What Is Operation Red Wings?

February 15, 2017 4 min read

To share the powerful message of how important it is to remember everyone deployed in our armed forces, veteran-owned American clothing retailer American Tribute Brand is proud to showcase its Operation Red Wings Tribute collection.

Although those who fought in the mountains of Afghanistan for this mission were immortalized with a Hollywood feature film, the real-life triumphs and sacrifices of these soldiers were nothing short of remarkable.

As part of Operation Enduring Freedom, four Navy SEALs took on the covert codename of Detroit’s hockey team, the Red Wings, when they were deployed to help secure a territory in the Kunar Province. This area was home to many innocent herders who were haunted by the remnants of terrorist leadership, but some remaining Taliban sympathizers also lived in this region. The SEALs were deployed for the purposes of making way for infrastructure recovery and development as part of America’s aid in the democratic rebirth of the Afghan nation in defiance of the Taliban.

By then, late June 2005, much of Afghanistan had been established in its new democracy, but Operation Red Wings was needed to deploy in the Kunar Province near the eastern border to Pakistan, which was still facing chaos at the hands of both the larger terrorist regime and advantageous secondary insurgent groups with some independent but still malicious motives. The American soldiers were sent to resist these insurgent groups to facilitate and uphold authority of the democratically established leadership.

The first objective of Operation Red Wings was reconnaissance to locate a Taliban resurgence advocate and aspirational regional leader, Ahmad Shah, who wished to forcibly disrupt the newly formed democracy for his own gains as leader of the so-called Mountain Tigers. The Navy SEALs took up position in the Hindu Kush mountain range at an altitude of 10,000 feet.

Originally deployed for strictly this reconnaissance and surveillance. The team of Navy SEALs was led by:

  • 29-year-old, New York-born Lieutenant Michael P. Murphy.
  • 25-year-old, Colorado-born Gunner’s Mate Petty Officer Second Class Danny P. Dietz.
  • 29-year-old, California-born Sonar Technician Petty Officer Second Class Matthew G. Axelson.
  • The mission’s sole survivor, Texas-born Navy Hospital Corpsman Second Class Marcus Luttrell.

operation red wings

The original objectives of the mission were achieved and the SEALs were trying to remain hidden. After being stumbled upon by what appeared to be innocent locals, which were later reported to have likely been anti-Coalition sympathizers, the team came to understand it was only a matter of time before the insurgents who were actively on the lookout for US opposition would discover their whereabouts, and the four men relocated to their fallback position.

Less than an hour later, the team was engaged and overwhelmed by dozens of Shah’s men, all armed with machine guns, assault rifles, and even grenade launchers. Although the reconnaissance team carried multiple communication devices with them, they were unable to reach backup at Bagram Air Base for a long enough time to report their location as they attempted to flee their attackers. Under impossible odds, the four soldiers were forced to fight alone against more than fifty heavily armed Taliban attackers.

Although these four soldiers alone are estimated to have killed 35 Taliban fighters, three of the four did not survive the battle. Dietz and Murphy were both killed trying to radio for help. Even after being shot twice, Lieutenant Murphy remained in the open where he could hold reception on his cell phone long enough to request aid for his men, and went down fighting even despite being explicitly outnumbered by the enemy. Officer Axelson also held out until his last, continuing to fire against Shah’s men after being shot in the chest, but was eventually shot in the head as well.

After firing rocket-propelled grenades on the four men, a blast from which separated Luttrell from the others, Shah’s men also used the grenade launchers to shoot down the MH-47 Chinook helicopter when it broke out ahead of formation among Army attack helicopters, striking it down as it was flying across the dangerous mountain terrain. The helicopter was loaded with eight Navy SEALs and eight Army Night Stalkers intent to come to rescue the Red Wings. The pilot lost control of the helicopter, at which time it made contact with a mountain ledge and was then lost in the ravine below.

Sixteen were killed when the helicopter went down. They were Jacques J. Fontan of Louisiana, Daniel R. Healy of New Hampshire, Erik S. Kristensen of California, Jeffery A. Lucas of Oregon, Michael M. McGreevy of New York, Jeffrey S. Taylor of West Virginia, Shane E. Patton of Nevada, Shamus O. Goare, of Ohio, Corey J. Goodnature of Minnesota, Marcus V. Muralles of Indiana, James W. Ponder III of Tennessee, Stephen C. Reich of Connecticut, Michael L. Russell of Virginia, as well as three men from Florida, Kip A. Jacoby, James E. Suh, and Chris J. Scherkenbach.

The sole survivor, Luttrell, struggled seven miles against a gunshot wound in one leg, shrapnel in both legs, and three cracked vertebrae. He reached an Afghan shepherd who, luckily, was aligned with the democratic leadership. The shepherd brought the badly wounded officer to his village for medical care and food, where the villagers hid and protected Luttrell from Taliban forces who came upon the village while hunting for Luttrell.

When search helicopters were also unable to find Luttrell hidden in the village, Luttrell was able to send a message out with a villager on foot, from his hiding place and out to a Marine outpost miles away. Luttrell was able to return home and tell the tale of his fellow soldiers’ bravery and help track down the remains of his fallen brothers to be brought home.

operation red wings tribute collection

American Tribute Brand seeks to honor the bravery of those who served, with American clothing designs meant to help remember everyone deployed. A portion of the profits from the Operation Red Wings Tribute collection is donated to the Navy SEAL Foundation.

Josh Miller
Josh Miller

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