On October 7th, 2001 in direct response to the 9/11 attacks on America which had occurred less than a month earlier, the United States military launched ‘Operation Enduring Freedom’ in Afghanistan to wipe out the bases from which the terrorist al Qaeda organization was then operating.

The American military worked with a group of coalition forces, and a group of Afghani Northern Alliance forces, and was able to quickly wipe out the abusive Taliban military that were operating in the region and drive them from power. This began an effort which continues today to establish peace and stability in the historically backwards and worn-torn nation.

It was into this continuing conflict that Michael P. “Murph” Murphy from Patchogue, New York entered in early 2005. Murphy was a natural athlete who enjoyed playing football and soccer as a kid, and who became a life guard as well. He went on to attend Penn State University where he graduated in 1998 with degrees in both Psychology and Political Science.

Murph had been accepted to law school, but decided instead to serve his country by challenging himself to try to become a Navy SEAL. He entered the Navy’s Officer Candidate School in fall of 2000, and over the next two years trained with various Army Airborne and Navy SEAL units. He finally realized his goal of joining the Navy SEALS on his deployment at Pearl Harbor in the summer of 2002.

The SEALs are perhaps the most integral part of the Navy’s special operations force. They are experts in special recon and direct action missions. They take their names from the terrain in which they operate: the Sea, Air, and Land. Only an elite few are equipped and able to make it through the rigorous training, and Murph had joined that group.

He was first sent to the Middle East in the fall of 2002, and over the next few years served various roles and missions in Jordan, Qatar, and Djibouti before being assigned to Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan in early 2005. It was here as an assistant officer-in-charge of SEAL Vehicle Delivery Team One’s ‘Alfa’ platoon that he would make the ultimate sacrifice for his country.

On June 28th, 2005, Murphy was assigned to lead a team of four SEAL’s in what was known as ‘Operation Red Wing’, an effort to kill or capture a Taliban leader by the name of Ahmad Shah who himself commanded a group of fighters known as the ‘Mountain Tigers’.

Murphy’s team successfully infiltrated the area, but were stumbled upon by some passing local goat herders. The team had to decide whether to allow the locals to live and move along, or to kill them and ensure their presence remained unknown. They voted to let the herders live. A short time after the locals left, a large Taliban contingent surrounded and attacked the SEALs.

The SEALs tried to escape, but were in desperate need of backup. Murphy’s communications man ran out into the open to try to get a better signal and was shot in the hand. Murphy realized the radios were not working in the mountainous area, and fought his way into the open himself to try his cellphone. This call for help was answered, but Murphy was shot in the abdomen. He returned to cover and continued to fight off the enemy despite his fatal injuries.

Murphy’s call for help was answered by a helicopter with reinforcements, but the chopper was shot down by an RPG killing all 16 persons aboard. The fighting went on for two hours, resulting in 35 Taliban soldiers being killed. However, Murphy and two of his team succumbed to their wounds. In total, 8 Navy SEALS aboard the chopper added to Murphy and his two team members made for the highest number of SEALs killed in action since Vietnam.

The lone surviving member of Murphy’s team, Marcus Luttrell, had been blasted over a ridge by an RPG and knocked unconscious. Some time later he regained consciousness and managed to crawl away, but was so badly injured that he could not signal to the searchers looking for him. He was ultimately found and tended to by some local villagers, who managed to keep the Taliban from taking him before finally getting him back into American hands after a few days.

On the 4th of July, 2005, Michael Murphy’s body was finally discovered by a military search and rescue team and returned to his family for burial in his home state of New York. On October 7th, 2007, President George W. Bush presented the family with his Medal of Honor. His actions had allowed the location of his unit to be made known to American forces, which ultimately led to Luttrell’s rescue.

As has been stated here before, the Medal of Honor is the highest military decoration that can be awarded. In his citation, it was stated that Murph had “demonstrated extraordinary heroism in the face of grave danger” and went on to state: “Demonstrating exceptional resolve, Lieutenant Murphy valiantly led his men in engaging the large enemy force.”

The citation went on to conclude: “In his final act of bravery, he continued to engage the enemy until he was mortally wounded, gallantly giving his life for his country and for the cause of freedom.” Michael Murphy thus became the first American so honored for their role in Afghanistan. His father, Daniel, later stated that Murph carried with him a patch from the NYFD’s Engine 53 and Ladder 43 “as a symbol of why he was there and what he was doing.”

Throughout our history, brave men and women have risen to the challenges and responsibilities of repeatedly defending the cause of freedom that is at the very core and nature of the United States of America. Before we came into existence there was never a nation such as ours, and it is only because of the heroic and selfless sacrifices of individuals such as Michael P. Murphy that we continue to exist and thrive today.

NOTE: This is the latest in a continuing series titled ‘Real American Heroes’, all entries of which can be viewed by clicking on the label below this article at the http://www.mattveasey.com website