Saturday, September 10, 2011

Confidence, Commitment, Character

Review by Bill Doughty
On Sept. 11, 2001 Michael P. Murphy was an ensign in Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training.
Michael Murphy, a graduate of Penn State University, who grew up in Patchogue, Long Island, New York, internalized and personalized what happened on 9/11, according to colleagues, mentors and writer Gary Williams, author of SEAL of Honor: Operation Red Wings and the Life of Michael P. Murphy, USN.
Murphy led a SEAL team into Afghanistan in 2005 where he faced a profound ethical dilemma after capturing some civilian non-combatants.  His dilemma and moral decision is examined in detail in another book about Operation Red Wings, Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell.
The team then endured a prolonged firefight against a larger Taliban force.  At the end of the terrifying and deadly fight, Murphy faced a second, more personal moral choice.  At great personal risk, he put himself directly in the path of enemy fire in order to call in help for his team.
In SEAL of Honor Williams introduces us to Murphy’s family, shows in detail his training regimen as a Navy SEAL, describes the mission Murphy led in Afghanistan during Operation Red Wings, and describes the honors paid to Murphy and his family after he was killed.  SEAL of Honor  preserves history and offers a well-documented biography of an American hero.  
Murphy’s bond with first responders from his home state is legendary.  He had his unit wear the bright orange patch of FDNY Engine Co. 54, Ladder Co. 43 -- “El Barrio’s Bravest” -- on their uniforms as a team symbol and constant reminder of 9/11 and why the SEALs were in Afghanistan, according to Williams.
Marcus Luttrell refers to the patch several times in Lone Survivor.
Luttrell’s book is understandably an autobiographical account.  Before describing Operation Red Wings, Lone Survivor explores Luttrell’s upbringing in Texas, his SEAL training in San Diego and a mission in Iraq desperately searching in vain for weapons of mass destruction: “chasing shadows out there in that burning hot, sandy wilderness.”
Luttrell’s telling of the firefight with the Taliban in Operation Red Wings is gripping and graphic, but at the end of Luttrell’s book the reader is left with a hunger to know more about the hero of the tale, leading protagonist Michael P. Murphy.
Spartan warrior culture depicted in the movie 300.
Seal of Honor shows us how Murphy’s qualifications as a leader developed starting in early childhood.  As a toddler, Michael’s favorite book was Wally Piper’s The Little Engine that Could.  He was a voracious reader at Canaan Elementary School.  
According to Williams, Murphy’s favorite book was Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield, a historical fiction novel about the 480 B.C. Battle of Thermopylae, in which 300 brave Spartans protected their homeland and democracy from an invading Persian Army.
Greek warrior culture is part of the SEAL tradition.
The never-give-up attitude, willingness to sacrifice for a cause and strong personal ethos all contribute to what makes a Navy SEAL, provided the individual can tough it through BUD/S training, described in detail by Williams.
Despite the brutal training, Michael soon realized that almost anyone could meet the physical requirements of the SEALs, but the unending challenge from day one would be the mental toughness, that never-ending inner drive that pushes you forward when every nerve and muscle fiber in your body tells you to stop -- to quit.  That warrior mind-set -- the mental toughness -- is what separates a Navy SEAL...
SEAL of Honor includes inspiring SEAL Creed excerpts or, in some cases, complete remarks from SEAL leaders like Adm. Eric T. Olson, Chief Warrant Officer Mike Loo and Commodore Pete Van Hooser.  All focus on leadership expectations and maintaining high standards.
Williams describes the tragic rescue attempt in which Lt. Cmdr. Erik S. Kristensen and 15 other would-be rescuers were killed when their MH-47E Chinook helo, call sign Turbine 33, was shot down by the Taliban.
Both Lone Survivor and SEAL of Honor showcase the importance of the concept: “no one left behind.” 
Near the end of SEAL of Honor, Williams lists each of the warriors who died trying to rescue Murphy and his team.
Lt. Michael P. Murphy.  U.S. Navy photo.
He describes the many tributes to Lt. Michael P. Murphy, including the awarding of the Medal of Honor by President George W. Bush.  One of the most significant tributes, especially as far as Sailors are concerned, is the naming of an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer for him, dedicated May 7, 2008.  
During his remarks, Secretary Donald C. Winter predicted, “Every Sailor who crosses the bow, every Sailor who hears the officer of the deck announce the arrival of the commanding officer, and every Sailor who enters a foreign land representing our great nation will do so as an honored member of the USS Michael Murphy,” writes Williams.
Osama bin Laden haunts both books, written prior to President Barack Obama’s authorization to kill or capture the terrorist leader of al-Qaida, the group responsible for the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.  After a Muslim ceremony, bin Laden was buried at sea from USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) just days before the USS Michael Murphy christening.
USS Michael Murphy (DDG 112) was christened at Bath Iron Works, Maine on May 7, 2011 (after publication of Williams’s book), on what would have been Murphy’s 35th birthday.
“It is my sincere belief that this ship will build on the momentum gained by our special operations forces in the fight against extremism and sail the seas in a world made more peaceful by sustained American vigilance, power and dignity,” said Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead. “This ship will carry Michael’s legacy and values to Sailors several decades from now and to a new generation of Americans...”

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