U.S. Navy SEALs are badass. That's a given. The fact that one of the world's most elite special forces units is crammed full of grizzled, bare-knuckled face-wreckers who are harder than battleship hulls and so over-the-top hardcore that they floss their teeth with chainsaws isn't going to provoke a whole lot of debate among people who aren't complete douche-heads. It's an established law so incontrovertible that if you were writing one of those bullshit research papers that make you use half a page of footnotes every two sentences, you could easily print the first line of this article without any kind of attributable reference and your professor would just shrug and be like, "Well you really don't need to cite things that are common knowledge". It's like I almost feel like I'm insulting your intelligence simply by implying that "SEALs are badass" is a statement that warrants being put into print.
So why do I even bring it up? It's certainly not because I secretly think you are all lumped in with the afore-mentioned complete douche-heads (as a reader of this website, a certain level of classiness and non-douchery can be assumed of you); it's because when a guy makes a name for himself as a hardcore, tough-as-hell war hero in an organization where shanking terrorist dictators, disarming tactical nuclear warheads, and infiltrating maximum-security military facilities are about as mundane as typing up TPS reports or successfully using a stapler without injuring yourself, people tend to take notice.
On June 28, 2005, Marcus Luttrell and three other SEAL Team operators fast-roped into the Hindu-Kush Mountains of Afghanistan as part of Operation Redwing. This small, mobile, four-man special reconnaissance team was tasked with quickly moving through difficult, oxygen-deficient terrain 10,000 feet above sea level, tracking down a local Afghan warlord who had aligned himself with the Taliban, and doing something to him that he probably wasn't going to enjoy.
SEAL Team 10. You really wouldn't want these guys hunting you down.
No problem. It's not like this was a huge deal to these battle-hardened asskickers - Luttrell himself was a Texas horse rancher who'd been in the SEALs since 1999, and by this point he'd already seen action in Baghdad, Afghanistan, and probably a hundred other operations that he's never going to be allowed to talk about, and snatching one guy and punching his head through a brick wall was the sort of thing these guys did when they were done tying their boots in the morning but before they've had their second cup of coffee.
Unfortunately, this time things were going to be a little different. Not long after roping in, the team encountered a group of local shepherds. The locals recognized the SEALs as American soldiers, which is kind of a problem when you're trying to travel undetected through the countryside, but the SEALs wanted to check it out before just scrubbing the mission. After talking with the locals for a while the SEALs determined that these guys seemed relatively harmless, so Luttrell and his buddies opted not to completely smoke them with automatic weapons fire and leave behind a pile of corpses. There are some folks who look back on this encounter and think that that maybe releasing these shepherds from custody was a mistake, but personally I'd assume that if you're on the fence about whether or not to shoot a civilian in the face, it's probably best to air on the side of not actually killing them. Then again, I hardly claim to be an expert on the subject of international diplomacy. I just know that it's always easier to second-guess shit after you already know what the outcome is going to be, so cut the guy a break.
The shepherds were released to go about their business, and we're fairly certain that their business was to immediately go out and inform the warlord that there was a team of badass Navy SEALs running around the mountains with grenade launchers getting ready to pummel the fuck out of him and all of his buddies. Armed with the knowledge of his impending doom, the warlord set a trap. When SEAL Team 10 entered a particularly nasty ravine, they were ambushed and bombarded on three sides by a heavily-armed forces of somewhere in the vicinity of 50 to 200 guys armed with machine guns, assault rifles, and rocket-propelled grenade launchers. I know that it's kind of a huge variable between fifty and two hundred, but when you've got four dudes in an exposed position flanked on both sides by fighters who have an elevation, position, and concealment advantage on you, it doesn't really make a huge difference if you're outnumbered twelve-to-one or fifty-to-one. Either way, it ain't good.
But these guys weren't just some chump mooks – they were United States Navy SEALs, and they weren't just going to throw down their weapons and start hyperventilating into paper bags simply because they were in a hopeless situation against an impossibly-huge enemy force. In a tactical clusterfuck of a situation that would have seen lesser squads annihilated in about fifteen to twenty seconds, the SEALs immediately began a fighting withdrawal that would stretch out for over two hours. Moving from rock to rock, attacking the horde of assailants, and laying down covering fire, the team moved deeper down the ravine, sometimes jumping down 20 or 30-foot cliffs to try to get out of the kill zone.
