On June 28, 2005, deep behind enemy lines east of Asadabad in the Hindu Kush of Afghanistan, a very committed four-man Navy SEAL team was conducting a reconnaissance mission at the unforgiving altitude of approximately 10,000 feet. The SEALs, Lt. Michael Murphy, Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class (SEAL) Danny Dietz, Sonar Technician 2nd Class (SEAL) Matthew Axelson and Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class (SEAL) Marcus Luttrell had a vital task. The four SEALs were scouting Ahmad Shah – a terrorist in his mid-30s who grew up in the adjacent mountains just to the south.
Under the assumed name Muhammad Ismail, Shah led a guerrilla group known to locals as the “Mountain Tigers” that had aligned with the Taliban and other militant groups close to the Pakistani border. The SEAL mission was compromised when the team was spotted by local nationals, who presumably reported its presence and location to the Taliban.
A fierce firefight erupted between the four SEALs and a much larger enemy force of more than 50 anti-coalition militia. The enemy had the SEALs outnumbered. They also had terrain advantage. They launched a well-organized, three-sided attack on the SEALs. The firefight continued relentlessly as the overwhelming militia forced the team deeper into a ravine.
Trying to reach safety, the four men, now each wounded, began bounding down the mountain’s steep sides, making leaps of 20 to 30 feet. Approximately 45 minutes into the fight, pinned down by overwhelming forces, Dietz, the communications petty officer, sought open air to place a distress call back to the base. But before he could, he was shot in the hand, the blast shattering his thumb.
Despite the intensity of the firefight and suffering grave gunshot wounds himself, Murphy is credited with risking his own life to save the lives of his teammates. Murphy, intent on making contact with headquarters, but realizing this would be impossible in the extreme terrain where they were fighting, unhesitatingly and with complete disregard for his own life moved into the open, where he could gain a better position to transmit a call to get help for his men.
Moving away from the protective mountain rocks, he knowingly exposed himself to increased enemy gunfire. This deliberate and heroic act deprived him of cover and made him a target for the enemy. While continuing to be fired upon, Murphy made contact with the SOF Quick Reaction Force at Bagram Air Base and requested assistance. He calmly provided his unit’s location and the size of the enemy force while requesting immediate support for his team. At one point he was shot in the back causing him to drop the transmitter. Murphy picked it back up, completed the call and continued firing at the enemy who was closing in. Severely wounded, Lt. Murphy returned to his cover position with his men and continued the battle.
An MH-47 Chinook helicopter, with eight additional SEALs and eight Army Night Stalkers aboard, was sent is as part of an extraction mission to pull out the four embattled SEALs. The MH-47 was escorted by heavily-armored, Army attack helicopters. Entering a hot combat zone, attack helicopters are used initially to neutralize the enemy and make it safer for the lightly-armored, personnel-transport helicopter to insert.
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, the rescue team opted to directly enter the oncoming battle in hopes of landing on brutally hazardous terrain.
As the Chinook raced to the battle, a rocket-propelled grenade struck the helicopter, killing all 16 men aboard.
On the ground and nearly out of ammunition, the four SEALs, Murphy, Luttrell, Dietz and Axelson, continued the fight. By the end of the two-hour gunfight that careened through the hills and over cliffs, Murphy, Axelson and Dietz had been killed. An estimated 35 Taliban were also dead.
The fourth SEAL, Luttrell, was blasted over a ridge by a rocket propelled grenade and was knocked unconscious. Regaining consciousness some time later, Luttrell managed to escape – badly injured – and slowly crawl away down the side of a cliff. Dehydrated, with a bullet wound to one leg, shrapnel embedded in both legs, three vertebrae cracked; the situation for Luttrell was grim. Rescue helicopters were sent in, but he was too weak and injured to make contact. Traveling seven miles on foot he evaded the enemy for nearly a day. Gratefully, local nationals came to his aid, carrying him to a nearby village where they kept him for three days. The Taliban came to the village several times demanding that Luttrell be turned over to them. The villagers refused. One of the villagers made his way to a Marine outpost with a note from Luttrell, and U.S. forces launched a massive operation that rescued him from enemy territory on July 2.
By his undaunted courage, intrepid fighting spirit and inspirational devotion to his men in the face of certain death, Lt. Murphy was able to relay the position of his unit, an act that ultimately led to the rescue of Luttrell and the recovery of the remains of the three who were killed in the battle.
This was the worst single-day U.S. Forces death toll since Operation Enduring Freedom began. It was the single largest loss of life for Naval Special Warfare since World War II.
The Naval Special Warfare (NSW) community will forever remember June 28, 2005 and the heroic efforts and sacrifices of our special operators. We hold with reverence the ultimate sacrifice that they made while engaged in that fierce fire fight on the front lines of the global war on terrorism (GWOT).
