Archive for the ‘BOOKS’ Category

In the tradition of the bestselling Blind Man’s Bluff, a former navy diver and fast-attack submariner provides a riveting portrayal of the secret underwater struggle between the US and the USSR, and reveals previously undisclosed details about the most dangerous, daring and decorated missions of the Cold War.

The Backstory about the Cuban Missile Crisis is really interesting and informative. We did come withing seconds of being destroyed by a Russian Nuclear Weapon launched by one of their Submarines. Only the Professionalism of their Sub Captains who had to choose to launch or not, scary shit indeed…

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A few weeks ago I was extended a great privilege from Gary Williams, the author of SEAL of Honor: Operation Red Wings and the Life of Lt. Michael P. Murphy, USN. Williams has written a superb new biography of Murphy, who was killed in action on June 28, 2005 during Operation Red Wings and received from President George W. Bush the Medal of Honor for his gallantry in combat.

Gary asked me to deliver a speech during a SEAL of Honor book event this May. Of course, I readily accepted. I never pass up an opportunity to praise our men and women in uniform, but I am Army not Navy, I am a paratrooper not a SEAL, and I had never had the privilege of meeting Michael Murphy.

So I had some work to do to get to know this man on my own terms before I could speak with the authenticity that I desired. I already knew that Lieutenant Murphy and I shared one significant thing in common, which was that we both fought the Taliban in the Korengal Valley. 

When I was the Deputy Commanding General of the Combined/Joint Task Force in charge of all conventional U.S. troops in Afghanistan, I frequently circulated the battlefield. On January, 5 2007 I flew in my UH-60 Blackhawk with an Apache helicopter wingman from Bagram Air Base to Jalalabad then on to Asadabad, and finally into the Korengal Combat Outpost. The 10th Mountain Division had established this remote redoubt on the heavily trafficked trail from Pakistan into central Afghanistan, in the wake of Operation Red Wings in an effort to bring to heel the Taliban who were operating at will in the region, namely Qari Ismail, also known as Ahmad Shah.

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It was a cold, clear day in the Afghan Hindu Kush Mountains when we came in for a hot landing. As the wheels touched down, PKM machine gun fire rang out from three different directions followed closely by rocket propelled grenades and mortars. We scattered from the aircraft and joined Captain Jim McKnight’s A Company, 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry and dueled for ninety minutes with the Taliban who were attacking us from three sides.

This was the very same piece of ground where Navy SEALs Michael Murphy, Matthew Axelson, and Danny Dietz were killed, and from which Marcus Luttrell escaped, and where another 16 brave Task Force-160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment “Nightstalkers” and Navy SEALS were killed in the rescue attempt.

I know this terrain exceptionally well. I’ve fought the enemy on that ground. And of course I’ve known men such as Michael Murphy.

But I didn’t know Michael Murphy, the man.

My first step, then, was to read SEAL of Honor. It is a compelling read chock full of lessons learned for military and civilian alike. It is a tearjerker from the very beginning and Williams does an excellent job of capturing the duality of our everyday peaceful lives here in the United States and the exceptional heroism and harrowing tragedies that occur overseas. He does this by highlighting the daily rhythm of the families involved that remain relatively unchanged until the news seeping out of Afghanistan provides a clue that Michael Murphy might have been near the action. All of the key figures in the book had continued on their daily regimen, worried, certainly upset that warriors had been killed and wounded, but of course thinking it had to be someone else. Then, with the news that Michael was involved, the world stopped for his loving parents, fiancé, friends, peers, and extended family around the Long Island and the Naval Special Warfare communities.

SEAL of Honor works on many levels. First, it is an evenhanded account of a young man’s drive to become a Navy SEAL despite several other life path opportunities. Some men and women just want to serve their country and Michael Murphy was of that noble gene pool. Second, SEAL of Honor captures the agony of those on the home front as they pine for their loved ones in harm’s way and pray that the government vehicle doesn’t stop in front of their house and officers in full dress uniform don’t appear on their doorstep. Importantly, SEAL of Honor is also a trove of leadership lessons that future generations of service men and women can read, debate, and study as they formulate their own unique leadership styles.

