“I will never quit…My Nation expects me to be physically harder and mentally stronger than my enemies. If knocked down, I will get back up, every time. I will draw on every remaining ounce of strength to protect my teammates…I am never out of the fight.” This portion of the Navy SEAL Code is quoted in Lone Survivor, a non-fiction book written by Marcus Luttrell in 2007, which tells the searing account of Operation Red Wings. A film adaptation by the same name was released in theaters nationwide on January 10, 2014.
Operation Red Wings was a military operation during the War in Afghanistan. In June 2005, SEAL Team 10 was sent to locate and capture Ahmad Shah, who was a prominent leader of the Taliban. Four Navy SEALs, including Lieutenant Michael P. Murphy, Gunner’s Mate Second Class Danny Dietz, Sonar Technician Second Class Matthew “Axe” Axelson, and Hospital Corpsman First Class Marcus Luttrell, were initially sent on this operation.
While searching for Shah in the Hindu Kush mountains, they encountered three Afghan civilians. The team disagreed on whether or not they should be killed, but eventually it was decided that they should be released according to the Rules of Engagement set forth by the military. Unfortunately, the Navy SEALS were compromised following this encounter, and suddenly they found themselves surrounded by heavily armed Taliban fighters. Three of the Navy SEALs were killed, and the lone survivor, Marcus Luttrell, was left critically injured.
Throughout the operation, the SEALs had been unable to make much contact with their base, so after some time a reaction force was sent out. The first aircraft to arrive was an MH-47 helicopter. Sadly, a grenade launched by one of the Taliban fighters brought it to the ground, killing sixteen more Americans. It was not until a Pashtun named Mohammad Gulab offered Luttrell refuge from the Taliban in his village that he could be sheltered and taken care of until American forces arrived.
Like many others, I was pleased to discover that the movie conveyed the true story as it is told in the book. Of course, the film contained several minor details different from those presented in the book. One key difference was in the way the Afghan civilians were portrayed. In the movie, their fate is not voted upon; Lieutenant Murphy was in charge of making the decision to release them. In the book, however, it is revealed that the team took a vote and ultimately decided to let them go. Also, there were less Taliban fighters portrayed in the film. In the movie, 50 Taliban fighters are shown; in reality, Luttrell estimated that there were between 80 and 200 fighters, although this number is disputed to this day. Another important detail was the extent of Luttrell’s injuries, which were not as life-threatening as they were portrayed in the film. Finally, Luttrell was not almost killed by the Taliban in real life, and the American forces did not really encounter the Taliban when they came to his rescue.
Overall, the film was intense, gripping, and heart-wrenching. The movie accurately portrayed the true story in its depiction of the horrors of war. The filmmakers did not hesitate to show the SEALs in all their blood, sweat, tears, and valiance. The audience sees them get shot, fall down, and stand back up over and over again until they cannot any longer. The viewers see soldiers who refuse to die until they have given everything they have in service to their country. It should also be noted that in the film, war was not glorified nor was it exaggerated or downplayed in any way. Through the tremendous acting, special effects, and cinematography, the movie depicts a starkly realistic portrait of what war, courageous soldiers, and life and death can look like.
As American citizens, we are greatly indebted not only to those who perished in Operation Red Wings, but also to the many other soldiers who gave their lives while serving in military operations. For more information on Operation Red Wings and the lost heroes of SEAL Team 10, visit http://www.navy.mil/moh/mpmurphy/soa.html.