Battleland

The Navy SEALS’ Dying Words

  • Share
  • Read Later
DOD Photo

The CH-47 was shot down a year ago this week

Monday, August 6 marks the first anniversary of the Afghan crash of a U.S. military CH-47 Chinook helicopter that killed 30 Americans, including 17 Navy SEALS. It was the worst single loss-of-life day for the U.S. in the war in Afghanistan. It was also the worst in the history of Naval Special Warfare.

Just six weeks before the crash, I spent several days meeting with members of the Navy’s elite SEAL Team SIX, talking to them about the loss of one of their teammates, Adam Brown, who had been killed in action during an especially complex raid on a compound in Afghanistan.

I met with two of them in a crowded bar in a remote Alaskan village. The salmon run had just begun so the place was packed with fishermen, one of whom approached our group with a tray of shot glasses overflowing with whiskey. It was also a place that SEALs would come to before heading for training exercises in the surrounding mountains.

The man offered to buy a round. “I’d be honored if we could have a drink together, to thank you all for your service. And for taking care of business in Pakistan,” he said. Tom Ratzlaff, one of the SEALs I was with, took two shots and handed one to me. “This is for Adam,” he clicked his glass against mine, I nodded, and we threw them back together.

Tom, who was better known as “Rat,” and Chris Campbell shared memories of their teammate, but as they talked about his life and the circumstances surrounding his death, they alluded to the fact that they were keenly aware death might be just around the corner, quite literally, for them too. They were about to be redeployed, and with the loss of Adam weighing heavily on their minds, there was some urgency to have a chance to talk and honor their brother-in-arms.

Kevin Houston, one of the SEALs I met with in Virginia Beach the following week acknowledged, “I could end up getting killed on my next mission I go on, but until that happens, for me, business will continue to be conducted.”

One of things I was most interested in understanding from these men was how they managed moving so fluidly between their family lives and their work as highly-trained warriors. Frequently, they were deployed, came home, and then were suddenly redeployed.

In some cases they developed rituals. Tom shared that whenever he boarded a helicopter for a mission, he said the Lord’s Prayer silently, once he got seated, and then prayed for protection. “I don’t ask for protection myself because that’s in his hands. I ask him to look after my wife and kids. Then I ask him to protect all my buddies and forgive them of all their sins and me of my sins. Then I move straight into thinking about what I’m about to do-the target, the map study, making sure I know which way’s north so I can call out things correctly on the target.”

During my interview with Heath Robinson, another teammate of Adam Brown’s, I asked “How do you do it?” referring to how they transition from lethal missions—shooting and killing people—and then coming back home, sometimes just hours later. Heath answered using his friend’s horses as an analogy. “His wife and daughter have horses,” said Heath. “Nothing makes [them] happier. Well, horses are dirty animals, every weekend he puts on his waders, goes in the barn, and shovels the manure…the dirty hay…their piss. It’s not a good job, it’s miserable, but somebody has to shovel the shit so the family can enjoy what they have.”

Kelley Brown, Adam’s wife, recalled the one time she saw “that side” of her husband. He had just returned home and was relaxing in a bubble bath when a very unlucky burglar attempted to break into their house. Adam, naked but covered in bubbles, flew out of the tub and the look in his eyes was someone she did not recognize. Moments later, the intruder bolted in fear and Adam returned to being her loving husband and the adoring father of their two young children.

The SEALs were also circumspect about death in a way that only those confronted with it regularly can be.

“I either want to die in combat, doing my job right now, or live till I’m 98 years old and see my great, great grand kids,” one of them told me. “I don’t want anything in between. None of us do. A warrior’s death, you can’t get any higher than that. It’s horrible for the family, they don’t want to hear that, but for us, the guys at our command, we’re okay with it. That is our duty, the highest calling. And if that happens to you, you hope you are in the right frame of mind that you are okay with it. I have seen a lot of people go, not well. Had they been able to do another take on it, they would probably want it to go better. I remember everything else about Adam also, but I will always remember the end. You know, your first impression lasts a relationship, and your last impression is with you forever. Adam died well.”

