convoy: two Black Hawks and a Chinook, with an attack helicopter, an Apache, behind as a chase. 'Flying through those canyons, it wouldn't be hard to bring us down,' says Colonel (Tom) Collins (an American military spokesman). 'Ain't no Apache gonna save you then.' Two machine-gunners stick their heads out of the Chinook's side hatches. Another is strapped to the open rear flap, one boot dangling out the back, catching the sunlight.
"A few minutes later, we're flying low in a labyrinth of valleys, the tops of rocky ridges - the Hindu Kush mountain range, a part of the Himalayas that cuts across Afghanistan to the east - towering above. Looking down, it's easy to understand what the Americans call the 'tyranny of terrain': there's nowhere flat enough to land a helicopter and not a road in sight; the only way in or out is on foot."
USAF A-10 Warthogs were in the area and observed the crash. They attacked enemy forces who had attacked the MH-47, with what effect we do not know. The MH-47 that flew with Turbine 33 was recalled to base and departed.
Well, we've now got a major rescue challenge on the radar. We've got a Night Stalker down, and we've still got the SEALs on the ground, though no one could be sure what their fate was at this point.
Major Jeff "Spanky" Peterson leans on a HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter, similar to the one he flew in a 2005 rescue mission in Afghanistan. Peterson was the main pilot in the rescue of Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell. Presented by Tucson Citizen.
Lt. Colonel Jeff Macrander, and Major Jeff "Spanky" Peterson, 305th Rescue Squadron, "Anytime, Anywhere," were at Kandahar in southeastern Afghanistan were alerted to fly their HH-60 Pavehawks to Bagram, north of Kabul. Macrander was flight lead. Each rescue helicopter carried a pararescue crew, known in the Air Force as PJs. They were then told to go to a small airstrip in Jalalabad, near Pakistan, about 50 miles from the action, and sit tight awaiting orders. At the time, Peterson had only three days left on his tour. He kissed that schedule goodbye.
They had to sit tight. A rescue plan had to be drawn up, forces had to be readied, and they had to be moved. In the meantime, air forces were aloft searching for survival radio transmissions and rescue beacons from those in the fight and in the MH-47. Such transmissions were not there, although at one point a radio transmission was picked up suggesting there was at least one American on the ground and alive.
The Washington Post reported that Colonel James Yants, a military spokesman in Kabul, said at the time that a "large, aggressive ground force" was moving toward the Turbine 33 crash site on June 29, 2005, a day after the crash, that the forces spotted the wreckage but had not yet gotten to it, though they did cordon off the area to prevent enemy from approaching. He added:
"We are fighting our way to that helicopter, (and the forces on the ground had) "active air cover."
The slog to the site was tough. There was only one way in, by foot. The weather remained bad. All that said, rescuers did get into Turbine 33's crash site on June 30, 2005, and recovered all 16.
Macrander and Peterson flew a rescue mission in the area where the SEALs had operated in search of any survivors during the evening of June 30. During that flight they heard feint clicking on the radio, but returned empty-handed after expending all their fuel.
They flew again on July 1, but no joy here either, and no signals.
During the morning of July 1, Gulab, who had been caring for Luttrell, decided to head down the hill to a US Marine outpost about five miles away. Gulab made it to the outpost, told the Marines his story, and the Marines called the Air Force. USAF pararescue crew came to the outpost by helicopter, picked up Gulab, and took him to Bagram AB. They had to make sure US forces were not being drawn into a trap. Gulab carried a note from Luttrell and correctly described his SEAL tattoo. So they had a firm identification, an exact spot on the map, that was all good enough, and the rescue was on.
There was some debate about what helicopters to use, Army Special Forces or USAF Rescue. Initially, the decision was for SOF helicopters to go in and get Luttrell with USAF Rescue flying cover, ready to extract any rescuers who might get into trouble. Then the plan changed. Macrander and Peterson were tagged to take the entire job while the SOF was used elsewhere.
Laura Blumenfield, writing, "The Sole Survivor" published by the Washington Post on June 11, 2007, wrote about Peterson laughingly bellyaching about having to fly with a bunch of "old farts" from the Reserves. We commend Blumenfeld's article to you. Blumenfeld described Peterson's crew like this:
"Peterson climbed aboard with his reservist crew: a college student, a doctor, a Border Patrol pilot, a former firefighter and a hard-of-hearing Vietnam vet."
