The Sole Survivor – Navy SEAL Story

The Washington Post has an amazing interview / account of a Navy SEAL who was ambushed in Afghanistan by Taliban fighters a couple years ago. He was the only member of his team to survive. It’s a moving story and well worth a quiet read.

As we go about our daily, menial lives, a parallel world of war plays host to tragedy and heroism, betrayal and loyalty. We’re indebted to the journalists who give us the occasional peek.

8 comments on “The Sole Survivor – Navy SEAL Story
  • It is a good article, but indebted to the journalist? What about the guy in the story?

    From what I can tell, the story was interviewed and written in New York City when the guy was visiting Ground Zero. Was the journalist even in the region?

    Also, as somebody who is close friends with a Navy SEAL, an Air Force 2nd Lieutenant, a Marine 2nd Lieutenant, and two Army Privates (one in Iraq at the moment), I feel very much that it’s not a parallel world. And that we are not living menial lives in connection with them. Our emotional support is crucial in their world, not parallel, not menial.

    Granted, I don’t know how close or distanced you are from the war, but your writing makes you seem distanced from it all, Ben, and perhaps you should be aware of that as you ponder this current affair further.

    PS – as a point of writing, it’s frustrating when you are vague as you are with your description of the article’s “moving” nature. Moving how? Open up more. Sometimes I wonder if blogging lends itself to an acceptance of downgraded writing.

  • thanks for the smart comment Jonathan.

    My point about journalists should have been made in more general terms — there are many who ARE in the region and should be recognized. Even those aren’t, like the author of this story, should also be praised for reporting such an emotional and delicate story in a professional way.

    I’m distant from the realities on the ground. You are right. That’s why I said it’s a “parallel” world — you give a good reminder that it’s different for everybody.

  • Wow, that was amazing. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen the moral shades of gray in warfare so aptly portrayed. That article definitely gave my own decision-making some perspective: the things that I struggle with or are divided over, are absolutely nothing by comparison to the choice between killing civilians and jeopardizing the lives of one’s own comrades. I am very grateful not to face those kinds of decisions at this stage in my life.

  • its true that journalists can be the eyes and ears for those of us back at home but the overwhelming majority of soldiers would say a journalist is the absolute last thing they want to deal with in their squad. If we have such respect and gratitude for those who fight for us, perhaps we should pay heed to their desires and not our own selfish perversion for the “right to know”. Many Vietnam veterans cite the media coverage of that war as a major reason we lost. But since ‘Nam vets have always been shit on anyway so why would we listen to them now? Yea, thatll do it.

  • If I ever have the fortune of building a company, going public and cashing out I plan on donating a significant majority of the proceeds to help our military personal pursue their dreams. Like it or not, without them we wouldn’t be here having this conversation. We are all indebted to them. The men and women in uniform are light years ahead of the average American (or above average for that matter) in terms of leadership and decision making.

  • I, too, was surprised at the call of indebtedness to the journalists, instead of to the soldier.

    I hold more respect for the man risking his life doing the work of defending our national security than the man risking his life to report it. I suppose that is because I view the former as a necessity, and the latter as a luxury. I know we have lost journalists in war, and that that loss is every bit as real as the loss of a soldier, but I suppose that the fact that that soldier has the flag on his sleeve and his putting himself on the line in the name of American values and defense is what makes the difference to me.

    When a civilian signs up for the military, and becomes a soldier, they are saying that their life’s work and their blood are dedicated to upholding the constitution, the values and ideals of America, at home and abroad. I can think of only one higher calling.

    I know you have addressed this specific post already, but it is borderline disturbing that reading an article put together by a journalist from interviews in the States of real tragedy and moral decisions in combat creates an appreciation for the journalist’s work. It seems nonsensical.

    Maybe it is because the soldier is portrayed as a country boy with no appreciation of the choices he is making or how he views Afghans prior to his experience of being rescued by some. He wants to kill as many SOB’s as he can, and on and on.

    I’m sure there are soldiers who have this mindset. Perhaps the subject of this article is one of them. But the take away from this article is that when you are exposed to a foreign people, you can understand them more fully. There are Afghans who will sell you out, leading directly to the death of your buddies (maybe). There are Afghans who will help you, risk their village against an entrenched guerrilla power because of Tribal honor and culture. Certainly.

    I came away from this article with an appreciation for the very difficult moral dilemmas that our soldiers are put in every day. I’m sure we are killing innocents overseas daily. But placed in a situation of high stress, with reports of children blowing themselves and American soldiers up with dynamite, how does one react, when self preservation dictates that one must have the most cynical attitude possible with respect to any interaction with the natives?

    You’d like to give the kid chocolate and a hug, to do the diplomatic thing, so that maybe, he won’t think Americans are terrible. But you’ve heard so many stories (official and anecdotal) of kids being used as bombs and spies. And you are certainly more distrustful of anyone older than 6.

    What do you do?

    What do you do?

    I can’t judge these soldiers for their actions or atrocities. I’ve not been in their situation. In the cool of my air conditioned home in the States, it is easy to say that our soldiers are barbarians, murderers, and the like. But I’ve never been in the position of having the lives of my friends in my hands, of having to make a decision to trust a stranger in a land where I know I am not trusted, and that my trust has been betrayed.

    What do you do?

    When a wrong decision means that you’ll wake every night of the rest of your life to the questions of your dead friends asking why you let the Afghans go? Wishing you had been killed so you didn’t have to think about your friend’s death, and how you caused it (indirectly).

    When your choices are limited to
    a) murder;
    b) do nothing and hope that it doesn’t lead to an ambush and the lives of you or your squad members being taken;

    What do you do?

    Yes, the “right” answer is to follow the rules of decency, honor, and America, live those values with integrity, and that means we don’t kill innocents.

    Because, according to ethics, it wasn’t your choice that killed your friends. It wasn’t the Afghan who reported to the Taliban. It was the Taliban who made the decision, in war, armed with superior information, to attack Americans that ended your friend’s lives.

    Each person made rational and ethical decisions.

    But that doesn’t quiet the pleadings, accusations, and screams of your dead buddies’ memories in your nightmares.

    So what do you do?

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