Tragically, there was nothing that could be done to escape the gunfire. The team leader, Lieutenant Michael Murphy, was heroically able to get to elevation (exposing himself in full view of the enemy to get a usable radio signal – an act of self-sacrifice that would earn him the Medal of Honor) and call for extraction, but the daring attempt to fly in a rescue chopper failed when a surface-to-air missile hit the bird, killing all 16 men on board. After an epic battle the team was annihilated, and the SEALs suffered their bloodiest day of fighting since Vietnam. Luttrell was shot in the leg, then hit with an RPG and blown off a cliff.
This is the sort of terrain the SEALs were dealing with.
Try to imagine running through this with full battle gear and a bullet in your leg while being shot at with rockets.
But amazingly, amidst all the chaos and destruction, Marcus Luttrell didn't die. Concussed, bleeding, dehydrated, and exhausted, with three broken vertebrae, a bullet in one leg, and a shitload of burning-hot shrapnel in the other, the seemingly-unkillable SEAL awoke to find himself alone, in relatively-unfamiliar territory deep behind enemy lines, and without any hope of timely extraction, resupply, or medical attention.
Not like that stopped him.
As I alluded to earlier, it takes a certain sort of guy to become a Navy SEAL. These elite warriors only have two levels of combat readiness: balls-out and KIA, and the only way these guys stop ripping peoples' throats out is if they're physically incapable of grabbing and/or ripping, or else unable to find and effectively utilize some sort of throat-grabbing-and-ripping device. So, Marcus Luttrell, having just spent the past two hours in constant high-intensity combat and suffering from serious wounds so jacked-up that it would pretty much have killed 99% of the population of humanity, somehow willed himself to his feet and started moving. For seven miles this unstoppable juggernaut of pain tolerance walked on two busted legs and a broken back, while still evading the enemy and not drawing attention to himself. At one point he even jumped into a pond and the warlord and his men walked right past him as they combed the countryside searching for the body of the missing American soldier. Shit, I was complaning this morning about having to walk up six flights of stairs to my office when the elevator went out, and this guy is gimping seven miles through rocky high-altitude terrain while guys are trying to hunt him down and murder him. Insanity.
After nearly a day of crawling, walking, hiding, and dragging himself along with some crazy Jedi Knight mind-over-matter shit, Luttrell made contact with a local Pashtun villager. The villager was a totally stand-up dude, and he brought Luttrell back to his small hut, where the SEAL, who's MOS was Navy Corpsman, started treating his own wounds with the sparse supplies available in his first-aid kit. For three more days he rehabilitated in the Pashtun village, still trying to avoid detection. At one point, the fucking warlord Luttrell had been searching for came right up to the home of the villager and demanded he hand over the American, but the guy was somehow able to tell this warlord to get bent and piss off. Everyone shit a brick when word came back to a nearby Marine base that Luttrell (who at this point was listed MIA – Presumed Dead) was alive. An operation was sent in to extract him, and on July 2 – four days after his drop-off – Marcus Luttrell was able to get the medical attention he very badly needed.
This story is so hardcore that I kind of expect my monitor to start growing chest hair any moment now. Marcus Luttrell, the Navy SEAL badass, had survived a four-against-the-world gunfight, willed himself through grievous wounds, and continued to not die no matter how much bullshit and ammunition was thrown at him. He returned home, wrote his memoirs, became a best-selling author, donated a buttload of money to help military families, received the Navy Cross, and actually even went back to serve another tour of duty. After retiring from the military he also broke up a ring of teenage punks who were driving around Texas shooting dogs for no good reason – Luttrell caught them in the act, called 911, and relayed their location to the police while he followed them in his truck on a high-speed through three counties. When the puppy-kicking dirtbags were finally nabbed by the fuzz, they started talking trash to Marcus about how they were going to kick his ass when they got out of prison. Marcus calmly informed those punks that he could easily kill them 600 different ways without even breaking a sweat, and from a dude like this those typically aren't just idle threats and bravado. I know I wouldn't try it if I were them.
|Epilogue: Two years after Operation Redwing, the Afghan warlord was killed in a gunfight with Pakistani police. I guess he wasn't as gangsta as he wanted everyone to think he was.
New York Times
Operation Red Wing
Bahmanyar, Mir, and Chris Osman. SEALs: The US Navy's Elite Fighting Force. Osprey, 2008.
Darack, Ed. Victory Point. Penguin, 2009.
Luttrell, Marcus, and Patrick Robinson. Lone Survivor. Little, Brown and Co., 2007.