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For many decades, U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF) took as a matter of pride and principle the notion of quietly conducting missions without fanfare and without drawing attention to oneself. In fact, the existence of some SOF units, the Army’s 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, and the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, formerly known as SEAL Team 6, were never officially acknowledged, although numerous reports of their history, structure and mission success rates were widely published, including Colonel Charles Beckwith’s, the first commander of Delta Force, book about the unit he helped create [Delta Force: The Army’s Elite Counterterrorist Unit, 1983].
The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as the effort at destroying al Qaeda, have seen an enormous expansion in the number of SOF and in the frequency of their use. The so-called “war on terrorism,” in fact, as largely been both a SOF and CIA operation, involving endless small-unit operations by elite soldiers, sailors and airmen, as well as by CIA paramilitary officers, leading to much greater public visibility and awareness of these units. Additionally, as elected officials in the Executive and Legislative Branches of government have carelessly referenced SOF activities, more and more former members of elite units have decided to break the code of silence regarding the existence and nature of these units to both unburden themselves of the trials they endured and to cash in on their new-found fame. Consequently, bookshelves are now lined with volumes written by former commandos depicting their classified activities. Among those volumes is Marcus Luttrell’s Lone Survivor.
Luttrell’s depiction of Operation Red Wings (improperly referred to even by the author as “Operation Redwings”), a highly risky effort at capturing or killing a Taliban military leader that resulted in the loss of most of his team and his near-fatal wounding, is very much worth reading. Its depiction of that particular operation and of its disastrous ending is heartbreaking, as the SEALS killed in the operation represented among the finest men in the military, in addition to being the author’s teammates in the extremely close-knit society that is the Naval Special Warfare Command. As with many of the other newly-released books by former special forces personnel, Lone Survivor depicts the author’s life, including the influences on him and his decision to not just enlist in the Navy, but to subject himself to the incredibly grueling regimen that produces these elite sailors. As such, Luttrell’s book provides a window into the mind of those who choose that life.
As is common with military history books and memoirs, Lone Survivor has been heavily scrutinized for inaccuracies, one example of which is provided in the link below. Memoirs, by definition, are self-serving, and can gloss over unpleasant facts. Additionally, as with most authors of nonfiction, Luttrell’s memory cannot necessarily be counted upon to be flawless. On the whole, however, his book is definitely worth reading.
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