OPERATION RED WINGS KIAs
On June 28, 2005, three of four SEALS on the ground (Murphy, Dietz, Axelson) were killed during combat operations in support of Operation Red Wing. ON the same day, a QRF of eight Navy SEALs and 8 Army Night Stalkers were also killed when the MH-47 helicopter that they were aboard was shot down by enemy fire in the vicinity of Asadabad, Afghanistan in Kumar Province.
SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team 1, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
- Lt. (SEAL) Michael P. Murphy, 29, of Patchogue, N.Y.
- Sonar Technician (Surface) 2nd Class (SEAL) Matthew G. Axelson, 29, of Cupertino, Calif.
- Machinist Mate 2nd Class (SEAL) Eric S. Patton, 22, of Boulder City, Nev.
- Senior Chief Information Systems Technician (SEAL) Daniel R. Healy, 36, of Exeter, N.H.
- Quartermaster 2nd Class (SEAL) James Suh, 28, of Deerfield Beach, Fla.
SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team 2, Virginia Beach, Va.
- Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class (SEAL) Danny P. Dietz, 25, of Littleton, Colo.
SEAL Team 10, Virginia Beach, Va.
- Chief Fire Controlman (SEAL) Jacques J. Fontan, 36, of New Orleans, La.
- Lt. Cmdr. (SEAL) Erik S. Kristensen, 33, of San Diego, Calif.
- Electronics Technician 1st Class (SEAL) Jeffery A. Lucas, 33, of Corbett, Ore.
- Lt. (SEAL) Michael M. McGreevy Jr., 30, of Portville, N.Y.
- Hospital Corpsman 1st Class (SEAL) Jeffrey S. Taylor, 30, of Midway, W.Va.
Army Night Stalkers
3rd Battalion, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne), Hunter Army Air Field, Ga.
- Staff Sgt. Shamus O. Goare, 29, of Danville, Ohio.
- Chief Warrant Officer Corey J. Goodnature, 35, of Clarks Grove, Minn.
- Sgt. Kip A. Jacoby, 21, of Pompano Beach, Fla.
- Sgt. 1st Class Marcus V. Muralles, 33, of Shelbyville, Ind.
- Maj. Stephen C. Reich, 34, of Washington Depot, Conn.
- Sgt. 1st Class Michael L. Russell, 31, of Stafford, Va.
- Chief Warrant Officer Chris J. Scherkenbach, 40, of Jacksonville, Fla.
- HQ Company, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne), Fort Campbell, Ky.
- Master Sgt. James W. Ponder III, 36, of Franklin, Tenn.
U.S. Navy SEALs are the maritime component of U.S. Special Operations Command and the Navy’s special operations force. The SEALs take their name from the elements in which they operate – sea, air and land. Experts in special reconnaissance and direct action missions – SEALs continue to successfully execute DoD’s most important warfighting missions in the GWOT.
Twelve years ago, a team of four Navy SEALS fell into an ambush. Three were killed. A quick reaction force helicopter sent in for their aid was shot down with a rocket-propelled grenade fired from an RPG-7, killing all eight U.S. Navy SEALs and all eight U.S. Army Special Operations aviators on board. Marcus Lutrell was the Lone Survivor. The incident was memorialized in the movie Lone Survivor. SOF has written many articles of the incident and followup. Here is a wrapup of the highlights.
On 22 October, 2007, President George W. Bush presented the parents of Lieutenant Michael P. Murphy the Medal of Honor for his actions on 28 June, 2005.
After refusing to open fire on civilians who discovered his SEAL team, Murphy and his unit found themselves con- fronted by a large number of Taliban and al-Qaeda infantry who were determined to wipe out the small force. Murphy called for assistance, and eventually ensured that the surviving member of his team reached safety. Two of the team members killed in action, Gunner’s Mate Second Class Danny P. Dietz and Sonar Technician Second Class Matthew G. Axel- son, received the Navy Cross posthumously in 2006.
The Real U.S. Special Operations Command
Most perceptions of special operations are formed by movies like “American Sniper,” “Zero Dark Thirty,” “Lone Survivor” or “Black Hawk Down.”
Here are some facts you should know about U.S. Special Operations Command:
- U.S. Special Operations Command is based at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, and Army Gen. Tony Thomas turned over the reins of the worldwide combatant command to Army Gen. Richard Clarke today.
- The command was formed after the failure of Operation Eagle Claw, a mission to rescue the American hostages in Tehran, Iran, in April 1980. Eight American special operations personnel died in the effort. A study faulted a lack of cooperation among the forces. This led to the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1987 and on, April 16, 1987, the establishment of SOCOM.
- The military services man, train and equip their own special operations forces, but when they are used together, they come under the purview of SOCOM.
