“Extortion 17” is a name etched in our minds as one of the worst losses our military has ever experienced. Thirty Americans perished in the blink of an eye, half of which comprised an entire ‘troop’ from SEAL Team 6’s Gold Squadron. Senior Chief Robert James Reeves was one of those Americans.
Born in Louisiana on August 2nd, 1979, Rob joined the Navy in August of 1998 after spending one year at Louisiana State University with the hopes of someday becoming a U.S. Navy SEAL. He joined alongside his childhood friend, Lt. Commander Jonas Kelsall, who also perished on that fateful day serving as the troop commander.
Rob would go on to graduate BUD/S in December of 1999 and immediately serve with SEAL Team 3. He would go on to cheat death on numerous occasions, both in combat and in peacetime. One of those occasions took place while on a six-month training deployment to the island of Guam in 2003. Rob and a few other SEALs were out celebrating Christmas at a local bar when they got into an altercation with two men. After leaving, the two men followed the SEALs and opened fire at their taxi from their own vehicle. Rob was struck in the back of the neck and a second SEAL was shot in the head. He would go on to make a full recovery.
A couple of months after being shot, Rob would go to Virginia to attend selection and training (S&T) for entrance into the famed counter-terrorism unit, SEAL Team 6/DEVGRU. He successfully completed the selection process in late 2004 and was subsequently assigned to Gold Squadron where he would serve honorably for the next seven years as an assaulter and later, sniper.
A second near-death experience would later earn Rob a Bronze Star with Valor device. Already a seasoned DEVGRU operator with multiple trips to Iraq, Afghanistan, and other contingency operations, Rob found himself in Afghanistan serving as team sniper. Rob’s troop was called to conduct a nighttime direct-action raid against a high-value Taliban target.
As the assaulters silently moved toward the target building, Rob set up an overwatch position on a small house in order to provide his team with cover. He silently crept to the roof and got into position. Unbeknownst to Rob and the rest of the team on the ground, a door directly underneath Rob’s position opened and the distinct silhouette of an RPG poked out. The Taliban fighter fired the RPG, but it missed its intended target and detonated a safe distance away from the ground force.
The back blast caused a shockwave within the small house that resulted in the roof collapsing, bringing Rob down with it. Through the dust and debris, Rob could make out five heavily armed Taliban fighters, disoriented from the back blast. He had two options: stay and engage them or bail out of the house. Rob decided to bail out; he jumped through a nearby window and calmly pulled out a fragmentation grenade. He dropped the grenade through the same window and dove for cover nearby, killing the five Taliban fighters in the resulting explosion.
Fast forward to the night of August 5th, 2011. A platoon from Bravo Company, 2nd Ranger Battalion, was conducting a direct-action raid against a high-value target named Qari Tahir in the village of Jaw-e-Mekh Zareen—a Taliban stronghold in the Wardak Province’s Tangi Valley. The Ranger force of 47 personnel infiltrated a few kilometers from the target building and began taking contact immediately.
The Rangers reached and secured the main target compound, killing or capturing over a dozen Taliban fighters. But before reaching the building, the main target, Qari Tahir, and a small group of Taliban fighters escaped. The Joint Operations Center decided to send in a second team; Rob and his fellow special operators who were on standby in support of the Ranger mission were now called upon to chase/contain the fighters who escaped.
Upon infiltration in the early hours of the 6th of August, the CH-47D Chinook helicopter, call sign “Extortion 17”, was hit by an RPG round fired from enemy fighters in a nearby two-story building, destroying the aft-rotor assembly and sending the helicopter to the ground. The Rangers immediately rushed to the crash site, seven kilometers away, and began the grueling task of securing and recovering all the personnel. There were no survivors.
Qari Tahir, the high-value target, would be killed in an airstrike in late September of that same year.
In his 13 years of service, eleven of which were spent as an active-duty SEAL, Rob would deploy over a dozen times, earn the rank of E-8, and earn countless achievement medals to include four Bronze Star medals with ‘Valor’ devices, a Joint Service Commendation Medal with ‘Valor’ device, the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal with ‘Valor’ device, and three Navy Good Conduct medals. Rob would be posthumously awarded a fifth Bronze Star Medal with ‘Valor’ device, a Defense Meritorious Service Medal, and a Purple Heart.
Rob was buried at sea by his fellow brothers-in-arms off the coast of Virginia on August 24th, 2011. He was killed in action just a few days after celebrating his 32nd birthday.