The crew did have some older guys on it: Master Sgt. Mike Cusick, 57, the flight engineer and a Vietnam vet. Master Sgt. Josh Appel, 39, a doctor. Lt. Gonzales, the co-pilot, was 41. "Old farts!" All in good fun! As an aside, if you are going to be a military pilot, you need a nickname like "Spanky."
Blake Morlock has also written an article about the USAF rescue effort, "War story: D-M pilot's heroic Afghan rescue," published by the Tucson Citizen on September 2, 2007.
Morlock writes that Peterson thought his flight leader would go in and pick up Luttrell while Peterson would fly cover. Peterson seemed "happy" with that decision. The truth was, Peterson had not yet flown combat. His job was to rescue USAF pilots in distress, and since the USAF owned the skies, there was little for him to do but train. Spanky would comment that the SOF and SEALs had all the action and for the most part took care of business by themselves.
To Spanky's surprise, Macrander had a different plan. Macrander decided to fly in to spot a landing site with Peterson on his tail. On signal, Peterson would then land and make the rescue. USAF A-10 Warthogs and an AC-130 Spectre gunship would be there, and on the ground, 20 special forces would be in place in case the enemy wanted to have slugfest. The rescue was to be done at night.
Both USAF rescue aircraft flew through the narrow valleys and canyons, the weather was such that it was pitch black, Peterson had some night vision issues with his on-board equipment, so he was forced to stay glued to his flight lead's butt to lead him in.
As the two Pavehawks came in to the target area, he was told there was enemy in the area to which he was flying. But the special forces on the ground had these dudes in their sights and guided in the A-10s to send their respects from the USA. The A-10s were pounding the areas around the target to keep the Taliban pinned down and deter them from having any brilliant thoughts about attacking. The Warthog is very effective at this kind of work.
There was an infrared lantern flashing to mark the landing site, and the pilots could see the strobes on the helmets of the special forces on the ground. With all this, Peterson informed all hands that he could not see the landing site largely because of clouds. So an A-10 driver said he would dive in and light the site with his infrared but refrain from firing. Clouds were messing up everything, and Peterson still could not find the target because he couldn't see the A-10's infrared marker. At the last moment, finally a stroke of luck, a cloud broke out of the way, Peterson spotted the A-10's marker "like a flashlight from God," and Peterson was now ready to go in.
A picture of Konar Province, Afghanistan. You can see how the land is terraced by a small village on the side of a mountain.
Peterson tends to sell himself short during the interviews we have seen. But the fact is that airmanship was now the order for the day. The village was a series of terraces and Peterson had to land on one of them between a cliff and a ravine drop, shooting for a 100 ft spot sporting a 57 ft. diameter rotor on his Pavehawk. Spanky's sense of humor was always there --- he has offered that under normal circumstances, he wouldn't even try this during daylight. But this was not normal, and he knew he had to go in, so that's what he did, "Old Farts" on board and all.
As he descended to a terrace, his rotors kicked up enough stuff to blind him. His crew helped guide him in, they had a few last second nervous moments, but he set her down about as close to the dime as he could get. He had barely felt the touch of terra firma and his pararescuemen were out the doors and off to the races to get Luttrell. Luttrell and Gulab were on the ground, fighting off the rotor wash. Following some rescue formalities to assure Luttrell was Luttrell and not a bad guy, the crew pulled him and Gulab into the aircraft, Peterson pulled his bad boy up and away, and they all got out of there in a hurry.
Once they landed, Gulab and Luttrell separated. Luttrell grabbed Gulab, and said to him:
"I love you brother."
In keeping with his down-home attitude, Morlock quotes Peterson saying how he felt after landing at Bagram:
"That's when it starts. I started shaking."
The old-timers on his crew, however, were about as jubilant as one could be. Spanky told it this way to Morlock:
"They're (his crew) jumping around and banging the windows saying 'You the Man, Spanky!' "
Well, that's right, "You the man, Spanky."
Luttrell was rescued on July 2. The bodies of Murphy and Dietz were recovered on July 4, 2005 in a deep ravine. Some 300 troops and many aircraft continued operating in the area where the SEALs were operating looking for Axel and hunting down enemy through at least July 6. They found Axel on this date and recovered his body.
This means that everyone involved was recovered, though only one was rescued.
