Don't Ever Call Me A Hero

A verbal knife hand to the masses.

“Lone Survivor,” Hollywood, and How Navy SEALs Don’t Stand Post.

I mean seriously...who doesn't love hand grenades?

Chances are that you may have seen the trailer for the film Lone Survivor. If not, check it out.


I was excited to hear that Marcus Luttrell’s book was being made into a film because I have a very personal connection to Operation Red Wings and, subsequently, Operation Whalers.

But I watched thirty seconds of this Hollywood Drama and I almost puked at this line:

Shah killed 20 Marines last week.

Bite me, Peter Berg. I believe you said this about the film: “I wanted to make it as real as possible.”

There were 5 Marines killed by hostile in Afghanistan during the ENTIRE WAR at that point (and a total of 20 Marines if you add non-hostile fire incidents—most of them not even in Afghanistan—casualty information can be searched HERE at iCasualties.org). A friend, Kevin Joyce, was the only Marine killed the week before Operation Red Wings. He drowned in the Pech River and he was the first friend of mine lost in war. Your film narrative—your Hollywood Hero image—denies the reality of what I experienced in favor of something “more compelling.” Not to mention that it disrespects the lives of the 19 sailors and airmen who were killed in Operation Red Wings themselves. Their loss had to have some greater meaning—and of course, if 19 special forces troops died, then 20 Marines must’ve died right?

I was deployed to Kunar Province, Afghanistan, at FOB Asadabad. I walked the Chowkay, Korengal, and Pech river valleys and I carried a rifle. In fact, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marines (Island Warriors, YUT) were the only Marine Corps infantry unit stationed in Afghanistan at that time. Our area of operations included Laghman, Nuristan, Kunar, and Nangarhar provinces—at least those are the ones I’ve been to.

And in fact, after Operation Red Wings, it was a Marine Corps op—Operation Whalers—that routed the enemy militia from the area and allowed the 2005 Afghan Parliamentary Elections to take place in the entirety of Kunar province for the first time in 33 years. Not bad for 600 guys and an area of operations more than 10,000 square miles, huh? In fact, we destroyed so much of Ahmad Shah’s militia that he was unable to conduct any more operations in that area for a long time.

It’s called Operation Whalers—check out the Wikipedia Page. There’s a fine book written by Ed Darack that will fill you in on the background of Red Wings, Whalers, and Kunar province and it’s well worth the read. Victory Point: Operations Red Wings and Whalers. I’m quoted in the book as saying fighting Shah’s men was like walking into a summer thunderstorm and not getting wet—which is about the gist of it, if you consider the rain drops to be hot pieces of tungsten and copper traveling at 3,000 ft per second.

I have the utmost respect for Luttrell and all the Team members and SF personnel lost in that incident. I have no idea what it must’ve been like to face the 30-40, er…200, I mean…100 men they were up against. You know what, let’s go with Lt. Michael Murphy’s Medal of Honor citation on this one because I feel like the award was much better researched than the film (it says 30-40 enemy fighters). Or the book, for that matter. Though his ghost-writer, Patrick Robinson did a fine job (if you visit his website, by the way, Patrick Robinson is proud to note that he is a New York Times bestselling author of Naval Fiction—so there ya go).

It’s hard to determine how many enemy fighters were on the battlefield. I understand that. But personally, I fought the same militia you did, Marcus, and I’m very proud to have shot several of them. Danny Dietz was from my hometown of Littleton, CO. So here in the real world, 19 Navy SEALs lost their lives and Marines went in and destroyed the enemy who did it. That’s a pretty compelling story.

Your story, however, shits on Marines. On me. On the four Marines of 2/3 who lost their lives in Afghanistan during those 7 months. Now to my next point.

Navy SEALs Don’t Stand Post

Let’s get one thing straight. I looked up to you guys when you were “Silent Professionals.” We stood watch at night in Asadabad and Jalalabad while you guys went out in your fancy helicopters for high value target DA raids. We never saw you in the gym, the chow hall, the MWR tent. Occasionally we’d watch you guys suit up in PT gear with an M4 and run to OP Shiloh (because Bull Run just wasn’t challenging). And we thought that was badass that all you needed outside the wire was some running shoes and a rifle. I wouldn’t trade in my plate hangers for extra speed, no way.

And let me just say, you’re welcome. For all the nights of sleep you got at A-Bad. For the comfort of knowing that once you were back inside the wire, there were Marines standing watch at 0300 in the morning who had to go on patrol at 7 and wouldn’t be back for a week or two. I remember hearing stories of Chris Kyle when I was stationed in Iraq in ’06. We fell in love with you guys and the best part was that you were so fucking cool about it.  (and come on, 3rd Marines, you know when you were back at K-Bay and had that pager you were just waiting for some MSE shit to pop off).