Six weeks after my last interview, I was returning to civilization from my version of being off the grid: camping with my family. My own happy grubby kids were in the back seat of our car when my cell phone indicated I had voicemail.

I called in and listened to one message after another and I learned that all seven of the men I had interviewed — John, Kevin, Brian, Heath, Matt, Tom, and Chris — had been killed in action the day before.

The team had been on a mission in the Wardak Province of Afghanistan, part of an operation intended to capture or kill leaders from an insurgent cell that was holed up in the region. The Chinook carrying them, along with 23 other Americans, and eight Afghan troops, had crashed and exploded after a single rocket propelled grenade struck its aft rotor blade.

Questions surrounded the crash: Why were so many from our most elite military unit on one helo? The most credible view is that it was a lucky shot, but some speculated that it might have somehow been retaliation at the same unit that had only a couple months earlier taken out Bin Laden.

As of today, some family members remain unsatisfied with the investigation. A few days after the crash, I attended Kevin Houston’s funeral, then began transcribing the interviews, haunted as I listened to their voices and read their reflections on life and on death.

As they had talked about Adam Brown, they had unknowingly defined themselves: humble, selfless, and fearless.

With the one-year anniversary of that tragedy upon us, I think of them, and their families, often.

My mind wanders to the inside of that helicopter, envisioning their final moments. It’s a dark place filled with questions — mainly the questions I didn’t ask when I interviewed each of them just weeks before they were killed — but the one thing I know for certain is that they died honorably: serving their country, doing what they believed in.

I have no doubt that they died well.

Eric Blehm is the author of FEARLESS: The Undaunted Courage and Ultimate Sacrifice of SEAL Team SIX Operator Adam Brown, which is dedicated to the memory of the men who were killed on August 6, 2011. See www.fearlessnavyseal.com

49 comments
TressalaRenee
TressalaRenee

My humble sincere gratitude to these Hero's and their faniles. I can never repay them...but, however, I can respect them and I do. I pray for the families that have lost their loved ones. God Bless and thank you Eric for writing the book Fearless.

DanielRosploch
DanielRosploch

I was deployed to southern Afghanistan when this happened and I just want to say I was heartbroken to hear about it.  We lost 7 of our own during that tour and I salute all those who have given their lives for their buddies to their right and left.  Regardless of your opinion on the war, we do this for each other, the make sure we all come home to our families.  Airborne!  All the Way!  Let's Go!

bbchan05
bbchan05

These are the Greatest men to ever live. As Americans, we must all live our lives fully and honorably in the name of these great men who dedicated their lives in service to us all. Not a day goes by, where I don't think about these SEALs who made the ultimate sacrifice for God and country.

WrigleyDreaming
WrigleyDreaming

Fearless is an inspiring and powerful book. Devastating that the men who gave some background on the book died in that helicopter.

Arthur Facteau
Arthur Facteau

O.K., the artical that cought my eye spoke of the mans dying words. I'm still waiting, they were not in the artical. This is not the first time yahoo news, time, or newsweek has done this, either. Anybody else out there feel like your getting sucked in to read an artical?

bertafiable
bertafiable

I was in the regular Navy for 4 years, back in the 70's.

I have nothing but respect and admiration for the Navy Seals.

Or any of our combat men and women serving our wonderful country.

Their passing is a tragic event in the course of any war, I didnt personally know any of the men, but am sure they will be sorely missed, my thoughts go out to those of their family members whom they left behind.

I salute you one and all ...................

O_Pinion
O_Pinion

Sorry to post a contrary view and I sincerely do not want to demean the sacrifice these guys make, but I think a balanced discussion would include an analysis of what makes an individual voluntarily join the military. I know it makes for popular reading to wrap a flag around it, but that may just be a convenience to make the body count a little more palatable.

