‘Lone Survivor’: A part of Marcus Luttrell died so that we can see how to live

Lone Survivor Never Out of the Fight

“Winning here is a conscious decision. Make up your mind whether you want to pass — or choose to fail.” … “Just prove to your bodies through your mind that you can push yourself further than you thought possible.” … “Whatever you have to do — just find an excuse to win. Keep going.”

And so begins ‘Lone Survivor,’ the true story of former Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell’s fight to survive in the mountains of Afghanistan with his band of brothers of Seal Team 10. Director Peter Berg wisely uses real footage of potential SEALs undergoing Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training (BUD/S) during the opening credits to set the stage. These are men who believe winning — on the battlefield, in the business world or life in general — is a conscious decision. Men who willingly submit themselves to instructors of the “I’m going to introduce you to something called ‘not being able to breath,'” variety are, quite obviously, of a different breed. They are special on many levels. From a cinematic point of view, it also lets the audience know that death is about the only thing that can prevent a SEAL from his quest to “keep going.”

By this time in history, most people know the general details of Operation Redwing. In 2005, Luttrell and his team were sent to the Afghanistan-Pakistan border to take out a high-value target who was responsible for killing scores of Marines. Their mission was compromised, and they were put in an impossible situation: Do you kill a small group of people who you believe are likely allied with the enemy — even though they are unarmed and could end up being innocent civilians — or do you let them go, knowing that if you are wrong it will unleash endless waves of Taliban soldiers on your position? The SEALs chose to let their captives go. The rest is history.

Given that so many people know how the story ends, it really comes down to whether or not Peter Berg, Mark Wahlberg and the cast and crew did it justice. Without reservation, the answer is “yes.” Peter Berg seemingly moved mountains in Hollywood to get the film made, Wahlbeg and the cast immersed themselves in their roles, and the realism of the violence is both gut-wrenching and satisfying — “satisfying” in the sense that viewers know it could have been given the “Hollywood” treatment, replete with unbelievable explosions that break the laws of physics.

Perhaps Berg’s greatest feat is his treatment of the mountain. As a “character,” the mountain is paradoxically vast and expansive while being claustrophobic and limiting. When you run out of real estate on a mountain from which to fight there’s only one way to go — down. And that’s exactly what happens. Fate dealt the SEALs the worst hand possible on that mission; even the mountain terrain seemed to be against them. It was chilling to watch it mete out punishment on their bodies as they attempted to find cover and concealment.

“There’s a storm inside of us. I’ve heard many team guys speak of this. A burning. A river. A drive. An unrelenting driver to push yourself further than anyone could ever think possible. Pushing ourselves into those cold dark corners where the bad things live. Where the bad things fight. We wanted that fight at the highest volume. A loud fight. The loudest, coldest, darkest, most unpleasant of the unpleasant fights.” — Mark Wahlberg as former Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell, ‘Lone Survivor.’

Critics of the film will respond to the SEAL desire for a fight with the “live by the sword, die by the sword” rejoinder, which is a fair argument. However, fans of the film are also spot-on by acknowledging a.) that evil exists, and b.) there is something truly special about a man who will go to the “coldest, darkest, most unpleasant” corners of the earth to stamp it out. In service to their nation these men say “Send me. Send me to the dangerous places that no one else wants to go to so that I may ensure that they never need to.” For that, we should be eternally grateful. For the cast and crew’s efforts to bring ‘Lone Survivor’ to the big screen, we should also give thanks.

“Brave men fought and died building a proud tradition and fear of reputation that I am bound to uphold. I died up on that mountain. There is no question that a part of me will forever be upon that mountain dead as my brothers died. There is a part of me that lived because of my brothers. Because of them I am still alive, and I can never forget that no matter how much it hurts, how dark it gets or how far you fall — you are never out of the fight.” — Mark Wahlberg as former Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell, ‘Lone Survivor.’

Why did Marcus Luttrell live while his brothers died? Perhaps so he could tell the tale. Perhaps so one day someone in a life-or-death situation will think back upon Marcus’ survival and remember that they too are “never out of the fight.” How many young kids will see ‘Lone Survivor’ and begin a path that will end with them in position to save others? Probably quite a few.

If you get a chance to see ‘Lone Survivor,’ do so. It’s an important film that is educational as well as entertaining.

Related: Marcus Luttrell: The humbling tale of an American hero who calls himself a ‘coward’

Related: American Sniper: Chris Kyle, Guardian Angel who doesn’t know it

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Marcus Luttrell: The humbling tale of an American hero who calls himself a ‘coward’

Marcus Lutrell

Years ago I read ‘Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of Seal Team 10.’ It’s the story of a 2005 mission along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border that was compromised and ultimately the battle for Navy Seal Marcus Luttrell to stay alive long enough to tell the tale.

Years ago I said that if Hollywood was smart, the studios would make it into a movie. ‘Lone Survivor’ has been made into a movie, directed by Peter Berg and starring Mark Walhberg, but Hollywood made Mr. Berg do some serious heavy lifting to get it done. I guess we can say that Peter Berg is a smart guy… Regardless, it will be out in January, 2014.

For those who want to really get a taste of what these guys volunteer for, I suggest watching Anderson Cooper’s recent ’60 Minutes’ interview with Luttrell. Although I’m very familiar with the ‘Lone Survivor’ tale, I still had a hard time watching the full interview without tearing up. To know that there are men like Marcus Luttrell, who are willing to lay their lives on the line for the rest of us, is incredibly humbling. It’s nearly impossible to hear his tale without wondering how you would react in the same situation. More often than not, my mind tells me that I’d fall far short of the bravery and heroism he displayed.

What must it be like to be Marcus Luttrell? The vast majority of Americans call him a hero — and yet a part of him believes he is a coward. I can only pray that one day he accepts that his self-evaluation is harsh and unfair, and that he might find the peace that will come along with that realization.

Here is how Luttrell recounts the final moment’s of Lt. Mike Murphy’s life, who sacrificed himself so that the rest of his team might have a chance to live.

Luttrell: Mikey was up and pushed out onto this boulder out in the middle of the draw in this wide open — no cover, nothing — He was on our satellite phone.

Anderson Cooper: Luttrell saw his lieutenant make the call. A call Mike Murphy knew would likely cost him his life.

Luttrell: He took two rounds to the chest because it spun like a top and it dropped him. And I tried to make my way up to him. He was my best friend, and I already lost Danny and I knew that Ax was dying and I didn’t want to lose him. That’s all I wanted him to do, was to come down to me. That’s all I wanted him to do, was come down to me. I heard his gun go off and a lot of gunfire in his area. I was trying with everything I had to get to him. He started screaming my name. Hey was like, ‘Marcus man, you gotta help me! I need help, Marcus!’ It got so intense that I actually put my weapon down and covered my ears because I couldn’t stand to hear him die. All I wanted him to do was stop screaming my name. And they killed him. And I put my weapon down in a gunfight while my best friend was getting killed — so that pretty much makes me a coward.

Anderson Cooper: How can you say that? …

Luttrell: Because that is a cowardice act, if you put you weapon down in a gunfight. They say every man has his breaking point. I never thought I’d find mine. The only way to break a Navy Seal is you have to kill us. But I broke right there. I quit right there.

Marcus was later blown off the side of the mountain he was fighting on, but managed to crawl his way to a source of water — with a broken back. It was there that he met the man who would save his life.

Luttrell: When I got to that waterfall and got those two sips out of there I was actually looking around thinking, ‘you know, this is a pretty good place to lay down and die.’

Cooper: You were ready to die.

Luttrell: I wasn’t ready to die. I just knew I was dying.

Anderson Cooper: That’s when an Afghan man appeared. Luttrell later learned his name was Mohammed Gulab.

Luttrell: He came up over this rock ledge and started screaming at me. ‘American! American!’ and I swung around on him. I had my finger on the trigger with the safety off. He started walking at me. He was like “Okay, okay.” He lifted up his shirt to show me he didn’t have a weapon. He was like: “Okay. Okay. Okay.” I lowered my weapon and I pulled the grenade and pulled the pin and said, ‘I’ll kill all of us.’

Anderson Cooper: You were prepared to blow yourself up along with everyone else.

Marcus Luttrell: Yes. I wasn’t going to get taken.