It’s different now. It seems like every SEAL that gets out has a story to tell. A book to sell. Film rights to negotiate. And even the guy who shot Bin Laden complaining about not being “able” to claim it on his resume. Do they even use the term “silent professionals” with you guys anymore?

Marcus, my heart goes out to you, man. You’ve stirred up a hornets nest once again. I can see the pain in your eyes on these interviews when you talk about Red Wings. Listening to the actors talk about how rough the filming was, what they endured for a single month at the hands of you SEALs. I can see you biting your tongue! And regardless of our differences, every Marine I know respects what you said in this interview at the Hero Summit about Monday Morning Quarterbacks.

Those people who aren’t out there carrying a rifle have no business dictating what and how we do it [conduct combat operations]…if you want to know the details and the command decisions, grab a rifle.

I couldn’t have said it better myself. If you want to know the real command decisions and struggles of what happens in the real world, pick up a rifle. Certainly not Peter Berg’s movie.

Let me tell you about a little incident that happened just after Shah’s force had ambushed my platoon and shot up five of my friends. I was out scouting an Observation Post with a Marine sniper. Just the two of us on a leader’s recon. I have never been more scared in my entire life than this moment and I have never spoken about it except to a select few.

We made it to the hill, about 500 yards from other Marines. The hills crawling with enemy. We heard a soft bell clanking. Two guys with a donkey. Both were visibly unarmed, though it’s hard to know if they had grenades or pistols somewhere. We hid in the bushes, and I steadied my rifle sights on the first guys head. The sniper radioed back to figure out what to do. It was clearly an enemy probe. No civilian was coming within miles of that battlefield, I promise you. Command knew this. They had read your after-action reports.

The order came back: “fire.”

I couldn’t do it, either.

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40 Responses

  1. Gabriel says

    Dude chill out. It’s a movie.

    Just appreciate it for what it’s worth and the message it was trying to convey. Marcus lent his name to it for a reason. Obviously it didn’t follow the book correctly, but it did enough justice for him right? Unless of course you’re saying Marcus backed down and has no integrity?….Yeah…I didn’t think so.

    Take down this waste of an article, suck it the fuck up like the rest of us, be a Marine, and just nod. We all did our job same as you.

  2. Hendo says

    Git some! Git some! Git some, yeah, yeah, yeah! Anyone who runs, is a Haji. Anyone who stands still, is a well-disciplined haji! You guys oughta do a story about me sometime!

    Why would you wanna do a story on me?
    ‘Cuz I’m so fuckin’ good! I done got me 157 dead Hajis killed. Plus 50 goats, too! Them’s all confirmed!

  3. TOMMY McDONOUGH says

    You Speak from the Heart Bro, SEMPER FI.

  4. fox company 2/3 says

    I was in fox company in 2005. We were in mether lam when operation red wings was going on. Didn’t we move up to asadabad the last three months of our deployment? Fox company didn’t take part in red wings I dont believe….. I could be wrong. I was there during whalers humping the mountains. I remember parts but wont say they are facts because it was long ago. I remember things a little different. I do remember when 2nd plt got ambushed. I remember the night ambush when Sgt plunk from mortars had a direct hit with a 60mm mortar. I dont remember seeing bodies or would even say I killed any Taliban. I remember shooting towards where the enemy fire was coming from. Yes 2/3 did there job and did it well but so did all the other branches as well. It was hell! I can remember captain grisson saying marines were gonna walk and then when you think were done walking we are gonna walk some more. Also wasn’t asadabad fob called camp eggers could be wrong on that too. Victory point was a good book but also had a lot of things wrong but that will happen. Just saying……

  5. craig says

    Ha ha. bohica why so butthurt? Must have hit a nerve. Who are you with?

  6. Daniel says

    I wish i could like Bohica’s status. Perna, you honestly sound like a giant pussy looking for some glory. Your not even a seal so stfu. Yes i was in 3/8 and YES WE WERE THE ONLY MARINES IN AFGHANISTAN when i was there. Big fucking deal, i guess that makes me as bad ass as you. Point is, you need to chill the fuck out, and also the movie is actually pretty entertaining. It is BASED ON A TRUE STORY, not a documentary.

  7. BOHICA says

    Calm down it’s a movie dumbass not a documentary. Sorry if it stepped on your glory story. News flash bro… People aren’t going to suck your dick the rest of your life because you joined the Marines and went to war. Get over it dude, this movie is bigger than you. You could have became a SEAL and gone up on that mountain and been in the movie!! But you didn’t and you’re still alive so shut the fuck up and carry on with your day!!