Having served in the military dying for my country was the last thing on my mind. I was young, enjoyed the physical challenge and perhaps was a little overdosed on naivety. Thats it. Had a been shot it certainly wouldn't have been with one eye on the flagpole.  Are you really telling me America has battalions of young men and women signing up to charge the enemy out of blind patriotism?

Twoiron
Twoiron

If you haven't already read it, "Lone Survivor" is a must-read book. Explains everything these remarkable guys go through to become a SEAL, in incredible detail.

dougx
dougx

Isn't that the seal team Obama's people outed to make him look good?

snowsoul
snowsoul

That was great.  And to those who serve, thank you and God bless you and your families for all you do.

Here's a video I'd recommend viewing about Adam Brown, it's great http://m.nralifeofduty.tv/?vid...

Jeffrey Geez Glavick
Jeffrey Geez Glavick

The author forgot to mention how tragic they died in a useless Bs politician's war

Saeed Abdallah
Saeed Abdallah

Brilliant article! Thank you Eric. This is thought provoking. Our prayers are with the families of these gallant soldiers. Training and conditioning your mind to face the reality of a job like theirs is not and has never been an easy journey.

It should also be emphsized that political leaders who send these gallant people to these uncertain journeys must always think hard and reflect intensively before they sign on every mission. Their job shouldn't be taken for granted and be seen as any ordinary endeavour. God bless them!

O_Pinion
O_Pinion

"One of things I was most interested in understanding from these men was how they managed moving so fluidly between their family lives and their work as highly-trained warriors. Frequently, they were deployed, came home, and then were suddenly redeployed"

 

Not to denigrate the missions of the brave Seal guys, but this could equally apply to the millions of poor wage slaves disappearing, sometimes for weeks, on an endless quest to bring home the sales that keep the factories humming and the wheels of commerce turning. Not for them the honor and glory, just another weeks installment on the morgage paid and another lot of groceries on the table. 

gh79
gh79

What odds do you give me that the crash never happened? Once it got known that these men had taken out Laden they were on Qaeda's shitlist. The only safe way for them to lead a normal life is to fake a crash and put them into Witness Protection. Not saying thats whats happened but its a possibility

max4374
max4374

Thank you, all of you.

Cassie Wonderalke
Cassie Wonderalke

The Navy Seal Team Six was a top secret unit.  They should never have been outed in the media by Obama.  These men were sent on a fake raid to make the  liar in chief look good.  I believe Osama had already been dead for 10 years prior to this due to renal failure.  I find it interesting that these men were shot down and killed over Afghanistan after the fact.  I believe that Obama's intelligence outed them to protect his dirty little secret.  What happened to those men was out and out murder.  Why didn't the U.S. have pics of Osamas dead body?  To respect Muslims?  He was a murderer.  He murdered over 5,000 innocent Americans on 9/11.  Why doesn't anyone question the lack of photos and the alleged claim of respecting Musloid terrorists?  Seal Team Six gave their lives for that lying piece of filth in the White House.  I'm disgusted with Time and the lame stream media for protecting Obama the fraud!  You can disagree with me all you want.  I will never be convinced that Obama is a true natural born citizen and I will never believe that he should be our commander in chief.  He's a fake, a fraud, and a lying son of a bitch!  God Bless our Special Forces.  They deserve better than what Obama did to them.  God rest their souls.

BRMCt
BRMCt

thank you Eric for these post "FEARLESS" thoughts. To live, and to die humbly,selflessly and fearless - Adam and his teammates personified these attributes and hopefully the reader will take some time to reflect upon their own lives in light of the powerful example these men set. I submit that if this story doesnt inspire us to both live and die well then we have completely missed the greatest lesson they have given us. R.I.P. Brothers.

