Marcus Luttrell says he is looking forward to the day he doesn't have to answer questions about surviving an attack in Afghanistan and “Lone Survivor,” the subsequent book and movie about that 2005 incident that killed his three SEAL teammates, 16 special operators who came to their rescue and earned Michael P. Murphy, the team leader, a Medal of Honor posthumously.
“I'm a civilian now and looking forward to a boring life,” says Luttrell, who starts an 11-city tour with a 7:30 p.m. March 11 event at the Tampa Theatre to kick off his Patriot Tour, designed to give the public a chance to hear veterans tell their stories. “I am trying to keep myself healthy and on my two feet, be a good husband and father to my two kids.”
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Luttrell's reluctant engagement with fame began June 28, 2005, when he and three teammates from SEAL Team 10 were sent to scout Ahmad Shah, an insurgent leader who had formed his own militia and was working with the Taliban in eastern Afghanistan.
The mission during Operation Red Wing was one of thousands like it performed by commandos in Iraq and Afghanistan, the vast majority of which the American public never heard anything about, by design and desire.
But this mission, and Luttrell, were eventually thrust into the spotlight after it was compromised when the team came upon Afghan goat herders. Luttrell, a hospital corpsman second class, his team leader Murphy and Danny Dietz and Matthew Axelson discussed what to do with the herders. After taking a vote and basing their decision on the rules of engagement governing how and when troops can use force, Murphy made the final decision to let them go, says Luttrell, who believes the herders told the insurgents they were there.
Dozens of insurgents soon attacked the team. Murphy, Dietz and Axelson were killed. An MH-47 Chinook helicopter that came to help was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade, killing eight SEALs and eight Army Night Stalkers on board. Luttrell was blown into a ravine by a rocket-propelled grenade, then crawled to an Afghan village where residents took him in.
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Luttrell, 38. says he never envisioned becoming an author.
“I never wanted to write a book,” says Luttrell, whose memoir, co-written by Patrick Robinson about the incident was turned into the movie. “It was not my idea. The Navy wanted to do it. I was the one who got stuck with it.”
Luttrell, medically retired from the Navy, shrugs off any concerns about revisiting the past.
“I went through it in real life,” he says when asked if it was difficult to re-examine what happened. “All it was regurgitating my experiences. The SEALs were engaged in an intense gun battle.”
Seeing himself on the screen, where he is portrayed by actor Mark Wahlberg “was humbling,” says Luttrell. “Wahlberg did a great job putting it together, as well as the rest of the cast members.”
Luttrell says that he and director Peter Berg made sure to stay in touch with the families of his fallen teammates throughout the film process “to make sure they were happy with the outcome, with the way they were portrayed on film.”
Realizing he was dealing with a Hollywood work of fiction, says Luttrell, was a huge lesson.
“Remember, it is a movie, not a documentary or anything like that,” he says. “Hollywood takes liberties like with anything they do.”
It would have been impossible to be completely accurate, says Luttrell, acknowledging that the movie took many liberties.
“The gun fight lasted three hours,” he says. “The movie is only two hours long. They had to shift things for safety concerns for the actors to make sure nobody got killed. During the goat herder scene, we did not get into an argument. I never killed anyone with a knife. I was paralyzed in the village.”
Despite the changes, Luttrell says he supports the movie.
“None of that is a deal breaker,” he says. “It's a Hollywood movie.”
“Lone Survivor” was up for only two minor Academy Awards on Sunday night — for sound editing and sound mixing.
Luttrell says reaction from the movie community isn't keeping him up at night.
While the award show took place in California, Luttrell says “I was sleeping” after being jet lagged from a trip to Japan.
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As a corpsman, Luttrell has been to Tampa before, for coursework and to attend the Special Operations Medical Association conferences.
The Patriot Tour, which kicks off at the Tampa Theatre, will feature Luttrell and fellow retired SEALs Billy Wagasy, David Goggins and Pete Scobell, who led the SEAL team in the Captain Phillips mission as well as retired Ranger Chad Fleming and Taya Kyle, wife of murdered “American Sniper” author Chris Kyle, a former Navy SEAL whose story is being made into a movie directed by Clint Eastwood.
“This is just me and a bunch of my buddies getting out and going to public venues telling stories,” says Luttrell. “We are letting people get the inside stories of combat situations and what is really going on. These are true stories about heroism and courage and commitment, the stuff you only read half of. You may think my story is crazy, but wait until you hear them.”