Our nation’s strength just lost more than 31 men

I probably shouldn’t have had this awful thought, because the loss of 31 soldiers is 31 individual tragedies that radiate throughout our countries, breaking the hearts of their families and friends, and all those who did or ever would depend upon them.

But the thought I had when I heard of the U.S. helicopter shot down in Afghanistan was, “I hope it wasn’t Special Ops people.” I said that because, having so recently read the account of the raid on Abbottabad, the initial details of the loss sounded like it was consistent with the kind of helicopter operation that SOC people perform all the time in that part of the world. And since our nation increasingly depends on that very small number of super-elite troops — the very same people being involved in taking out bin Laden, the Somali pirates and countless strategically important raids in Afghanistan and Pakistan — the loss of any significant number of them would be like losing a regiment in prior days. That’s the cold calculation that went on in my head along with the personal shock of losing so many fellow Americans, so many fellow humans.

But then my fears were realized:

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. officials tell The Associated Press that they believe that none of the Navy SEALs who died in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan had participated in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, although they were from the same unit that carried out the bin Laden mission.

Sources say that more than 20 Navy SEALs were among those lost in the crash in Afghanistan.

The operators from SEAL Team Six were flown by a crew of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. That’s according to other AP sources, one current and one former U.S. official. All sources spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive military matters.
One source says the team was thought to include 22 SEALs, three Air Force air controllers, seven Afghan Army troops, a dog and his handler, and a civilian interpreter, plus the helicopter crew…

God help their families. And the rest of us as well.

10 thoughts on “Our nation’s strength just lost more than 31 men

  1. Ralph Hightower

    I agree. Their families lost loved ones. We, the US, lost highly trained soldiers doing what they wanted to do, defending the freedoms that we enjoy.

    I am in a bit of nostalgia mode since I am transferring from DVR to DVD, pre and post launch videos of NASA’s final Space Shuttle mission. Three Apollo astronauts lost; two Space Shuttles lost, Challenger and Columbia, each with seven highly skilled people on board doing what they loved.

    The sacrifices of our defenders and explorers will not be forgotten.

  2. Steve Gordy

    There could be no more poignant reminder that in wartime it’s often the best who die.

  3. Brad

    In this case, to use a line that Will Smith used facetiously in “Men in Black,” we’re talking about “the best of the best of the best.” They were the elite among the elite among the very few who serve in offensive combat operations among the too few who serve at all. So I guess even another level of “best of” is warranted.

  4. TIM

    I know you meant well when you said you hoped it wasn’t special ops, but who exactly did you hope it would be? Quartermaster corps? Doctors and Nurses? Mechanics? The latter being my nephew bound for some hellhole or other in 2 weeks, well, it was a bit offensive. Again, I know you meant well.

  5. Brad

    Tim, obviously, I didn’t “hope it would be” anyone. I think I was pretty clear about the degree to which each person lost would have been a tragedy of tremendous human proportions.

    What I’m suggesting is that it’s also a blow to the nation’s military strength that is much greater than it would it this score or so of men — and the elite crews transporting them — had not been from SEAL Team 6. Such men are exceedingly rare, and while I don’t know the figures, I know that it costs a lot of money to bring them to this stage of training — making them the most effective soldiers (although technically sailors) in the history of the world.

    In strength and readiness terms, it’s like losing a much, much larger force. Do you see what I mean?

  6. Brad

    There’s also the propaganda consideration… al Qaeda will no doubt hail this as God’s wrath visited upon the unit that killed bin Laden.

    The point of my post is that there are considerations that — for the NATION — make this a greater loss, on an unemotional, calculating level, than if it had been others who are loved and treasured, and will be mourned, just as powerfully as these. The human tragedy is no greater, but the blow to the nation’s strength is.

  7. bud

    This is such a senstive subject and I don’t won’t to insult anyone, but isn’t a lost human life a great tragedy no matter what their background? I grieve for the families of these fine men. Brad, I know you’re a very compassionate guy but this probably could have been worded a little more carefully.

  8. Brad

    Folks, I worded it carefully, because I wanted to make sure that I was clear. NOTHING I said took away in any way from the PERSONAL tragedy of the loss of each of 30 people (or 37, or 38, depending on the report you read and whether you’re also counting the 7 or 8 Afghans, or just the Americans), whoever they had turned out to be.

    What I was saying, and I said it directly and clearly, is that there is an ADDITIONAL loss, a blow, a diminishment, of the nation’s military. That’s on top of the other, separate, personal, human loss.

    The observation is partly motivated by something I’ve seen over and over since 2001, when a handful of American special forces, generally under CIA direction, worked with the Northern Alliance and toppled the Taliban. Again and again since then, the critical strategic importance — greater than at any previous time in our history — of these few super-elite troops has been driven home again and again. We’re very dependent on them.

    As for this unit, the most elite, known as DEVGRU or the United States Naval Special Warfare Development Group, or more famously SEAL Team 6 — there are only about 300 of them, total. And we just lost 22.

    In the days when multiple armies, hundreds of thousands of men, held the same kind of strategic importance as this group of 300, this would have been like losing a whole division — much like the loss of all (that is, the two-thirds of it who were on the line) of the 106th Infantry Division (mostly captured rather than killed) at the start of the Battle of the Bulge.

    In addition, totally APART from and in ADDITION to the horrific human loss, there is this additional strategic loss. I just don’t know how many more ways I can say this.

  9. bud

    Perhaps this is more a matter of timing that the content of what you said. It came across to me, and others, as a bit insensitive. And I’m 100% sure you didn’t mean it that way.

  10. Brad

    Bud, I’ll accept service on that.

    One thing I’m not that great at, as a writer, is resonating to the proper emotion of the moment. At a time when others say things to express that they are feeling what other people are feeling, I tend to ASSUME that and go on to make a separate point. I tend to think there’s not much point in my commenting unless I have something to say beyond the obvious.

    When I was editorial page editor, I was very conscious of that. I knew it was important for the newspaper to, as I say, resonate at such moments — but I generally relied on someone else to strike that tone. The best at that in my years as EPE was Claudia Brinson. The worst, tied with me, was Cindi Scoppe. She’ll admit that.

    So yeah, there are times when I should shut up and let other people say the appropriate things. In this case, I strayed from that line because the importance of special forces, and particularly DEVGRU, was so much on my mind this week. So that’s what I expressed. I certainly didn’t mean to offend anyone.

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