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

Eagles fan: If SEAL standards are lowered I could be Philly’s QB

As a kid, Marcus Allen was my favorite player ... but Eagles quarterback Randall Cunningham was definitely in the top five.
As a kid, Marcus Allen was my favorite player, but Eagles quarterback Randall Cunningham was definitely in my top five. If the Pentagon’s top brass gives in to civilian pressure to lower standards, a domino effect could occur that would end with one douglasernstblog.com reader fulfilling his lifelong dream of becoming Philly’s starting QB. Let’s make this happen. Lower the standards now, SOCOM.

The great thing about starting this blog and sharing it via any number of social media platforms is that it allows individuals to give me feedback. Some people love me. Some people hate me. Some don’t know what to make of me. I find all of this out primarily through tweets, both public and private, and the occasional email exchange. After my post on Lt. Cmdr. Rorke Denver’s book “Damn Few” I received a message from a Philadelphia Eagles fan that had to be elevated in status. Here now is his response to the prospect of lower standards for Navy SEALs:

Douglas,

After reading your post on “Damn Few” I must say that you are definitely over-reacting to the lowering of the SEAL teams standards.  This can be a great opportunity for me; other organizations can lower their standards too. Hear me out.

I’ve always loved the Philadelphia Eagles. I’ve always thought I should be quarterback of the Eagles, so I am sending them my resume this week.  I may not be your “prototypical” quarterback, as I am 5’11 with thick soled shoes and a svelte 168 pounds — but I bring many things to the table.

  • I can project my voice and yell really loud, so I can call plays over the crowd noise, and I’m smart so I can memorize the passing tree.
  • At 40, I’m a bit older than the average rookie, but I make up for it in a 2+ decade working career stressing teamwork and accountability.
  • Though I’ve never played organized ball, I was really good in pickup games and inter murals at college, and unlike the Jet’s Mark Sanchez, I have NEVER committed a “butt fumble” … and I am expanding this sentence for the sole reason that I enjoy saying “butt fumble.”
  • I’m pretty sure I can’t throw as far as every other NFL QB, but as I prove a few times a year shooting darts with the boys at the bar, I can be deadly accurate; if throwing NFL routes is anything like throwing at the number 18 on a dart board, you can carve my hall of fame bust right now!

I fear the eagles may reject me for not meeting something as trivial as their physical standards, probably put in place for my own safety and to ensure their paying fans and sponsors get the best possible performance from their players —but — second only to my desire to play for the Eagles is my selfishness; I deserve to be an Eagle, standards or no!

So, since you are in Washington DC with a lot of lawyers, find me one that will sue the Eagles for age and genetic discrimination (after all, it’s not my fault I’m not 6′ 4″ and can’t throw 70 yards).  Also, if the lawyer/agent can ensure the team has an ER doc on staff so when a giant defensive lineman from a non-progressive/non-standard lowering team breaks me in half, I’ll be taken care of. That would be great, as I’d hate for my mother to worry while I’m trail blazing a social engineering path in this most dangerous of professions.

Also, you are a better writer than I, so if you help me draft an apology letter for the deserving kid who put in years of practice and is more physically gifted than I am, that would be great. I’m really sorry I took his roster spot.  But, I’m not really sorry, since he was the moron who was born big and decided to put in hard work through pop-warner, high school, then college … clearly he should have been in front of this progressive, standard-lowering tidal wave. What a dumb jock!

Can’t wait for my new career to start.  Perhaps Touré will even interview me.

The douglasernstblog.com reader who wants to be an NFL quarterback in a league with lower standards has a point: he has never "butt fumbled" and probably never would if given a chance to play.
The douglasernstblog.com reader who wants to be an NFL quarterback in a league with lower standards has a point: he has never “butt fumbled” and probably never would if given a chance to play. He might break his neck … but it is unlikely that he will “butt fumble.”

‘Act of Valor’ SEAL blasts Washington’s attempts to lower standards in ‘Damn Few’

Rorke Denver Damn-Few

Lieutenant Commander Rorke Denver was the former head of Basic and Advanced SEAL Training. He was one of the stars of a number one movie, “Act of Valor,” in which active-duty Navy SEALs gave Americans an inside look the world’s most elite fighting force. He is now the author of an illuminating book, “Damn Few,” which comes out February 19. And after its release, he’ll be known as the patriot who sounded the alarm on the Beltway political class’ efforts to lower the standards of arguably the greatest fighting force the world has ever known.