- Two special operators — Army Master Sgt. Gary Gordon and Army Sgt. 1st Class Randall Shugart — posthumously received the Medal of Honor for their heroism in Mogadishu, Somalia on the Day of the Ranger, Oct. 3, 1993, during the battle made famous in “Black Hawk Down.”
- Special operators were among the first U.S. forces in Afghanistan after 9/11. One battle from this time illustrates just how joint special operations has become. In 2002, atop Takur Ghar mountain in Afghanistan, Navy SEALs, Army Rangers, Air Force combat controllers and Army special operations helicopters fought al-Qaida insurgents. Two men — a SEAL and an airman — received the Medal of Honor for that action.
- Army Special Forces — the Green Berets — specialize in working with indigenous forces. They performed this mission during the Vietnam War and continue with it today as they work with Syrian Democratic Forces in the fight against ISIS.
- The Marine Corps did not have troops assigned to Socom until 2006. Now an integral part of the command, the Marines specialize in direct action and special reconnaissance operations.
Rescue of Singapore Airlines flight SQ 117 over in 30 secs flat
Fred Cheong, 55, has done a lot more than the average person across two starkly different lives. The Special Forces commando graduated from the excruciating US Navy SEAL course, stormed a hijacked Singapore Airlines plane, and molded multiple batches of officer cadets into soldiers.
After leaving the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), Cheong became a Buddhist monk. Since then he has lived simply in a monastery, meditated on snow-capped mountains deep in the Himalayas, and led dharma retreats all over the world.
This is why Cheong prefers to be known as the Venerable Tenzin Drachom, a name given by the Dalai Lama and an acknowledgment of his 32-year military career.
“In Tibetan ‘dra’ means delusion, ‘chom’ means destroyer,” he told Channel NewsAsia at his temple-like maisonette in Pasir Ris. “In the military, I destroyed the enemy outside. Now I destroy the enemy inside.”
But as a young, scrawny boy, Drachom never had ambitions of joining the military. Or any strong ambitions, for that matter. “I was not very strong, I couldn’t even swim,” he said. “Maybe I was thinking I wanted to be an air steward.”
In December 1982, the 18-year-old enlisted for National Service and eventually signed on as an officer cadet, after seeing his bunkmates do the same. “Might as well,” he mused. “I thought (joining) the military could not be wrong.”
Hijack of Flight SQ117
Mar 26, 1991 was a day the military could not afford to get wrong.
Singapore Airlines flight SQ117 bound for Singapore was hijacked by four male Pakistani passengers shortly after it took off from Kuala Lumpur.
The plane, carrying 114 passengers and 11 crew, landed at Changi Airport at about 10.30pm. The hijackers, armed with knives, lighters and what looked like explosives, assaulted the pilot, attendants and passengers. Two stewards were pushed off the plane.
The hijackers, who wanted the plane refueled and flown to Sydney, made their demands: To speak to former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and have the authorities release a number of people jailed in Pakistan.
After negotiations spilled into the wee hours of the next morning, the hijackers lost patience and threatened to start killing if their demands were not met.
It was then that authorities gave the signal: Special Operations Force (SOF) commandos were ordered to storm the plane and rescue the hostages. Drachom, by then a seasoned SOF trooper, was part of the team.
“When the time came, it was ‘just do it’,” he said. “There was no mental thought of will I go, will I not go or I’ll call my girlfriend. No bulls***.”
From their training, the commandos knew the interior layout of various aircraft types like the back of their hands. Under the cover of darkness, they approached the Airbus A310.
The adrenaline was pumping, but Drachom treated the operation like “just another drill”.
“You’ve trained your mind to operate under duress,” he said, taking a deep breath. “It was really surgical … so we just have to be very clear, shoot very straight, and let’s do it.”
At about 6.50am the commandos stormed the plane, shouted for passengers to get down and shot all four hijackers dead. The operation lasted just 30 seconds. The years of training prepared the commandos well, but did it also prepare them to take lives?
“We were really quite clear when we went inside there; we knew exactly what to do,” Drachom replied. “You cannot go there and start to think. We go there and do what we train for because there will be that trade-off.”
Drachom stressed that “there wasn’t any ego” from each member of the team. “You were just there to do the job,” he added. “Nothing more.”
When the commandos returned to base, Drachom said nobody there knew how the operation had unfolded. But soon enough, elite forces from around the world wanted to visit, curious about how they had executed the mission so successfully.
The operation, Drachom noted, had elevated the young Army’s reputation in the eyes of the world.
“Only after the whole thing, we realized that we had rallied and pulled through together as a team,” he added. “What kept us going was a good training system; our due faith in every level that everyone will do their job.”
The details of the operation are still fresh in Drachom’s mind, although he said the team has declared the chapter “forever closed”. “We closed it because we wish that it will never happen again,” he said.