Doc: Day two came and we broke down our patrol base and began to move again. I noticed one of the squad leaders lingering around a rock formation, the same squad leader who didn’t want to take the IV bag I gave him. Once he moved away from the area I walked over to see what was so interesting to him, and no shit there was the IV bag which he tried to hide and leave behind.

Movement on the second day was more of the same, with more miserable terrain, and we were barely covering any distance. You have to take into account that just days before we were at sea level in Georgia, and now we were over 9,200 feet high traversing the Afghan mountains.

We finally made it right outside of the gorge where intelligence says that the initial firefight took place. We could also see houses in the distance.

Operation Red Wings Overwatch House
The view on top of the Afghan house we setup overwatch to search for the SEALs.

The team leader of a small over-watch team overlooking the area from above gets on the radio and simply says: “There’s fucking monkeys…” We had no idea what was going as we couldn’t see what they were seeing. Then the second transmission comes through: “If these things get any closer I’m going to engage them!”

Believe it or not, it turns out there were these huge baboons passing through the area! Nobody to this day believes our platoon when we tell them that we were threatened by killer apes on the objective.

We continued on through the gorge looking for any trace of the SEALs. Up until this point, there has been no evidence of a firefight of any kind – no bodies, no blood, not anything. Shortly after the baboon sightings, a small Ranger search team called in that they found empty 5.56 shell casings.

We now knew we were in the right spot.

Shortly after we moved into the area where we spotted the houses, we set up an over-watch position from the roof overlooking much of the area. We sat up there for an hour looking for any signs of the SEALs.

A short time later members from SEAL Team 10 linked up with us at the house. No shit, they showed up in shorts! I remember thinking “Damn that makes sense, it’s so hot out here. Why are we wearing pants in 100 degree weather?” Goddamn Navy SEALs and their goddamn shorts. Unbelievable.

Apparently a local villager told the SEALs that he had information on the whereabouts of a body, which he would exchange for money. Half the platoon accompanied the SEALs to the area and the other half stayed to pull security. The body turned out to be Matt Axelson.

In my opinion, I think Axelson, who was completely out of ammo and suffering from major trauma to the head, crawled away from the firefight to a safe area where he could die in peace. Once his body was recovered by the SEALs, who were adamant about being the ones to carry him, we took him to a nearby ex-fil point.

It was about this time that the morale went down as we realized maybe the SEALs never made it out alive.

The night of the second day, I woke up to a massive explosion in the mountain tops above our positions. It turns out that fast movers dropped a huge payload on Taliban forces, who were setting up in the hills to engage us. The survivors attempted to drop mortars and shoot small arms fire from above, but it was incredibly ineffective. The air assets were looking out for us the entire time, but most of the guys couldn’t get any sleep for the second night in a row. The enemy fighters were an annoying nuisance at best, but we remained alert the entire night.

Operation Red Wings Rangers on Patrol

SOFREP: You guys were humping over some of the worst terrain for going on two days now, barely anybody has slept, and now morale was low with the realization that at least one SEAL was dead – what did day three have in store for you?

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Doc: It was a mess, we had little water, probably no food left, it was incredibly hot, and nobody had gotten any sleep. The first person who fell out was the radio operator who overheated, and I had to put an IV into him – those radios weigh a ton. We knew we were heading towards the ex-fil point where helicopters would come to take us home, so it made the movement a little easier knowing we were out of here soon.

Site of the firefight between the SEALs and the Taliban. Rangers in the photo taking a short rest.
Site of the firefight between the SEALs and the Taliban. Rangers in the photo taking a short rest.

It was during this final trek that we were informed that another unit had recovered two more bodies – Michael Murphy and Danny Dietz.

We made it to our last uphill movement, which would take us right to the landing zone. I was walking behind one of the M240B gunners (big and heavy machine gun) who out of nowhere started projectile vomiting off to the side as he kept walking. His squad leader and myself ran over to him to assess his condition. The squad leader tells the gunner to give him the 240 in which the gunner replied, “negative Sergeant, I got it,” and walked right past him as he continued to vomit while walking.

This is why I joined the Regiment, because of men like this. He will pass out or die from a heat stroke, but he’ll do it with his weapon in hand.

We finally made it to the top, where a platoon-sized element of Marines were pulling security. We did our best to rehydrate via some left over water bottles from a resupply drop, but most guys were in dire need of IVs. The first call comes in: “Doc I need your help.”

I come across the same squad leader who threw away the IV bag I gave him the other day. He was having trouble breathing and was obviously hyperthermic – completely overheated. All I could say when I pulled out his IV bag was “Hey, check this out Sergeant.”

This was our small part in Operation Red Wings II. The surviving SEAL, Marcus Luttrell, ended up being recovered by a platoon from the 2nd Ranger Battalion that was wrapping up its rotation.