Saturday, February 11, 2012

REVIEW: Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10 by Marcus Lutrell with Patrick Robinson


Four US Navy SEALS departed one clear night in early July, 2005 for the mountainous Afghanistan-Pakistan border for a reconnaissance mission. Their task was to document the activity of an al Qaeda leader rumored to have a small army in a Taliban stronghold. Five days later, only one of those Navy SEALS made it out alive. This is the story of the only survivor of Operation Redwing, SEAL team leader Marcus Luttrell, and the extraordinary firefight that led to the largest loss of life in American Navy SEAL history. His squadmates fought valiantly beside him until he was the only one left alive, blasted by an RPG into a place where his pursuers could not find him. Over the next four days, terribly injured and presumed dead, Luttrell crawled for miles through the mountains and was taken in by sympathetic villagers who risked their lives to keep him safe from surrounding Taliban warriors. A born and raised Texan, Marcus Luttrell takes us from the rigors of SEAL training, where he and his fellow SEALs discovered what it took to join the most elite of the American special forces, to a fight in the desolate hills of Afghanistan for which they never could have been prepared. His account of his squadmates' heroism and mutual support renders an experience for which two of his squadmates were posthumously awarded the Navy Cross for combat heroism that is both heartrending and life-affirming. In this rich chronicle of courage and sacrifice, honor and patriotism, Marcus Luttrell delivers a powerful narrative of modern war.
  • ISBN-13: 9780316067591
  • Publisher: Little, Brown & Company
  • Publication date: 6/12/2007
  • Pages: 400

About the Author

Petty Officer Marcus Luttrell joined the United States Navy in March 1999, became a combat-trained Navy SEAL in January 2002, and has served in Afghanistan and Iraq. He lives in Texas. Patrick Robinson is known for his best-selling US Navy-based novels and his autobiography of Admiral Sir Sandy Woodward, One Hundred Days, was an international bestseller. He lives in England and spends his summers in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, where he and Luttrell wrote Lone Survivor.

My Thoughts

Good-byes tend to be curt among Navy SEALs. A quick backslap, a friendly bear hug, no one uttering what we're all thinking: Here we go again, guys, going to war, to another trouble spot, another half-assed enemy willing to try their luck against us...they must be out of their minds.
This book crosses many countries and cultures, but the heart of it takes place in the Hindu Kush mountains in Afghanistan.

Marcus Lutrell is a Texas-boy through and through. Texans are a unique breed. Often arrogant and self-confident, yet warm and generous, Lutrell fits the bill. "Don't mess with Texas!"

Lutrell is raised in Texas by a tough father who pushes his boys to be their best-- and I mean pushes! They are pushed to give both their mental and physical best through constant training and drills, and at a young age Lutrell and his twin brother Morgan know that they want to become SEALs when they grow up. And both of them do just that. Lutrell joins the US Navy in 1999, and becomes a Navy SEAL in 2002.

On June 28, 2005, Lutrell and SEAL Team 10 are sent on a mission into Afghanistan to capture or kill whom he refers in the book to as Taliban leader Ben Sharmak, who the military had been tracking. However Wikipedia identifies the target as Mohammad Ismail alias Ahmad Shah, who survived the operation, but was later killed in 2008.

SEAL Team 10 consisted of Lutrell, Matthew Axelson, Michael Murphy (all visible in the image below) and Danny Dietz.

From left to right, STG2 Matthew G. Axelson; ITCS Daniel R. Healy, QM2 James Suh, HM2 Marcus Luttrell, MM2 Eric S. Patton, and Lt. Michael P. Murphy.
This mission was named Operation Redwing, and was carried out with absolute stealth. Hence the reason the SEALs were called in. With Murphy in command and Danny the prime communications guy, Lutrell and Axelson were assigned to be the snipers. Lutrell was also a trained medic.

The SEALs moved through the Hindu Kush mountains, eventually positioning themselves to watch the village where "Sharmack" was supposed to be located. While on surveillance, they are discovered by some goatherders. Everything in their guts tells them that the goatherders are friendly with the Taliban, and though unarmed, as soon as they are released they will run to inform the Taliban of the location of the SEAL team. A debate then follows between the team members as they must decide whether to let the herders leave, or execute them in order to secure their mission. There are issues either way. They hold a vote, and it is decided to let the herders go, almost certain that they will send the Taliban to kill the team.

Within 45 minutes or so, the Taliban has surrounded the team and they are engaged in a firefight. Over the next few hours the team is outnumbered probably 35 to 1, caught in a vicious firefight, wounded and pushed further and further down the mountain. There are great moments of heroism and bravery as one-by-one they are picked off. In the end, only Lutrell is still alive and on the run with the Taliban chasing him through the mountains.

Eventually he is found and taken in by a Pashtun tribe, and carried to their village where his wounds are treated and he is cared for. The tribe has an ancient tradition called lokhay. When they decide to extend their hospitality to a guest, they are bound to protect and care for that guest to the death. This pits them against the Taliban in securing the safety of Lutrell, and in their determination to return him to the Americans. Eventually they do just that.

The writing style was a little too relaxed for me. It was like I was sitting in a bar and listening to him talk over a beer. It was a little scattered and lacked very much structure. Additionally there is so much arrogance in the beginning that it could be a bit of a turnoff. But eventually I got used to the writing style and began to see the arrogance more as "confidence", and by the middle of the book I'd hit my groove.

However the one thing that kept bothering me was the continual derogatory attitude towards "liberals". I know Texans are staunchly conservative, but it would have been nice to see a little less bias and derogatory tone. It is quite evident that the author views liberals an enemy nearly paramount to the Taliban.

The details of the firefight are brutal. Movies portray people being shot and incapacitated quickly. You learn in this book that is not always the case. These guys were shot repeatedly, serious head, neck, back and stomach wounds, sometimes mortally shot, and they kept going. They kept fighting- for themselves, for their buddies, for their mission and their country.

The one thing that I missed in this book was the chance to really get to know these guys that died out on that mountain. However that didn't stop me from crying as I read of their bravery in the face of terror and pain.

There is a fair amount of vulgarity throughout this book. After all, there is a reason we refer to people as "talking like a sailor"!

Overall I would recommend this story-- for the middle. The beginning is a little too arrogant and brash, like a boy boasting of his conquests. The end a little too quiet as he recuperates and tours the US to visit with the family members of those who died in Operation Redwing. The middle, the heart of the story, is heart-wrenching and brutal and will have you in tears as you read what these boys went through and what they did for one another. Their love for one another is evident. Beautiful.

If you are intrigued by the Navy SEALs, if you don't shy away from brutality, if you can take the vulgarity and brashness, pick this one up. It will move you.


My Rating: 8 out of 10

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