Ander Cooper: Why do you think you didn’t kill him?

Luttrell: I can’t tell you. I don’t know why.

Anderson Cooper (narration): Luckily, for Luttrell, Mohammed Gulab, who lived in a nearby village, was not a member of the Taliban.

Luttrell: He gave me water. I was bleeding real bad. Three other guys plus him picked me up and carried me down to his village.

Without Mr. Gulab’s help, who protected Luttrell at great risk to his tribe, the soldier would have died. Like Luttrell, Mr. Gulab’s story is worthy of its own movie: An Afghan tribal leader stands up to death threats from the Taliban to protect a severely wounded American, shuttling him from house to house (and ultimately a cave) to keep him safe, just long enough for a rescue team to extract him from the area. After the American leaves, the threats to his Mr. Gulab’s family and friends are far from over.

If you have time, seriously consider watching the full ’60 Minutes’ interview.

Editor’s note: A friend mine who was a Ranger let me know this morning that his buddy — who was part of the extraction team sent to find Luttrell — has just published a book: ‘Lest We Forget: An Army Ranger Medic’s Story,’ by Leo Jenkins. If Mr. Jenkins is anything like my friend it’s bound to be a very frank and honest book.

Related: ‘Lone Survivor’: A part of Marcus Luttrell died so that we can see how to live

Related: American Sniper: Chris Kyle, Guardian Angel who doesn’t know it

Related: Lt. Cmdr. Rorke Denver’s ‘Damn Few’ is damn awesome

American Sniper: Chris Kyle, Guardian Angel who doesn’t know it.

American Sniper’s Chris Kyle keeps returning to the idea of a guardian angel watching over him without ever acknowledging the extent to which he is one.

I gave American Sniper an abridged review upon its release, but it’s a book that deserves an extended version. Chris Kyle may be “the most lethal sniper in U.S. history, ” but he’s much more than that. Throughout the book, Kyle wrestles with the many roles he must play (i.e., husband, father, soldier) and the responsibilities he must balance with God, Family, and Country. We ask our soldiers to be killing machines, but then expect their humanity to remain unscathed. We order them to extinguish pure evil, but then give them Rules of Engagement better suited for a cricket match. If for no other reason, civilians should read this book just for a glimpse into the psychological ringer we put our war fighters through without ever giving it a second thought.

One of the other topics that comes up repeatedly throughout American Sniper is the idea of a guardian angel. Chris postulates that there must have been one looking over him on multiple occasions (as does his friend Marcus Luttrell in the fabulous book Lone Survivor). What’s interesting about both of these soldiers is that on some level they downplay the fact that THEY are guardian angels. Chris’ obsession becomes saving every solider in harm’s way—and impossible task that begins to take a psychological toll on him as the war moves on. After his battle buddy is shot, he blames himself:

I’d put him in the spot where he got hit. It was my fault he’d been shot…A hundred kills? Two hundred? What did they mean if my brother was dead? Why hadn’t I put myself there? Why hadn’t I been standing there? I could have gotten the bastard–I could have saved my boy. I was in a dark hole. Deep Down. How long I stayed there, head buried, tears flowing, I have no idea.”

Chris often observes the unpredictable nature of war, but when it comes to an injury or a death of a fellow soldier he seems to (unfairly) place full responsibility on his own shoulders. What Chris fails to realize is that even a guardian angel can not be all places at all times. His insatiable thirst to find and kill every last enemy is commendable, but readers will know long before he addresses the issue that yes, even Navy SEALS are human, and such a mentality lends itself to the kind of physiological problems (e.g., high blood pressure) he would experience later in his career. Luckily for Chris, this story has a happy ending.

The final aspect of the book that needs to be covered concerns how wars are won—something that is not taught in college classrooms, which might be the reason for the bongo-drumming anti-war protests I experienced years ago at USC:

YOU KNOW HOW RAMADI WAS WON? We went in and killed all the bad people we could find. When we started, the decent (or potentially decent) Iraqis didn’t fear the United States; they did fear the terrorists. The U.S. told them, “We’ll make it better for you.”

The terrorists said, “We’ll cut your head off.”

Who would you fear? Who would you listen to?

