War is never easy, but sometimes the morality of an individual conflicts with the necessity of combat in a way that reveals the content of their character. The U.S. military and those who support them are becoming increasingly aware of the concept of moral crisis – some servicemembers returning home are finding it difficult to understand and accept the actions they took while on active duty. For former U.S. Navy Seal Marcus Luttrell, his personal moral crisis has become the subject of an autobiography and major motion picture.
Luttrell was born on November 7th, 1975 to ranchers in Houston, Texas. Luttrell has gone on record stating that his father was a tough man, and taught Luttrell and his twin brother that they would have to work hard to earn their way. At the age of 15, Luttrell began preparing for a career in the Navy SEALs by training with Billy Shelton, a veteran of the U.S. Army. Shelton reportedly used weight and endurance training regimens to get him ready for the intensity of joining Naval special operations forces.
In 1999, after successfully obtaining a degree from Sam Houston State University, Luttrell enlisted in the U.S. Navy. He completed basic training and joined Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) class. He was on track to complete the course on time until he suffered a fractured leg. After recovery, he completed training in 2000 and, after a few more courses, became a fully fledged SEAL. The skills he obtained included unconventional medicine, diagnosis and treatment, advanced emergency medicine, and in-field life support.
As a member of SEAL Team 10, Luttrell deployed to Afghanistan in 2005 and embarked on the fateful Operation Red Wings. The objective of the mission was to locate Muhammad Ismail, a top-ranking member of the Taliban, and dispatch him. While in the hills of the Pech district of the Kunar province of Afghanistan, Luttrell's team was identified by goat herders from the region. They were immediately detained while the SEALs discussed what to do with them. The region holds notoriously strong ties to the Taliban, and it was fully possible that the goat herders would contact enemy combatants and alert them to the team's position.
According to Luttrell, all team members voted on whether to execute the men or let them go. Luttrell voted for the latter. He has stated in various interviews that there were multiple variables that influenced his vote. The herders were unarmed, which meant they were non-combatants and unequipped to fight the SEALs. Despite the security risk they presented, executing them would be, in Luttrell's mind, an act of murder. Furthermore, the large number of goats they herded indicated that their presence would be missed in a short period of time which would possibly endanger the mission.
The herders were released, and within one hour dozens of Taliban combatants swarmed the SEALs. The battle was intense, and every U.S. servicemember was killed except for Luttrell. Despite numerous injuries, he crawled and walked 7 miles to a nearby Pashtun village where he was taken in and protected. Due to the tribe's customs, they were honor-bound to protect and heal Luttrell despite provocation from Taliban forces. The villagers managed to contact U.S. military forces and a successful rescue mission was launched.
Despite Luttrell's harrowing experience, he completed one more tour of duty. The target of Operation Red Wings, Muhammad Ismail, was not eliminated during the battle, but was later confirmed killed in a firefight with police in Pakistan.
Luttrell was medically discharged from the Navy and now resides in the U.S. with his wife. Luttrell recounted his experiences in the book, "Lone Survivor" which has inspired a movie adaptation of the same name featuring Mark Whalberg. In place of serving through the U.S. military, Luttrell formed the Lone Survivor Foundation which aims to assist veterans enduring PTSD. He has said in multiple interviews that the choice he made in Pech has stayed with him every day since the operation.
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