Events Before The Production
Live to Tell the Story
On June 28, 2005, a four-man reconnaissance and surveillance team boarded a
helicopter for insertion into a remote mountainous region in Kunar province,
near the Pakistan border. Their mission, code name Operation Red Wings, was to
identify Ahmad Shah, a key Taliban leader believed to be hiding out in the
mountainous terrain and responsible for the deaths of many American service
members. Here is but a glimpse into the lives of five of the men whom we follow
in the film.
Erik Kristensen: Lieutenant Commander Erik S. Kristensen was the commander of
Operation Red Wings, and he was all too well aware that Shah killed 20 Marines
the previous week and that the Taliban leader would not hesitate to execute
American military whenever and wherever he could. When Kristensen's four-man
reconnaissance team went off the grid, the commander did everything in his power
to find his SEALs and get them back to base. For his actions in the line of
duty, Kristensen was given the Bronze Star with Combat "V" for Valor, Purple
Heart, Combat Action Ribbon and Afghanistan Campaign Medal, awarded
Michael Murphy: Lieutenant Michael Patrick "Murph" Murphy was the on-ground
team officer in charge of Operation Red Wings, and he reported directly to
Kristensen. In advance of a bigger special operations force that would wipe out
Shah, Murphy was tasked with taking his four-man team through the rocky and
treacherous Hindu Kush region. For his actions, Murphy was the first person in
Afghanistan to be awarded the U.S. military's highest decoration, the Medal of
Marcus Luttrell: Leading Petty Officer Marcus Luttrell was the medic of
Operation Red Wings and a member of SEAL Team 10 at Bagram Airfield,
Afghanistan. The team's mission, under Lt. Murphy's command, was to gather intel
on Shah, and as one of its snipers, Luttrell was key at keeping enemies at bay.
For his actions in the line of duty, Luttrell was awarded the Navy Cross.
Matthew "Axe" Axelson: Sonar Technician (Surface) Second Class Petty Officer
Matthew Gene "Axe" Axelson was nothing short of an eagle eye. Before his men
left Bagram Airfield, the navigation specialist studied their infiltration plan
again and again. Alongside Luttrell, Axe drew detailed maps, diagrams and
blueprints of every structure in Shah's village as they conducted
reconnaissance. He knew this region better than many non-natives ever will. For
his actions in the line of duty, Axelson was posthumously awarded the Navy
Danny Dietz: Gunner's Mate Second Class Danny P. Dietz, Jr. was a communications
officer and spotter for SEAL Team 10. The mountains of the Hindu Kush are
extraordinarily difficult terrain and extremely spotty for communication. Dietz
tried valiantly to get any radio signal when it was time to advise the
evacuation team that the mission was compromised and his fellow SEALs needed
extraction. For his actions in the line of duty, Dietz was posthumously awarded
the Navy Cross.
Although Murphy, Dietz, Axelson and Luttrell-under the command of Kristensen-coordinated
a successful infiltration into the region, three goat-herders grazing their
flock stumbled upon the men's hiding place and plunged the mission into
immediate jeopardy. The SEALs knew it was time to abort. Protocol dictated that
they release the civilian noncombatants, but were they to do so, they knew that
it could be mere minutes before word reached the numerous Taliban fighters that
Americans were up the mountain.
After a discussion of the rules of war, the SEALs saw that they only had
three choices: kill the three civilians to prevent them from disclosing the
location to the Taliban; tie them up and leave them on the mountain, where they
would surely die due to the dropping temperatures; or set them free and make
their own way to a communications zone and pickup. Ultimately, the civilians
were cut loose, and the SEALs began an arduous climb to what they hoped to be
Soon, hellfire rained down upon them. The Taliban assault-an intense
firefight from PK machine guns, AK-47s, RPG-7s and 82 mm mortars-came quickly
and relentlessly from three sides. Nothing the elite SEALs had experienced could
have prepared them for what came next: They were outgunned by a much larger
enemy force and driven deeper and deeper into the treacherous terrain.
Tragically, Murphy, Dietz and Axelson were killed on that mountain, alongside
their would-be rescuers-those manning a Night Stalker MH-47D Chinook helicopter
that was attempting to save the four SEALs. The helicopter was taken down by
rocket-propelled grenade fire from the Taliban forces, and those aboard
The lives of 16 Special Operations Forces including 8 other Navy SEALs-Kristensen,
Petty Officer First Class Jeffrey S. Taylor, Petty Officer Second Class James E.
Suh, Chief Petty Officer Jacques J. Fontan, Petty Officer First Class Jeffrey A.
Lucas, Senior Chief Petty Officer Daniel R. Healy, Lieutenant Michael M.
McGreevy, Jr., and Petty Officer Second Class Shane E. Patton-and 8 Army Night
Stalkers-Major Stephen C. Reich, Sergeant First Class Michael L. Russell, Chief
Warrant Officer Christopher J. Scherkenbach, Master Sergeant James "Tre" W.
Ponder, III, Sergeant Kip A. Jacoby, Sergeant First Class Marcus V. Muralles,
Staff Sergeant Shamus O. Goare and Chief Warrant Officer 3 Corey J. Goodnature-were
lost on that fateful day.
Because of the actions of his fellow men, Luttrell-although gravely
wounded-evaded the enemy fighters and crawled miles to safety. Once again,
however, Afghan civilians stumbled upon his hiding place. This time, he was more
fortunate. A Pashtun villager named Gulab discovered Luttrell nearly dead-where
the petty officer first class lay with a torn shoulder, facial fractures, broken
back and pelvis and bullet holes that had riddled his body.
Gulab, whose tribe lives by the ancient code of the Pashtunwali-that dictates
aid for a person in need from his enemies-was unblinking in his decision to take
Luttrell into his home. At great risk to his family and fellow villagers, Gulab
defied the Taliban warlord Shah and hid the American soldier until he could be
returned safely to his base.
Miraculously, Luttrell was finally located by American forces and brought to
safety. Through courage, perseverance, the kindness of strangers and the
ultimate sacrifice of his brother SEALs under the most extreme conditions,
Luttrell is alive today with one mission: to share their story.
Luttrell says: "It's about brotherhood, and about no matter how bad it gets or
what happens to you, you keep fighting just to protect the guy next to you until
the minute you die. You need to go through something like that to understand the
capacity to which someone will go to give their life for somebody else. Most
people wouldn't do that. It went from hunting this guy down to protecting each
other until the very end."
A total of 11 SEALs and 8 soldiers perished on that mountain. This day is
forever marked in our history, as it became the biggest single loss of life for
Naval Special Warfare forces since World War II, until August 6, 2011, when a
U.S. Boeing CH-47 Chinook military helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan and
30 U.S. military personnel and 8 Afghans were killed.
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