Frank Harris
Frank Harris

Best article I have ever read on this website hands down. Thank you for writing it

MikeJHSprings
MikeJHSprings

Eric, just as you shared Adam with the world, you have written another wonderful piece.  Thank you for being there, for understanding, and sharing your GOD given ability to convey to others just how special Adam, his family, and these MEN are.  We miss them all, and will honor them forever.  As Adam would say, "sometimes you've got to hammer", well it's up to us to do likewise.

kemmanuelli
kemmanuelli

Eric, my condolences to you.  You obviously became very fond of these fine gentlemen and rightly so.  There are so many Americans who take our military personnel for granted.  God Bless "Rat" and His Pack amp; God Bless You for sharing this amazing article with us.

TheKingJAK
TheKingJAK

God Bless these Heroes, including their MWD Bart. May their loved ones know peace. Never Quit.

MichaelDunnFan
MichaelDunnFan

Thank you Eric for sharing the story of Adam and his SEAL brothers. They are wonderful examples of the dedicated service men and women who make our nation what it is. My heart goes out to their families who are experiencing this ultimate sacrifice. Your riveting book FEARLESS is a fitting tribute to these brave men.

 

MichaelDunnFan
MichaelDunnFan

Thank you Eric for sharing the story of Adam and his SEAL brothers. They are wonderful examples of the dedicated service men and women who make our nation what it is. My heart goes out to their families who are experiencing this ultimate sacrifice. Your riveting book FEARLESS is a fitting tribute to these brave men.

Randall Hannaway
Randall Hannaway

Thank you Eric for a great piece of writing and allowing this tragedy to be further remembered. These were brave and selfless men who gave everything for what they believed in. It is precisely these men who venture in to dark places to visit those who would do us harm so that we may sleep peacefully at night. I for one will pray for their souls, their families and friends. It's hard to imagine what our world would look like if a few good men did nothing...

MyUserName84
MyUserName84

I can't believe it's been a year since these people were killed.  When the news first broke, I cried.  I was unemployed, living with my parents, completely down and out--and I thought to myself: how is it fair that I'm alive while those men--with so much to offer the world--are dead?  It's because of  those men--and so many others just like them--that I was inspired to start living my own life again.   Just one year later, I find myself living and working in Washington, DC, completely independent once again.  I never knew those people who died one year ago today, but their lives are surely an inspiration to myself and countless others.

Kate August
Kate August

I read FEARLESS last week, and it is a magnificent tribute, not only to  Adam, but also to his SEAL brothers. 8-6-11, is one of those senseless, mindless, tragedies of war, that break your heart and haunt your soul. All of them heroes making the ultimate sacrifice, doing a job they loved, and believed in . 

Mitzi Hopper Lindsey
Mitzi Hopper Lindsey

I have read FEARLESS and it is one awesome book...About an AWESOME Man..

Linda Buvens-Butts
Linda Buvens-Butts

I am still waiting on the information of WHO up the chain of command allowed or ordered all of these seals into one helicopter????

Lisa Dunkirk
Lisa Dunkirk

Thank you, Eric, for a wonderful tribute to these incredible heroes.  You have an amazing knack for putting into words just what makes a Navy SEAL.  Our nation lost many warriors that day, but they were also fathers, sons, brothers and uncles.  My heart goes out to the friends and loved ones they left behind.  Thank you all for your sacrifice.

Richard Nixon
Richard Nixon

Thank you  Eric, after reading FEARLESS this hit home even more.

gmanalishi
gmanalishi

This tragically moving piece puts into perspective the shameless lie that was the Iraq war. These selfless brave men did not think of anything else but to serve and die for their country. The politicians who sent them to war were only thinking about their own re-election chances. What an abomination.

TammieMcClure
TammieMcClure

@Arthur Facteau I know this is late but these ARE the dying words because this author saw them just before they deployed, these were the last public statements made by these heroes. Their actual dying words are between them and their maker and not for us to hear or read.

TammieMcClure
TammieMcClure

@O_Pinion These aren't the everyday grunts, these are special forces, they DO have a different mentality than the regular military. 