  8. William K. says

    1/3 Bravo YUT! I appreciate your opinion 100 percent. I remember my squad leader would tell us boots(since we would work with delta and ODA from time to time) “Those guys might be high speed and they might snatch OUR HVTs. But, when they leave, we’re the ones cleaning up their mess and doing damage control with the locals while taking the fight day and night to the enemy. Bottom line we win wars.” And that always stuck with me. Like you, I don’t disrespect what they do or what they stand for. But it says a lot about marines and our small unit leader ship when you got a group of 20 year olds out in the middle of no where in a PB. Honestly, Marines are probably the most high speed mother fuckers with out the high speed training.

  9. palomares says

    PERNA YOUR THE FUCKEN MAN BROTHER…….

  10. Evans Golf Co. 2nd blt 3rd Mar says

    First I would to thank all those who served and gave there lives in Afghan and Iraq. Op red wings was my first military op in combat and i always wonder what really happen on that day from a command stand point of view. Being an jr. Marine at the time i never knew why we were told to stand down when the helo got shot down. We were on the helo pad at the PRT down the road from J-Bad Airfield as were getting ready to mont up in the helos the order came to stand down, that bother me cause thier were men who was wounded and bodies that needed to be recoverd. We then had to sit and wait hours before we took an convoy that took more time getting out there. Its comforting to that I wasnt the only marine who helpless on the 28 day of june 2005 when we were in the best position to act immediately. Hi yut, 2/3 hardcore!!!!!!

  11. brian says

    I wonder what the prior-Marine, current SEALs at my command would have to say about the judgement of all SEALs that was made in this article? I’ll have to pass it along, thanks for the interesting read.

  12. Matthew Flyzik says

    Well written! I agree with this and it was a good telling of his story. The airfield Jalabad base I can tell u for a fact never had a SSgt on the radios in our CoC lol. I didn’t do much in Red Wings but I was in the Jump team for the 7 days through the mountains of Whalers as an RO / Rifleman. Good to see fellow island warrior devils around :) semper!

  13. Randall Ricks says

    I too was part of 2/3 during this time. I’m not 100% sure who wrote this but have a faint idea. Miss my brothers from the Island Warriors.

    In any case I’m glad this was written and even more happy that the author talked about Victory Point. More people need to know the actual story of what happened, I. E. How how our Ops were taken over by SOCOM.

    I personally will probably boycott this movie, but still urge every one to read Victory Point.

  14. Matt Steward says

    Well said Mark.
    Semper Fidelis

  15. Evan M says

    it’s a movie not a documentary . we all have to remember that . from what I’ve seen the actors in the movie respected everything about the movie and the seals or who ever was in it, . and what the armed forces go through . especial us combat arms . None of them have said anything negative about the military . if all of us have a story to tell we should put it out there . its up to us. and what Marcus and the seals marines and army did is something we all respect.

    RECON

    • Mark Perna says

      I look forward to seeing the film, actually. I have high hopes for the gunplay even though the story is inaccurate.

  16. SH Walker says

    Hey brother, I am a former Marine myself and I greatly appreciate this article. I wish the entirety of Operation Red Wings had been portrayed and shown that it was actually a Marine Corps operation. Basically, I wish it had been factual and accurate.

    I do have to point out one mistake I found in your article. It was not 19 Navy SEALs who were lost on June 28th 2005. It was 11 Navy SEALs and 8 Army Night Stalkers.

    • Mark Perna says

      Thanks for the correction and S/F.

  17. When Freaking Out Over ‘Lone Survivor,’ Please Don’t Widen the Civil-Military Gap – Jaylemieux says

    […] a Marine Corps operation associated with the events of the upcoming movie Lone Survivor. Perna is not pleased with the movie […]

  18. Acehole says

    this was a movie about navy seals? i thought it was a simulator for falling off cliffs. there may have been more too it, but thats all i saw.

  19. Pardue says

    The author raises significant points.

    Hey helicopter full of SEALs and Navy men, I’m sorry about what happened to you. I was part of the Marine QRF First platoon, 2 Battalion 3rd Marines. We were ordered to stand down so that the Army QRF could go support you. They took six hours to mobilize. At that time, we had been ready to go for over five hours. By then only two of your entire helicopter load were dead, so said the C130 thermal cameras from above. War can be fun, stupid fun, but is mostly stupid.

  20. Nic C says

    I just load bombs on fighters. So I don’t know what combat is like, or likely ever will, but I have the utmost respect for those that do. I never really thought about what you said, “It’s different now. Every SEAL that gets out has a story to tell. A book to sell. Film rights to negotiate.” It’s a bit disheartening. Thanks for sharing.