Since Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced that combat roles would now be open to female soldiers, Pentagon brass has assured Americans that the standards of excellence expected by infantrymen and special operations forces would not be compromised. Those promises ring hollow, given that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Patrick Dempsey, talked out both sides of his mouth in an effort to alleviate fears during a press conference last week: “[If we do decide that a particular standard is so high that a woman couldn’t make it, the burden is now on the service to come back and explain to the secretary, why is it that high? Does it really have to be that high?”

And that’s where the importance of Lt. Cmdr. Denver comes in. Speaking on the consequences of the success Navy SEALs had in Iraq and Afghanistan, the saving of Captain Richard Phillips of the MV Maersk Alabama when he was taken hostage by Somali pirates, and of course the capture and killing of Osama bin Laden, Lt. Commander Denver writes:

“The message as it was delivered from General Bryan “Doug” Brown, SOCOM’s commander, was simple: “You guys need to make ’em grow.”
Then an interesting thing happened.
The special-operations forces of the Army, Air Force, and Marines each produced projections of how their units could expand and how they would expand. Those units all expanded as promised. …
There was on notable exception: the SEAL teams. …
It didn’t take long, less than a year, for a fresh directive to find its way to the junior and senior SEAL leadership, this one considerably firmer in tone.
“That wasn’t a suggestion,” was the way it was heard on the ground. “We want more SEALs. You will get us more SEALs.” There was also an addendum to that, unstated by still perfectly clear: “And if you won’t, we will find new leaders who will.”

Lt. Cmdr. Denver’s first-hand experience should serve as a clarion call for anyone who cares about the safety of the American people. Pundits and politicians of all stripes — as well as Pentagon officials — claim that the integrity of our elite units will be maintained when it has already been attacked. “Damn Few” even details how at one point during Lt. Cmdr. Denver’s tenure on the SEAL’s Academic Review Board, candidates were getting “ten, eleven, and twelve opportunities to pass their tests.”

The mindset in Washington is that if teams of SEALs are so effective, the U.S. should simply double or triple or quadruple the numbers — but it doesn’t work that way. Why not just have all soldiers be SEALs while we’re at it? What Congress doesn’t get, and what “Damn Few” does an excellent job of demonstrating, is that it takes a very special, very rare kind of person to even want to try out for the challenge of becoming a SEAL. And then, only the best warriors have the mental and physical toughness to earn the coveted “SEAL Trident.”

Social engineers in Washington and the high-ranking Pentagon officials who want to curry favor with them are trying to turn the “damn few” into the “damn many.” Sadly, the concerns in Lt. Cmdr. Denver’s book may be a harbinger of things to come. At one point he writes of his time as an active-duty SEAL that “it was like being a member of an excellent fraternity, the greatest man club in the world. Maybe the last one.”

Inevitably, some women will have what it takes, physically and mentally, to become SEALs. But they shouldn’t earn that distinction with lower standards. It would be a shame if politicians who claim to act in the public’s interest decimated the one fighting force that consistently secures freedom and liberty around the world. “Damn Few” comes out February 19. For those who take national security seriously, it is a must-read.

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

Slain SEAL’s father should have punched Biden for ‘cue balls’ crack

Joe Biden introduced himself to the father of a slain Navy SEAL by asking: “Did your son always have balls the size of cue balls?” Charles Woods should have responded to the insensitive, clownish question by crushing Joe Biden’s aviator glasses with his fists.

Imagine your son has just died because he did the right thing and tried to protect an ambushed American ambassador — despite the orders from his own government to “stand down.” Imagine your son was part of a team that requested multiple times for help, only to be denied. Imagine you’re Charles Woods and your son, a former Navy SEAL, charged into the smoke, gunfire, terror and the chaos in Benghazi on September 11, 2012, and only days after his death Vice President Joe Biden walks up to you and says:

“Did your son always have balls the size of cue balls?”

What would you do? Based on the actions of your deceased son — a hero — it’s obvious that honor runs through your veins, but the world would not have held it against you if you punched the vice president in the face.

Joe Biden is a boor. He is a boob. He is an embarrassment of the highest order. The world laughs at his “gaffes” … but Americans are the ones who pay the price for the Obama administration’s incompetence.

Former Navy SEAL Tyrone Woods was part of a small team who was at the CIA annex about a mile from the U.S. consulate where Ambassador Chris Stevens and his team came under attack. When he and others heard the shots fired, they informed their higher-ups at the annex to tell them what they were hearing and requested permission to go to the consulate and help out. They were told to “stand down,” according to sources familiar with the exchange. Soon after, they were again told to “stand down.”

