The virtue of heroism has become radically distorted in our times. Our gratitude for our country’s true heroes—primarily those in law enforcement and our military—fades even as they continually risk their lives to protect their country, countrymen, and our freedoms. Instead of receiving thanks and respect, these men and women are forgotten and, even worse, at times wrongfully castigated.
Many Americans are not aware of the daily sacrifices and intense difficulties these people undergo in order to ensure our safety and peaceful way of life. True sacrifice is altruistic; true heroes never look for recognition or accolades. Even while facing hailstorms of ridicule, backlash, and criticism from those they would die to protect, they will always continue to fight for their country.
One of the worst culprits in manipulating America’s understanding of heroism over time has been the media. There are no worse sources of information pertaining to our law enforcement and military than the mainstream media outlets and reporters. Rather than look to the dramatized and twisted tales emanating from the pens of journalists, Americans should instead turn to the honest accounts from our heroes themselves.
One of the best sources relating to the heroism demonstrated by those in the U.S. military is the best-selling memoir Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10 by Marcus Luttrell (co-authored by Patrick Robinson). Lone Survivor is a beautiful tribute to a handful of America’s fallen heroes, a team of Seals who made the ultimate sacrifice for their beloved country. Not only does this book recount the valiant acts of SEAL team 10 during the events of Operation Redwing, but it also provides a comprehensive look into the brotherhood of the American military, insightful commentary into the toxic politics infiltrating the military, and a tableau of true American heroism.
An Overview of Operation Redwing
Operation Redwing was a Navy SEAL reconnaissance mission in Afghanistan in late June 2005 to locate Ahmad Shah, a Taliban leader with ties to Osama Bin Laden. A 4-man SEALs team—consisting of Lieutenant Michael P. Murphy, Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class Danny Dietz, Sonar Technician 2nd Class Matthew Axelson and Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Marcus Luttrell—were deployed out in the Hindu Kush east of Asadabad.
Behind enemy lines and on hazardously barren terrain—which was severely lacking in good coverage—these SEALs faced a daunting situation. Yet, despite the setbacks, they continued to carry out their mission, always driven by an unwavering sense of duty towards their country.
The team immediately faced the tantamount issue of finding a tactical position, which they eventually found in a place at a considerable distance from their intended destination. Shortly after the team settled into position, they fell into a far more serious dilemma when a group of local goat-herders literally stumbled upon them.
Not only did this compromise the mission, but now the SEALs team faced a precarious position: they were behind enemy lines holding hostage a group of goat herders whose ties—or lack thereof—to the Taliban were unknown. The 4 men now faced a crucial decision, namely what to do with the hostages. There were three potential options: kill them, tie them up and leave them in the mountains, or let them go.
Yet, as Luttrell emphasizes, there was truly only one correct call:
The question was, What did we do now? They were very obviously goatherds, farmers from the high country. Or, as it states in the pages of the Geneva Convention, unarmed civilians. The strictly correct military decision would still be to kill them without further discussion, because we could not know their intentions.
How could we know if they were affiliated with a Taliban militia group or sworn by some tribal blood pact to inform the Taliban leaders of anything suspicious-looking they found in the mountains? And, oh boy, were we suspicious-looking.
The hard fact was, if these three Afghan scarecrows ran off to find Sharmak and his men, we were going to be in serious trouble, trapped out here on this mountain ridge. The military decision was clear: these guys could not leave there alive. (150-151)
There is no doubt that this was a truly difficult decision, especially as one of the three Afghans “was just a kid, around fourteen years old” (150). But, as Luttrell tells, though the choice was clear, the decision process was unnecessarily complicated by the Rules of Engagement (ROE).
It was put to a vote: Axelson believed they had “no choice” but to kill them, Dietz abstained from voting saying ”just tell me what to do,” and Murphy told Marcus “I’ll go with you. Call it“ (154). Thus, the deciding vote rested on Luttrel.
His decision was swayed by a fear of the ”liberal media back home in the U.S.A.” who, if the SEALs killed the goatherders, would ”latch on to [the story] and write stuff about the brutish U.S. Armed Forces,” depicting them as nothing but heartless murderers. Luttrell determined to let them go.
What should have been a straightforward military decision became a political one. It was a decisive call that dictated the fate of Operation Redwing, on that Lutrell regretted forevermore: ”I’ll never get over it. I cannot get over it. The deciding vote was mine, and it will haunt me till they rest me in an East Texas grave” (155).
The remainder of Operation Redwing’s history is Luttrell’s story to tell. He is the lone survivor of Operation Redwing, the sole witness of his teammates’ meritorious strength, courage, patriotism, and heroism.
True American Valor
An act of heroism demands sacrifice. It requires unparalleled courage and perseverance when all hope seems lost. It warrants no small degree of humility—it is done without any desire for glory. It is always selfless, requiring you to place any thought for your well-being aside to assure the welfare of others.
Such were the actions of all the Navy SEALs who were involved in the Operation Redwing mission. Each and every one of those SEALs risked their lives for their fellow brothers-in-arms and for their country—all but Luttrell gave the ultimate sacrifice of their lives, and Luttrell’s life was forever altered because of the sacrifices he made and the losses he suffered.
This level of heroism is certainly not commonplace, so we should show our gratitude to those few who demonstrate this virtue, giving them the highest respect as the only compensation we can give them. Never forget the heroes of our country.
The very least that we can do is listen to their stories.
“No matter how much it hurts, how dark it gets or how far you fall, you are never out of the fight.“Marcus Luttrell
To all veterans, thank you for your service!