Friday, July 27, 2007

Navy SEAL Recalls the Day His Friends Died

July 26 (Bloomberg) -- Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell's worldview has been formed by peering through a sniper scope. He sees only friends and enemies. He cherishes Christianity, bravery, loyalty, self-sacrifice and Texans (especially President George W. Bush). The Taliban, liberal media and lawyers, al-Qaeda and the Geneva Conventions are in his cross hairs.

Luttrell's memoir, ``Lone Survivor,'' recounts the events of June 28, 2005, the deadliest in U.S. Special Forces history, when he voted to free a trio of Afghan goatherds who had stumbled upon his SEAL team's observation post. They subsequently betrayed them to the Taliban, and before the day was over, Luttrell's three teammates and 16 more Americans -- including eight more SEALs --were dead.

We spoke on the phone.

Nawotka: You write that not executing the goatherds was ``the stupidest, most Southern-fried, lamebrained decision I ever made in my life.'' Why?

Luttrell: It led directly to the deaths of my friends. I was more worried about liberal media back home finding out about our executing the goatherds and accusing us of war crimes than I was about making the smart military decision. I've wished I could take it back every day since.

Nawotka: Is it typical for a SEAL team to take votes?

Luttrell: One of the things I try to get across in the book is how SEALs think. In the SEALs we know that one man can't win a war -- when one guy goes it alone, you die -- so we formulate a plan and we use each other's brains.

Bashing Liberals?

Nawotka: Your memoir is a big bestseller. Do you still feel the media are out to get you?

Luttrell: I now almost wish I hadn't put that stuff in there, but I told the story the way it happened. I'm not trying to bash liberals or Democrats and prop up Republicans -- in my heart of hearts I'm not. I want to bring the country back together, not divide it further. If people read the book, they will see it is about trying to protect this country and fighting insurmountable odds.

Nawotka: How is it that you weren't prepared for this kind of battle, yet you still killed more than 50 Taliban?

Luttrell: SEALs move fast and light, like guys going out for a hike or hunting. No, we were not dressed like what you see in Iraq, with body armor or heavy weapons. Two of us were carrying sniper rifles.

Luck and God

Nawotka: You tumbled thousands of feet down a mountainside, cracking three vertebrae, and survived a rocket-propelled grenade, only to be found by a friendly Afghan doctor who took you in and decided to protect you. Was that SEAL training or fate?

Luttrell: Pure luck and God.

Nawotka: Throughout your time in Afghanistan you wore two Texas patches on your uniform. One made it to President Bush. How?

Luttrell: When I was recovering, Admiral Mike Mullin, the chief of Naval Operations, asked me if there was anything he could do for me. I asked if he would give the patch to the president and tell him, ``Your Texas boys are getting it done.''

Later I met the president in the Oval Office when I was awarded the Navy Cross, and the patch was sitting on his desk. I had tried to clean it up, but it was still covered in mud and blood. He said, ``Son, do you remember this?'' and then he told me it was going to end up in his presidential museum.

Nawotka: You were trained as a medic. Now you're planning on attending medical school. Have you decided where?

Luttrell: I don't venture out of my home state of Texas much, but I think Yale appeals to me most.

Nawotka: How comfortable are you with the word ``hero''?

Luttrell: I am not a hero. I am a highly trained elite soldier. I was just doing my job. Those kids in Iraq, the ones who went into the Reserves to pay for college and are now fighting terrorists, going out on patrol and getting blown up by IEDs -- they are heroes.

``Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10,'' by Marcus Luttrell with Patrick Robinson, is published by Little, Brown (390 pages, $24.99).

(Edward Nawotka writes on books and publishing for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)