We went to Ramadi, we told the terrorists, “We’ll cut your head off. We will do whatever we have to and eliminate you.” Not only did we get the terrorists’ attention—we got everyone’s attention. We showed we were the force to be reckoned with. That’s where the so-called Great Awakening came from. It wasn’t from kissing up to the Iraqis. It was from kicking butt.

The tribal leaders saw that we were bad-asses, and they’d better get their act together, work together and stop accommodating the insurgents. Force moved that battle. We killed the bad guys and brought the leaders to the peace table. That is how the world works.

Chris Kyle makes a compelling case, and it’s one that doesn’t get the attention it deserves among the civilian population, which is sad. Regardless, I’d like to narrow the scope of his argument: The United States “works” because guardian angels like Chris are willing to enter into a realms of pure evil and push back. They do so selflessly. They do so at the expense to family and loved ones.

In the late 90s I enlisted in a mechanized infantry unit. I wore a chain with the prayer to Saint Michael inscribed on it. Reading American Sniper made me realize that for a span of three years I lived and worked with guardian angels every day and I never adequately showed my appreciation to a great group of guys. Chris Kyle’s book will make you realize just how much we take the civilized world—and life—for granted. I highly recommend this book, for soldier and civilian alike.

Update: Please pray for the Kyle family. Chris was shot and murdered on February 2, 2013.

Related: No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account … of a great book

American Sniper: More Dead Terrorists Than Sales By Occupiers?

How odd is it that former Navy SEAL, Chris Kyle, has killed more terrorists than the number of “Occupy” protesters who will buy his book?

On Saturday I bought American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History. On Sunday I started reading it. Tonight, I finished it. Needless to say, it was worth the $27.00 I laid down on the counter. If you’re a fan of Marcus Luttrell, you’ll want to add this one to your collection. If you’re a fan of Harry “surrender monkey” Reid, you might not. My full review will come in the near future, but there is one excerpt that I think sums up the essence of the book:

One night a little later on, we were in an exhausting firefight. Ten of us spent roughly forty-eight hours in the second story of an old, abandoned brick building, fighting in hundred-degree-plus heat wearing full armor. Bullets flew in, demolishing the walls around us practically nonstop. The only break we took was to reload.

Finally, as the sun came up in the morning, the sound of gunfire and bullets hitting brick stopped. The fight was over. It was eerily quiet.

When the Marines came in to relieve us , they found every man in the room either slumped against a wall or collapsed on the floor, dressing wounds or just soaking in the situation.

One of the Marines outside took an American flag and hoisted it over the position. Someone else played the National Anthem—I have no idea where the music came from, but the symbolism and the way it spoke to the soul was overwhelming; it remains one of my most powerful memories.

Every battle-weary man rose, went to the window, and saluted. The words of the music echoed in each of us as we watched the Stars and Stripes wave literally in dawn’s early light. The reminder of what we were fighting for caused tears as well as blood and sweat to run freely from all of us, (American Sniper, 84-85).

American Sniper is a very telling book. Patriots exist. But the patriotism displayed by Chris Kyle is not instilled in children today. It’s ironically very foreign to them, which is why Kyle’s run-in with anti-war protestors earlier in the book has such a profound effect on him. Once upon a time an overwhelming majority of Americans knew what it was the Chris Kyle’s of the world stood for, even if they could never know what it was like to be a SEAL. Once upon a time an overwhelming majority of Americans were rooted in the same love of country, even if military service wasn’t their calling.

Today, it’s different. It seems as though decades of moral and cultural relativism, taught in universities and reenforced through media, has taken its toll. The country is desperate for someone—anyone—who can articulate why the bedrock values the country was built on (e.g., limited government, free markets, and a strong national defense), are still relevant today. The Tea Party and the “Occupy” movements have charted two very different paths for Americans to walk down, and those in the middle are confused as to which road to take. American Sniper is a portrait of the type of American we should all aspire to be, and while Chris Kyle isn’t particularly political, the principles that guide him are deeply tied to our political discourse.

I highly suggest reading American Sniper. When you’re done you’ll have a deeper respect for the work that guys like Chris do, but you’ll also see why modern American conservatism is the last, best hope to preserving our great nation.