Down_Range
Down_Range

@O_Pinion Keep your O_Pinion to yourself. That is an idiotic comparison. Lots of people work and scrifice to put food on their table and keep their children warm at night. Only a proud few (ALL Service Members) are put in harms way to defend a way of life for an entire country, and sacrifice for one another.

Next time you feel like your situation is tough, ask yourself if being in a foreign land while facing an enemy that wants solely to slaughter you is where you would rather be.

TaraPoteet
TaraPoteet

@gh79 None of the men that died were part of the mission that took out Bin Laden.

willbeau
willbeau

Linda. Very normal for a unit to fly together to maintain strong command and control after insertion. Poor unit cohesion unit end in more casualties averaged across the theatre. I cannot imagine any commander wanting to split their command and lose cohesion. The loss of life in this situation represents the terrible reality of war.

Atque in perpetuum frater ave atque vale. R.I.P.

EdTwidley
EdTwidley

You have absolutely no idea what you are talking about.  Iraq was a surprise party for Saudis.  We couldn't invade SA directly, so we parked next door.  As a bonus, we got Iranians and Syrians among others.  At the same time, we were fanning the flames of Arab Spring, and now all the money that was going to fund jihad in Iraq and around the world has been diverted to attempts of gaining control over the recently reset nations.

sgtbilko
sgtbilko

This is Afghanistan, not Iraq.  But if you can't use a map, Google can.

nethbert
nethbert

If you actually read fearless, Adam Brown had no doubt what we were doing was right, also these deaths occurred in Afganistan. War is never popular so I don't think they were looking to get re-elected but looking to keep us safe in the years to come!

Cmdr_Casey_Ryback
Cmdr_Casey_Ryback

Then you are stating, this was S.O.P.? That it will continue on?

Do you have any evidence of this? 

Thank you.

Jeffrey Geez Glavick
Jeffrey Geez Glavick

You have no idea what your talking about, is the middle east now a more peaceful region as Georgew Bush suggested? ha. Bush said he "just knew" that Hussein had WMD, so we invaded Iraq on his gut feeling, and the fact that Husseion tried to kill his Daddy. Thing is the only guts that were spillied and are spilling, belong to other people's children. Ps. North Korea has WMD, and? figure it out, we knew Hussein had none,therefore we invaded. , so that makes Bush a war criminal. Ps- The Arab Spring? will bite us where it hurts.

Joan McDermott Morris
Joan McDermott Morris

1st, I thank God everyday, we have warriors like the SEALS/Delta amp; the rest of the SF community.  

Having said that,  the Iraq war was NOT a way to 'threaten' SA.   Instead, despite ample warning from all the layers in the region,  it accomplished what every ally (except Israel) warned us would happen.  Iraq destabilized the region, after a bloody civil strife ( the final chapter's not written yet)  and strengthened Iran.    We ended up with a net loss on that one.

Down_Range
Down_Range

@TrinaHarris @TaraPoteet WP not an option as spouses and families are not in WP. Those guys would choose to be with loved ones over hiding without them. Other than CNN or MSNBC or a wild card team member outing them all, those guys from the UBL raid are not living in fear. Besides this involved too many other guys such as the helo crew.

Know for a fact? What answer did you really expect?

jrterrier
jrterrier

To blame it all on W is baloney.  We have Senate who approved the war in Iraq.

EdTwidley
EdTwidley

Your post sounds like everything you know came from Yahoo.  Have you been over there?  Do you know people who have?  There's a whole world of cloak and dagger sh!t going on that you'll never hear in the media.

Hussein was inconsequential and irrelevant to our actual mission there... collateral damage if you like. 

Wait and see - the Sunni Shia civil war is starting.  We don't have a dog in that fight, and they'll be so busy killing each other they'll forget we ever darkened their doorstep.

EdTwidley
EdTwidley

Threaten?!  HA!  We were destroying them.  I was in and out of Saudi for 3 years while this was going on, and everyone there had a brother or cousin that went over for Jihad and never came back.  Don't believe what you see on TV - our losses were negligible, our enemies were destroyed.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,104 other followers