Operation Red Wings: 18 Years Later

Operation Red Wings is an op title known to some, but not all. Many are more familiar with the movie “Lone Survivor” that was made after the fact about the events that took place nearly two decades ago. However, Operation Red Wings was about far more than moments condensed into a single 121-minute-long movie. It’s one of the events in military history we should all be familiar with. Enormous sacrifices were made, and as Reagan once said, we’re never more than one generation away from losing freedom. The men who were killed in action during Operation Red Wings were upholding those freedoms. The least we can do is acknowledge and remember their heroism.

operation red wings
Remembering Operation Red Wings 18 years later. (Photo credit: Navy SEAL Museum)

What was Operation Red Wings?

Operation Red Wings was what many phrase as having been an ill-fated or otherwise doomed mission in the Kandahar Province of Afghanistan in 2005. The operation itself took place on June 28, 2005, but for the one survivor — Marcus Luttrell — it would stretch into July of the same year. 

The team was compromised of four SEALs: Lt. Michael “Murph” Murphy, Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class Danny Dietz, Sonar Technician 2nd Class Matthew “Axe” Axelson, and Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Marcus Luttrell. They were looking to put eyes on known terrorist Ahmad Shah. After positioning themselves amongst the shale of a mountainside in the Hindu Kush east of Asadabad, they were compromised by supposed goatherders. Deciding it would violate the ROE to kill the three Afghans, the SEALs let them go and immediately moved out. Within hours, they were fighting for their lives, and when the proverbial dust settled, only Marcus Luttrell had physically survived.

Of course, it wasn’t only the three SEALs who were killed in action on the mountainside. Before it was all said and done, 11 Navy SEALs and eight Nightstalkers were killed for a total of 19 losses. The other men killed gave their lives attempting a rescue mission of the four SEALs on the mountain.

matt axelson
Matt Axelson was one of the SEALs killed in combat in a firefight with insurgents. (Photo credit: U.S. Navy)

What happened during Operation Red Wings?

It’s impossible to condense down all the moments of Operation Red Wings into a brief summary. Because Luttrell lived, he was able to relay some details afterward, and he told of amazing heroics. Matt Axelson was shot twice in the head, and his normally blue eyes had gone black with blood, yet he continued to fight. Danny Dietz was shot a total of nine times, three of which were to his head and neck, but as Luttrell dragged him backward, he kept firing at the Taliban. Mike Murphy was the SEAL responsible for the SAT phone and he had so much trouble calling for help he realized he had no choice but to go out into the open on a high point. The call went through, which likely ultimately saved Luttrell’s life, but Murphy was killed.

“You stay alive, Marcus.” Those were the last words Matt Axelson would say to Marcus Luttrell.

marcus luttrell hunting in texas
Marcus Luttrell, years later, hunting blackbuck in Texas. (Photo credit: Kat Stevens)

Marcus Luttrell recounted the moments between the deaths of his teammates and his being discovered by an Afghani man by the name of Mohammed Gulab:

I crawled into the side of that mountain and covered myself with rocks, took mud and anything I could find, packed it into the open holes in my legs… Then night came around. I finally got feeling back in my legs. I stood up, best I could, walk-crawled for at least four miles off that mountain and then onto another one. Then I got shot again the next day. Then I crawled three more miles.

Something interesting about the way Luttrell was sheltered by Gulab, and his entire village, is that it was done under Pashtunwali. That’s the code of hospitality and honor among the Pashtun, and because of it, Luttrell lived. It would be nearly a week before he’d be picked up by a military rescue, and for the intervening days he was hidden in Gulab’s village under their personal code of honor. That meant refusing to hand him over when the Taliban came for him.

Navy SEAL Danny Dietz
Danny Dietz was one of the three SEALs killed on the side of the mountain. (Photo credit: Navy SEAL Foundation)

SEAL Ethos:

I will never quit. I persevere and thrive on adversity. My Nation expects me to be physically harder and mentally stronger than my enemies. If knocked down, I will get back up, every time. I will draw on every remaining ounce of strength to protect my teammates and accomplish our mission. I am never out of the fight.

What does the anniversary of Operation Red Wings mean?

For most people, the actual anniversary of Operation Red Wings will pass unnoticed. It’s a sad reality that the passage of time results in memory loss. Of course, that’s not true for everyone.

Danny Dietz’s mother, who experienced what no mother should by outliving her son, will place flowers on his grave. Jeff Axelson, brother of the late Matt Axelson, founded a firearms and gear company called Axelson Tactical, and he will remember his childhood with his brother as well as his brother’s death. Marcus Luttrell, who’s back living in Texas, will feel the pain of that day more vividly and literally than anyone on Earth.

There was a time after 9/11 when we, as a nation, banded together to support the military and show how proud we were to be Americans. And there was a time after Operation Red Wings when everyone remembered, talked, and tried to help the families left behind by 19 men. This year on June 28, let’s take a moment to remember the heroic actions and enormous sacrifices made not only by these men. Then, take some time to think of their families. This year, remember it and feel it like it was yesterday, not 18 years ago.

Remembering the fallen of Operation Red Wings:

  • LT Michael P. Murphy
  • SO2 Matthew G. Axelson
  • SO2 Danny Dietz
  • SOC Jacques Fontan
  • SOCS Daniel R. Healy
  • LCDR Erik Kristensen
  • SO1 Jeffrey Lucas
  • LT Michael McGreevy, Jr.
  • SO2 James Suh
  • SO1 Jeffrey Taylor
  • SO2 Shane Patton
  • SSG Shamus Goare
  • CW3 Corey Goodnature
  • SGT Kip Jacoby
  • SFC Marcus Muralles
  • MSG James Ponder III
  • MAJ Stephen Reich
  • SFC Michael Russell
  • CW4 Chris Scherkenbach
Kat Ainsworth Stevens is a long-time outdoor writer, official OGC (Original Gun Cognoscenti), and author of Handgun Hunting: a Comprehensive Guide to Choosing and Using the Right Firearms for Big and Small Game. Der Teufel Katze has written for a number of industry publications (print and online) and edited some of the others, so chances are you've seen or read her work before, somewhere. A woman of eclectic background and habits, Kat has been carrying concealed for over two decades, used to be a farrier, and worked for a long time in emergency veterinary medicine. She prefers big bores, enjoys K9 Search & Rescue, and has a Master's Degree in Pitiless Snarkastic Delivery.

Sign Up for Newsletter

Let us know what topics you would be interested:
© 2024 GunMag Warehouse. All Rights Reserved.
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap