After 21 years of illustrious service to the nation, Master Chief Special Warfare Operator (SEAL) Edward Byers Jr. retired on September 19.
As a member of the Naval Special Warfare Development Group (DEVGRU) – another designation for SEAL Team 6 – Master Chief Byers participated in a hostage rescue operation in Afghanistan in 2012 that resulted in him receiving the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest award for bravery in combat.
During the operation, the SEAL Team 6 assault force approached the target building in the cover of the night. An enemy sentry, however, spotted the incoming SEALs and raced to notify his fellow terrorists inside the building. Master Chief Byers, who was the lead breacher in the operation, raced to the building’s door and paved the way for the assault team by ripping down a make-shift door made of heavy blankets. Unfortunately, the Chief Special Warfare Operator (SEAL) Nicolas Checque, who was the point man and thus the first SEAL to enter the building, was mortally wounded by enemy fire. Then, Master Chief Byers, who was only steps behind, stormed into the breach and neutralised an enemy fighter before tackling another. In the ensuing hand-to-hand fight, Master Chief Byers prevailed. Subsequently, in a room full of gunfire and dead and dying enemy, he located the hostage, raced towards him, and shielded him with his body. While he was shielding the hostage, he managed to restrain a nearby enemy before a fellow SEAL neutralised him.
His Medal of Honor citation states that Master Chief Byers’s “bold and decisive actions under fire saved the lives of the hostage and several of his teammates. By his undaunted courage, intrepid fighting spirit, and unwavering devotion to duty in the face of near-certain death, Chief Petty Officer Byers reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.”
Master Chief Byers is the embodiment of warfighting and a testament of professionalism. More importantly, however, his service and conduct delineate the quality of operators that comprise the Naval Special Warfare community. Successive scandals have rightly put that quality under scrutiny. But it’s important to remember that a few bad apples – although NSW seems to have a larger number of bad apples than the rest of the Special Operations units – isn’t indicative of the larger community.
The following graphic was released by the Navy following Master Chief Byers’ Medal of Honor announcement. (Graphic by Austin Rooney/U.S. Navy)