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.