Woods and at least two others ignored those orders and made their way to the consulate which at that point was on fire. Shots were exchanged. The rescue team from the CIA annex evacuated those who remained at the consulate and Sean Smith, who had been killed in the initial attack. They could not find the ambassador and returned to the CIA annex at about midnight.

At that point, they called again for military support and help because they were taking fire at the CIA safe house, or annex. The request was denied.

How did the Obama administration respond to these attacks? Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Charles Woods the administration would “make sure that the person who made that film is arrested and prosecuted.” Clinton was of course talking about the now-infamous anti-Islam Youtube video which, up until that time, perhaps a few dozen people in the world had seen. Worse, the timeline of events suggest Clinton was going to “prosecute” a citizen for no other crime than making a video! And yet, not a peep from the left as the maker of “Innocence of Muslims” sits behind bars, his next hearing not scheduled until after the 2012 elections.

But I digress. The point of this post was to shed light on what an insensitive jerk Joe Biden is. “Blue Collar Joe” (who is anything but) has a sick idea of what “blue collar” guys like Charles Woods are like, and it’s a pumped-up version of his own blowhard nature. Biden smirks, dons aviator glasses, and puffs out his chest because he wants people to believe he’s a bad ass. He’s not. He’s a career politician who has led a cushy life in Washington for decades. He is the epitome of “soft,” just as Tyrone Woods was the epitome of “hard.”

Hopefully, in a matter of weeks Joe Biden and Barack Obama will be the epitome of unemployed, while Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan begin the tough task of getting America’s economy back on track.

Act of Valor: A conservative review

Reading the Act of Valor reviews of “professionals” like Richard Corliss of Time magazine is a telling experience. The overwhelming response by movie critics fell in line with Corliss, who called it a “cockamamie, Pentagon-approved war adventure.” Movie goers, however, overwhelmingly decided guys like Croliss were the cockamamie ones, turning out in strong numbers and giving it good word-of-mouth.
Act of Valor is a solid movie, one that’s unlike anything you’ll see coming out of Hollywood because…it didn’t. That might be why Peter Travers of Rolling Stone was so confused when he said, “I don’t know what to make of [it].”

One of the criticisms of Act of Valor is that the acting is poor and that the characterization is week. Under normal circumstances characters need time to develop, and it’s up to the writers and actors to help forge that bond with the audience. However, Act of Valor serves up an anomaly—it’s not nearly as crucial  because the “actors” are real SEALs and it’s their story. We love them and care about them from the get go. From the opening line there is a connection with them because we all have military men and women in our life. When a SEAL speaks on screen, it’s easy to imagine him being your brother, uncle, dad or husband. That’s something all the money in Hollywood can’t buy, and it’s a star quality Matt Damon or Brad Pitt can never possess.

Knowing that SEALs are better with target rich environments than Hollywood scripts, the writers picked up on the points made above and ran with them. The family time is cut off quickly (just as it is in real life in their profession), briefings are given, and then it’s off on a world wide man hunt to uncover a terrorist plot and take down major players before they reach American shores. From there all the movie has to do is realistically portray the trials, tribulations, and tactics SEALs face in the field and on deployment. Across the board, Act of Valor delivers.

The final touch of genius the movie has is that, unlike a typical Hollywood film, no character is immune from life-threatening danger. Harrison Ford survives a nuclear blast at ground zero in the incredibly bad last installment of Indiana Jones, and for the rest of the movie tension is gone. He might as well declare himself a god, because the audience knows he will never die. The same goes for most Hollywood flicks paying millions for star “talent.” You don’t pay George Clooney millions of dollars and then kill him off mid way through the movie. With a movie staring Navy SEALs (the whole unit is the star), any one of them can be shot or blown up at a given moment—and any one of them might perform an “act of valor” by willfully sacrificing their life for a brother-in-arms.

The fact that so many “professional” critics yearned for more time to connect with the SEALs (i.e., they were hoping one of them was a drug addict, opposed to the mission, or an unpredictable head case) should speak volumes to the average movie goer. Hollywood and its typical major players are in many ways disconnected from motivations of everyday Americans. When we read their reviews we should do so through that prism, because only then can we discern what they’re truly saying. If you know who the reviewer is you can read a “bad” review and know that it’s a film worth seeing, or a “good” review and know that your time is better spent playing basketball with your son that Sunday.

If you haven’t seen Act of Valor yet, do yourself a favor and do so before it leaves the theaters.