Marcus Luttrell: Biography & Quotes

Instructor: Allison Waithe-Benton

Allison has been a history teacher for nine years. She holds a master's in teaching.

Learn about Marcus Luttrell, a former Navy SEAL who was awarded the Navy Cross for his role in Operation Red Wing, which inspired his book Lone Survivor and a film of the same name.

Operation Red Wing

Marcus Luttrell first became known to most Americans after the publication of his book, Lone Survivor in 2007. Lone Survivor depicts the incident during which Luttrell earned the Navy Cross, the second-highest individual honor for bravery the Navy awards.

The Navy Cross is awarded for heroism in combat.
Navy Cross

Luttrell was indeed the lone survivor of Operation Red Wing, a secret Navy SEAL operation in 2005. The goal of the four-man mission was to capture and kill a Taliban leader. Luttrell and his team, which included team leader Michael P Murphy, Danny Dietz, and Matthew Axelson, were discovered by a group of Afghan herders as they waited in the Hindu Kush mountains of Afghanistan, ready to act.

The SEALs voted to let the herders go. According to Luttrell's account of the incident on his official website, ''Luttrell believed they immediately betrayed the team's location to local Taliban forces and within an hour, the SEALs were engaged in an intense gun battle.''

All SEALs but Luttrell were killed in that battle; Michael P. Murphy's actions earned him the Medal of Honor; Danny Dietz and Matthew Axelson were awarded the Navy Cross.

A helicopter loaded with more SEALs and the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (known as the 'Night Stalkers') was dispatched to assist Luttrell and his team. The helicopter was shot down by an enemy rocket-propelled grenade (RPG). All 16 servicemembers onboard were killed.

SEALs are special forces in the U.S. Navy, trained to operate in any environment.
Navy SEALs

Alone, shot twice and severely wounded with a broken back, Luttrell crawled seven miles before he was discovered and rescued by Mohammad Gulab, a Pashtun village leader. Gulab alerted US forces in Afghanistan, and Luttrell was subsequently rescued. Gulab's actions have made him the target of the Taliban. He and his family now live in hiding outside of Afghanistan. As of 2015, they still sought asylum in the United States.

Luttrell's determination to survive stems from his patriotism. Luttrell writes on his website, ''I will never quit. My nation expects me to be physically harder and mentally stronger than my enemies. If knocked down I will get back up, every time. I will draw on every remaining ounce of strength to protect my teammates and to accomplish our mission. I am never out of the fight.''

Luttrell was seriously injured in Operation Red Wing. He has had numerous surgeries, including having a metal cage installed around his spine. Nonetheless, he completed one more tour after Operation Red Wing. Despite the actions that earned him the Navy Cross, and his commitment to service afterward, Luttrell is reluctant to claim the badge of hero:

''I mean, you have to understand: Red Wing was just one operation I did of over a hundred,'' he said in an interview with Task & Purpose magazine. ''But it's the one more people know about. So, there's more sides to me than just that. Everybody's got different doors you can walk in. I like to think of myself as just a regular guy.''

Continued Service

One of Luttrell's other sides is that of a philanthropist. Luttrell created the Lone Survivor Foundation, which aims to assist wounded service members and their families adjust to post-deployment life. He was inspired by his own healing, which he partially attributed to the solitude of his quiet Texas ranch.

Luttrell wanted to create a similar experience for returning service members. The Lone Survivor Foundation uses activities such as nature retreats and equine therapy to complement the medical and psychological therapy typically provided by government-sponsored veterans programs.

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