Update: Please pray for the Kyle family. Chris was murdered on February 2, 2013.

Update: The expanded book review for American Sniper is now up.
Related: No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account … of a great book

Navy Seal Marcus Luttrell vs. The Male Models.

Behind door number one we have a man in a dress. Behind door number two we have former Navy Seal Marcus Luttrell looking like he could kill you with just a hard glare. Which door would you like walk through if it determined our national identity?

Men’s Fashion Week for Summer 2012 just wrapped up in Paris, which means I now get to write about it. Although, truthfully, I really should just post a slew of pictures, all of which would be humorous if they weren’t so sad. I’ve touched on the subject before, but every time I see a bunch of artsy males get together in skimpy outfits fit for an Adam Lambert choreographed dance number, I can’t help but think of Marcus Luttrell of Seal Team 10.

The man on the left is either a male model who gets paid to prance around as a human bush, or he's auditioning to become concealment for a Navy Seal.

The fact is, I’m torn. It’s a marvel that Western Civilization has granted us the kind of peace and prosperity that allows grown men to walk around (and get paid!) in bush costumes masquerading as fashion and art. I also don’t want to outright dismiss “the bushmen” because, on some level, maybe they are portraying something of artistic value, even if I just “don’t get it.” But when I juxtapose pictures of former Navy Seal Marcus Luttrel with the male models of Paris, I can’t help but get a little depressed. It’s as if the ideal has been turned upside down. Instead of duty, honor, valor, and strength, the modern man is encouraged to become a hairless (leafy green?), passive man-boy who plays up any inner femininity that he might have. Instead of the selfless service of the seasoned soldier, it’s the vain, narcissistic, pouting man-children of Jersey Shore that get air time and viral videos. Perhaps that’s why I want so desperately for Captain America to rule the summer box office. See you on opening night—unless you’re disguised as a bush.

Navy Seal Hero or Adam Lambertized USA? Vote Marcus Luttrell

I’m getting really tired of the entertainment industry; it’s so desperate to

Mad Max-costumed same sex kisses for shock value: Zzzzzz. Thunderdome cage match between middling celebrities? Now you're on to something.

find something shocking that they keep coming up with post-apocolyptic dance numbers featuring gay make-out sessions. First there was the Adam Lambert AMA awards, and now Miley Cyrus seems to want to provoke people with a Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome simulated lesbian lip-lock.

If the entertainment industry really wanted to shock me they would put Adam Lambert and Miley Cyrus into a Thunderdome-esque cage match and have the two of them engage each other in a life-or-death struggle for the largely-irrelevant entertainer of the year crown. Adam Lambert in a Master Blaster costume, whacked in the head with a sledgehammer Mel Gibson-style by Miley Cyrus? Now that would freeze my remote control.  And my money would be on the one with the two X chromosomes.

It’s rather interesting to see where liberalism is today. Its adherents have skewered every sacred cow they can find, and they’re pretty much out of

This guy told all of his friends to watch his "big break." Dude...your steely focus for a bondage themed, leather-strapped dance number is just sad.

ideas. They could mine the Deep Water Horizon-sized humor well that is Sharia Law and Wahhabism…but that might actually require some inner courage. Outside the creators of South Park there doesn’t seem to be much of that emanating from our artists, musicians, and writers.

Note to Hollywood: No one who is younger than 30 years old cares if you’re gay. What does annoy me is your attempt to get under my skin with whatever “edgy” material some focus group thinks will get a rise out of me. Glorified lounge singers prancing around in bondage gear doesn’t annoy me—it just makes me shake my head in disbelief that some twenty-five year old kid is proud of his “big break.”

I think about guys like Marcus Luttrell of Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10 and then I look at some leather-clad losers bringing a steely focus to their S&M styled dance number and I can’t help but laugh.

Hollywood used to pride itself on pushing boundaries. Please. Come talk to me when you stop rehashing the same “make fun of Christians” jokes you use as a crutch when you’re grasping for ideas.  Or…see  me when you start painting “Mohammed at 1000 Meters”.

Do we want a United States based on the moral code guys like Marcus Luttrell live by...or Adam Lambert? My vote is with the Special Ops hero with one of the most amazing stories you'll ever hear.