Robert J. Reeves: A Navy SEAL who died in Extortion 17

Navy Senior Chief Special Warfare Operator (SEAL) Robert J. Reeves (Photo: Military Times)

Navy Senior Chief Special Warfare Operator (SEAL) Robert J. Reeves died on August 6, 2011, in a helicopter crash when their CH-47 Chinook helicopter was downed by a Taliban rocket near Kabul, Afghanistan. He served during Operation Enduring Freedom. His death was later become publicly known as part of the Extortion 17 tragedy.

Extortion 17 is a name etched in our minds as one of the worst losses our military has ever experienced. Thirty Americans perished in the blink of an eye, half of which comprised an entire ‘troop’ from SEAL Team 6’s Gold Squadron. Senior Chief Robert James Reeves was one of those Americans.

Early life

Robert James Reeves, born August 2, 1979, in Shreveport, Louisiana where he spent his childhood. He played soccer and graduated from Caddo Magnet High School in 1998. Upon graduation, he spent a year at Louisiana State University. After the first year, Reeves enlisted in the military.

Military career

Robert J. Reeves graduated from Recruit Training Command, Great Lakes, Illinois in November 1998. Soon after that, he enlisted to the BUD/s (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL School, Coronado, Ca.) and graduated as a SEAL in December 1999. He served on two West Coast-based Special Warfare Units from February 2000 to April 2004 including Seal Team 3. From February 2004 to August 2011 he served in two East Coast-based Special Warfare Units. At some point in his career (not publicly known), he made his way to the Navy’s most elite unit, the SEAL Team 6 (ST 6, DEVGRU).

Robert J. Reeves served in Seal Team 6 / DEVGRU as part of Gold Squadron
Robert J. Reeves served in Seal Team 6 / DEVGRU as part of Gold Squadron (Photo: Private)

A dedicated Navy SEAL

He would go on to cheat death on numerous occasions, both in combat and in peacetime. One of those occasions took place while on a six-month training deployment to the island of Guam in 2003. Rob and a few other SEALs were out celebrating Christmas at a local bar when they got into an altercation with two men. After leaving, the two men followed the SEALs and opened fire at their taxi from their own vehicle. Rob was struck in the back of the neck and a second SEAL was shot in the head. He would go on to make a full recovery.

A couple of months after being shot, Rob would go to Virginia to attend selection and training (S&T) for entrance into the famed counter-terrorism unit, SEAL Team 6/DEVGRU. He successfully completed the selection process in late 2004 and was subsequently assigned to Gold Squadron where he would serve honorably for the next seven years as an assaulter and later, Navy SEAL sniper.

During the time as an operator and sniper in the elite Navy unit, he had numerous encounters with death, and every time he went out as the winner. Until that fateful August 6, 2011.


Robert James Reeves has been killed in action on August 6, 2011, in Afghanistan as part of a direct-action raid against a high-value target (HVT) named Qari Tahir in the village of Jaw-e-Mekh Zareen—a Taliban stronghold in the Wardak Province’s Tangi Valley. The Rangers infiltrated the area and secured the target compound, but shortly before they reached the building, HVT Qari Tahir and a small group of Taliban fighters fled away. The JSOC monitoring the raid decided to introduce a second team.

Rob and his fellow special operators were sent to chase/contain HVT and his fighters.

In his 13-years as a Navy SEAL, Robert J. Reeves made his way to the elite Seal Team 6 and its Gold Squadron
In his 13-years as a Navy SEAL, Robert J. Reeves made his way to the elite Seal Team 6 and its Gold Squadron (Photo: Private)

In the early hours of the 6th of August, 2011 the CH-47D Chinook helicopter, call sign Extortion 17, sustained a direct hit by an RPG round. The RPG was fired from enemy combatants barricaded in a nearby two-story building. Helicopter hard crashed, and the remaining Rangers at the scene were rushed to the crash site, seven kilometers away, and began the grueling task of securing and recovering all the personnel. There were no survivors.

Lt. Commander Jonas Kelsall

Senior Chief Special Warfare Operator (SEAL) Robert J. Reeves and Lt. Commander Jonas Kelsall had been childhood friends in Shreveport, La., where they played soccer together and graduated from Caddo Magnet High School. The friendship of two childhood friends was continued through their careers, Kelsall’s father, John, told The Times of Shreveport and KLSA-TV.

Both joined the military after graduation, though the 32-year-old Robert J. Reeves spent a year at Louisiana State University first, his father, Jim Reeves, told The Times.

Memorial service

A memorial service was held in Shreveport, Louisana on August 13, 2011, in St. Mark’s Cathedral. The memorial service was private only, for friends and family. The media was not allowed to attend the service. Robert J. Reeves was buried at sea by his fellow brothers-in-arms off the coast of Virginia on August 24th, 2011. 

Navy SEAL Robert James Reeves Arlington National Cemetery
Robert James Reeves August 2, 1979 – August 6, 2011, Arlington National Cemetery (Photo: Arlington Cemetery)


In his 13 years of service, eleven of which were spent as an active-duty SEAL, Robert J. Reeves would deploy over a dozen times, earn the SEAL rank of E-8, and earn countless achievement medals. He was an example of a dedicated and remarkable Navy SEAL who beloved his country more than anything else.

His decorations include four Bronze Star Medals with ‘V’ device for valor, Joint Service Commendation Medal with ‘V’ device for valor, Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal with ‘V’ device for valor, Combat Action Ribbon, two Presidential Unit Citations, three Navy Good Conduct Medals, National Defense Service Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Sea Service Deployment Ribbon, Navy Expert Rifleman Medal and Navy Expert Pistol Shot Medal.

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