Wednesday, July 11, 2007

I'd Even Call it Godliness

The world is a complex place. Despair and hope, punishment and grace, brutality and goodness can all be bedfellows.

On June 28, 2005 a four-man Navy Special Operations team was fast-roped out of a Chinook helicopter in Afghanistan as part of Operation Redwing to capture or kill a senior Al Queda operative meeting in the vicinity. The four Seals zigzagged all night and through the morning, when suddenly two Afghan men and a boy appeared. The Seals had to make a decision: kill the Afghans, or release them and risk being exposed. They chose mercy and released them. An hour later they were surrounded by Taliban troops. In a two-hour fire fight, three of the four Seals were killed. Moreover, the Taliban shot down a rescue helicopter coming to the Seals’ aid, killing sixteen more troops. The lone survivor of the Seal team, Marcus Luttrell, lay bleeding and filthy at the bottom of a gulch.

Luttrell had been the one who cast the tie-breaking vote among the Seal team to spare the lives of the Afghan three-some. “They just seemed like – people. I’m not a murderer,” he recollected. That decision haunted him as he lay alone in the gulch and haunts him still.

Repeated rescue attempts failed to locate him. After crawling through the night, Luttrell saw another Afghan man. He reached for his rifle. “You Taliban?” he shouted. “No Taliban!” came the reply. The villager’s friends arrived, carrying AK-47’s. As they spoke Arabic to one another, Luttrell wondered if they were arguing his fate the way the Seals had argued the other Afghans’ fate. But they carried him to the 14-hut village of Sabray, where Mohammed Gulab, 33, father of six, fed Luttrell warm goat’s milk, washed his wounds, and clothed him.

Hours after his arrival, Taliban fighters appeared and demanded that the villagers surrender the American. They first threatened Gulab, then tried to bribe him. But the people of Sabray were following tribal law – having carried the invalid Seal into their village, they were committed to defending him. The Taliban fighters retreated to the nearby hills and waited. Eventually their threats intensified, so Gulab walked five miles to a U.S. Marine outpost to ask for help. A massive rescue effort ensued and Luttrell was snatched from the village, with Gulab sitting next to him on the helicopter, refusing Luttrell’s offer of money and a watch. Luttrell put his arm around Gulab’s neck and said into his ear over the propeller roar, “I love you, brother.” They were separated after landing, and have not seen one another since.

Luttrell, whose book “Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of Seal Team 10” recently came out, remains tormented by the deaths of his friends, and changed. “I went to Afghanistan as payback time for the World Trade Center, to kill every S.O.B. I could find. I didn’t go over there with any respect for the Afghan people,” he says. But Mohammed Gulab and the Sabray villagers taught him something. “In the middle of everything evil, in an evil place, you can find goodness. Goodness. I’d even call it godliness. They brought their cousins brandishing firearms, and their uncles, to make sure no Taliban would kill me. They protected me like a child. They treated me like I was their eldest son.”

Sometimes a story becomes sacramental.


Blogger Paul Rutherford said...

Compelling. This story of an individual quite tellingly illustrates that our haste to deliver judgment can all too quickly redound upon ourselves. It demonstrates that we cannot dismiss all persons of a group just because the group is decidedly against what we believe, affirm and fight for. It is a beacon for individuals searching for hope for their redemption. Simply amazing, Matt. How do you do it?

10:39 PM  

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