The SEALs and Turbine 33 crew who perished were as follows:
From left to right, SSDVT-1 group photo, Sonar Technician (Surface) 2nd Class Matthew G. Axelson, of Cupertino, Calif; Senior Chief Information Systems Technician Daniel R. Healy, of Exeter, N.H.; Quartermaster 2nd Class James Suh, of Deerfield Beach, Fla.; Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Marcus Luttrell; Machinist’s Mate 2nd Class Eric S. Patton, of Boulder City, Nev.; and Lt. Michael P. Murphy, of Patchogue, N.Y. With the exception of Luttrell, all were killed June 28, 2005, by enemy forces while supporting Operation Red Wing. U.S. Navy photo. Presented by military potos.net
Assigned to SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team 1 (SDVT-1), Pearl Harbor, Hawaii:
- Machinist Mate 2nd Class (SEAL) Eric S. Patton, 22, of Boulder City, Nevada.
- Senior Chief Information Systems Technician (SEAL) Daniel R. Healy, 36, of Exeter, New Hampshire
- Quartermaster 2nd Class (SEAL) James Suh, 28, of Deerfield Beach, Florida
Assigned to SEAL Team 10, Virginia Beach, Virginia:
Chief Fire Controlman (SEAL) Jacques J. Fontan, 36, of New Orleans, Louisiana
Lt. Cmdr. (SEAL) Erik S. Kristensen, 33, of San Diego, California
Electronics Technician 1st Class (SEAL) Jeffery A. Lucas, 33, of Corbett, Oregon
Lt. (SEAL) Michael M. McGreevy Jr., 30, of Portville, New York
Hospital Corpsman 1st Class (SEAL) Jeffrey S. Taylor, 30, of Midway, West Virginia
Army Night Stalkers
A Hunter Army Airfield hangar has a new name honoring the memory of an eight-person Night Stalker crew who died in combat on June 28, 2005. The 3rd Battalion, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne) hangar, formerly known as Building 7902, is now named “Turbine 33” after the aircraft crew’s call sign. It was formally dedicated in a ceremony at Hunter Army Airfield, Georgia, on June 7, 2007. Presented by Night Stalkers.
Assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne), Hunter Army Air Field, Georgia. Photos of each individual are available at chinook-helicopter.com. We chose to show the memorial plaque instead:
- Staff Sgt. Shamus O. Goare, 29, of Danville, Ohio
- Chief Warrant Officer Corey J. Goodnature, 35, of Clarks Grove, Minnesota
- Sgt. Kip A. Jacoby, 21, of Pompano Beach, Florida
- Sgt. 1st Class Marcus V. Muralles, 33, of Shelbyville, Indiana
- Maj. Stephen C. Reich, 34, of Washington Depot, Connecticut
- Sgt. 1st Class Michael L. Russell, 31, of Stafford, Virginia
- Chief Warrant Officer Chris J. Scherkenbach, 40, of Jacksonville, Florida
We believe the pilot and co-pilot were the two warrant officers.
Assigned to Headquarters Company, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne), Fort Campbell, Kentucky:
- Master Sgt. James W. Ponder III, 36, of Franklin, Tennessee
The Medal of Honor (posthumous) was presented to the family of Lt. Michael Patrick Murphy, USN, SEAL, on October 22, 2007. We have a few photos, and will post more later as we get them.
Recalling our earlier comments, this Medal reflects the heroism of everyone involved in this and many other combat operations. It is our task as citizens to remember them all every day of our lives.
President George W. Bush presents the Medal of Honor to Maureen Murphy, the mother of Navy Lt. Michael Murphy, in the East Room of the White House in Washington, October 22, 2007. Photo credit: Jim Young, Reuters
President Bush shakes hands with Daniel Murphy, the father of Navy Seal Lt. Michael Murphy. Photo credit: Pablo Martinez Monsivais, AP
President Bush Daniel Murphy. Photo credit: Gerald Herbert, AP
Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10, was written by former SEAL Marcus Luttrell and military authoir Patrick Robinson. Luttrell was the only survivor of the June 28, 2005 "Operation Redwing" battle.
My Son My Hero, A Mother's Journal: Sergeant First Class Paul R. Smith. By Janice Pvirre. This journal is one mother's two-year journey after her son died in Iraq, where the sand drank his blood and cost an entire family their loved one's legacy.
The Gift of Valor, by Michael M. Phillips. This work chronicles the life of Corporal Jason L. Dunham, all well as those of his family, the town of Scio, New York, and hs comrades.
Beyond Glory, by Larry Smith, is the first oral history of living Medal of Honor recipients, providing in their own words, the stories of the enlisted men and officers who have endured nearly unimaginable scenes of combat.