Beyond reading SEAL of Honor, though, I felt I needed something more tactile in order to speak or write about Michael Murphy so I took a weekend and flew to Long Island MacArthur Airport, rented a car and early on a Saturday morning as the sun rose over Calverton National Cemetery, I was kneeling in front of Michael’s headstone. I admired the care with which his family secured important mementos such as coins from the Chief of Naval Operations, the White House Situation Room, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, one that read, “Courage,” and another that read, “Son.” I added three of my Deputy Commanding General coins from the 10th Mountain Division, one each for Murphy, Dietz, and Axelson. I found it fitting that Michael’s headstone was set apart and to the front of those of hundreds of other veterans, as if he was commanding a formation.

I was also comforted to find that Michael was in good company. Three headstones down from Michael’s was that of a renowned fellow 10th Mountain Division warrior, Staff Sergeant Anthony Lagman, who served as both a Marine and a Soldier and was killed in Afghanistan March 18, 2004. Forward Operating Base Lagman in Zabul Province remains a key to Coalition success in southeastern Afghanistan.

After a rather emotional morning at Calverton, I then drove to Patchogue-Medford High School, which was unlocked with lots of activities taking place. I walked into the foyer and saw a wall dedicated to Michael’s life and heroism. In a trophy case to the left of Michael’s wall were mementos of “famous graduates.” There were the track shoes of an Olympic athlete, a Grammy Award program from an R&B singer, and the baseball card of a professional baseball player. But Michael’s wall reigned supreme here and I thought the principal had it about right. Students every day walk into that school and see the photos of an American hero, an alumnus, who died for his country, dwarfing the significant, but distant accomplishments of the aforementioned graduates.

As I drove from his high school to the post office that now bore a memorial and his portrait, I noticed American flags flying everywhere and instantly knew that it was as much his family as it was his community that provided Michael his strong sense of patriotism and unwavering moral code that served him, and us, so well.

At the post office, I wrote a quick note to my daughter about to graduate from the University of Colorado, bought a Purple Heart stamp, and then mailed it from Patchogue United States Post Office, which has a beautiful memorial to Michael and his team that faces Main Street, Patchogue, NY, Michael’s hometown.

My final stop was Lake Ronkonkoma where Michael was a lifeguard. There, I saw a father and son reading the memorial, which paid tribute not only to Michael and his team, but also to the TF-160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment “Nightstalkers” and other SEALs that perished in the rescue operation. This being my final stop, I went for a run around a portion of the lake and through the adjacent neighborhoods, reflecting on what I learned about Michael Murphy.

First, as an author of thriller fiction I always study heroes, real life and fictional, and the best heroes are humble, selfless, hard working, and determined. Michael Murphy is a true American hero in the finest sense of the word.

Second, he leaves behind a legacy that will help educate and train young leaders in our country, making us a better nation. All who read his story will grow as citizens, understanding and hopefully emulating the honor and moral code by which he lived his life.

Lastly, his family and friends, and the Patchogue and Long Island communities have a lot to be proud of. They have honored Michael Murphy as he should be honored, with great dignity and enduring presence. When I returned from my trip, I related much of what I’ve written here to a friend and at the end of my story he said, “Sounds like a place I would want to raise my family.”

That’s about the highest praise any community could ask for and as I drifted through Long Island for one day on my Michael Murphy tour, I couldn’t agree more.

I recommend SEAL of Honor to all who hold freedom dear. Gary Williams captures the essence of our country, our hopes and dreams, our fears and misgivings, all in the compelling narrative of one young man’s desire to serve his country.

Mostly, though, I came away from Long Island reassured of our nation’s values. In an era of petty politics and shortsighted vision, in Michael Murphy we have a role model who reflected the values of his family and community and understood the debt that we all owe to those who came before us.

And now we owe Michael Murphy our everlasting appreciation for laying down his life in a remote corner of the world not too far from where the enemy first planned to fly airplanes as guided missiles into a city not too far from where Michael was raised.

And I owe Gary Williams a thank you for writing SEAL of Honor and extending to me the privilege of getting to know, in my own way, this remarkable young man. I served for 28 years in the Army and I never tire of learning the stories of great Americans.

You can count Michael Murphy as one of this nation’s best.