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Michael Murphy: SEAL Makes Distress Call in Storm of Enemy Fire

The next biography in our series of posts, which honors our Medal of Honor recipients, is about Navy SEAL lieutenant Michael Murphy.

Lt. Michael P. Murphy was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor on Oct. 27, 2007 for his courageous actions in Afghanistan on June 28, 2005.

Early Life

Michael was born May 7, 1976 in Smithtown, N.Y. and grew up near New York City in Patchogue, N.Y. on Long Island. His parents are Daniel, a former Suffolk County district attorney, and Maureen.

Michael was very active in sports while growing up. He played soccer and football, with his father as coach, while he attended Saxton Middle School. In high school, he took a summer job as a lifeguard in Brookhaven, N.Y. He graduated from Patchogue-Medford High School in 1994.

His family and friends referred to Michael as "Murph". He was also known as "The Protector" during his high school years. In 8th grade, Michael defended a special needs child who was being pushed into a locker by bullies. He also protected a homeless man who was attacked while collecting cans. Michael chased away the assailants and then helped the man recollect his cans.

Michael attended Penn State University, studying political science and psychology. He was an excellent athlete, standing out at ice hockey. He also loved to read. Michael read across a broad spectrum of literature, including the Greek classics as well as the classics of 19th century literature, such as Tolstoy's War and Peace. His favorite book was Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield. He graduated with honors in 1998.

Military Service

Michael was accepted to several law schools, but decided to attend SEAL mentoring sessions at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. He made it his goal to become a U.S. Navy SEAL. In 2000, He entered the Navy's Officer Candidate School at Pensacola, Fla. and was commissioned as an ensign on Dec. 13.

Shortly thereafter, Ensign Murphy began Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) training in Coronado. After six months of intense training he graduated with Class 236. He then attended the Army Jump School, SEAL Qualification Training, and SEAL Delivery Vehicle (SDV) school. In July 2002, he earned his SEAL Trident and reported to SDV Team 1 at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

In October 2002, Lt. Murphy deployed to Jordan as the liaison officer for Exercise Early Victor. After his time with SDV Team 1, he was assigned to Special Operations Central Command in Florida. He was deployed to Qatar to support Operation Iraqi Freedom and then to Djibouti to assist the operational planning for future SDV missions.

In 2005, Lt. Murphy deployed to Afghanistan with SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team 1 as assistant officer in charge of ALFA Platoon.

Medal of Honor Action

On June 28, 2005, Lt. Murphy led a four-man SEAL team deep into enemy territory east of Asadabad in the Hindu Kush Mountains of Afghanistan. Their mission was to scout out the known terrorist Ahmad Shah who had grown up in the area. Shah led a guerilla group known as the "Mountain Tigers" that aligned itself with the Taliban and other hostile groups near the Pakistan border.

Local anti-coalition sympathizers reported the SEAL team's position to Taliban fighters. Consequently, about 40 enemy fighters attacked Lt. Murphy's team. Severely outnumbered and at a terrain disadvantage, the SEAL team repelled a well organized three-sided assault. Each member of the team wounded, the Taliban fighters forced them deeper into a ravine. About 45 minutes into the firefight, the communications officer, Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class Danny Dietz, attempted to send a distress call. He was shot in the hand before he was able to send the transmission.

Realizing that a distress call had to be made, Lt. Murphy risked his life to save his team. Since the rough terrain made a broadcast difficult, Lt. Murphy went into the open, despite his wounds, in order to request emergency assistance from Bagram Air Base. As he was being fired upon, Lt. Murphy made contact with the SOF Quick Reaction Force. He provided his team's location and enemy numbers. During the transmission, he was shot in the back and dropped the radio, but he quickly picked it up and completed the call. Severely wounded, Lt. Murphy continued to fire at the enemy and returned to his cover position.

A MH-47 Chinook helicopter, carrying eight SEALs and eight Army Night Stalkers, was sent as part of the extraction mission. Army attack helicopters escorted the Chinook, but because of their heavy armor they slowed the group's assent. The team in the Chinook decided to race ahead of their escort since time for the SEALs on the ground was running out. As the Chinook approached the battle zone, a rocket-propelled grenade hit the helicopter and killed all 16 men aboard.

After about two hours of fighting, Murphy, Dietz, and Sonar Technician 2nd Class Matthew Axelson were killed. About 35 Taliban were also dead. The remaining SEAL, Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Marcus Luttrell, was blown over a ridge by a rocket propelled grenade and knocked unconscious. After he came to, Luttrell escaped. Though severely wounded, he crawled down the side of the cliff and traveled seven miles on foot, evading the enemy. Locals came to his aid and carried him to a nearby village where he was given shelter for three days before he was rescued by U.S. forces.

Because of his courage and ultimately sacrificing his life, Lt. Murphy was able to place the call that led to the rescue of one of his team members.

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