Just as he was graduating Marcus approached me to ask a favor. “Hey,” he said, “I’m about to deploy to Afghanistan, but we’ve got this big family event happening in Texas. Is there any way I could not do that FTX?”
Normally after graduating from the course, you could take up to 30 days’ leave to spend time with your family, but Marcus had already sacrificed his leave time to get himself placed immediately into the sniper course for his second go at it. Now the only way he could see his family before deploying would be if we let him out of the FTX, or final training exercise, which would normally add about one more week’s time on the course. The FTX was a graded mission, so theoretically it was mandatory, but hell, Marcus had clearly made it through at that point, so I worked it out for him to skip it and have that week with his family.
The week after that family event he was on a plane to Afghanistan.
What happened next is the subject of his book. Marcus and three teammates — Matt Axelson (Morgan Luttrell’s best friend), Danny Dietz, and Michael Murphy — went out on a reconnaissance mission in northern Afghanistan, not far from the area where we had run so many missions with ECHO platoon. The mission went bad, and soon the four were scrambling across the brutal Afghan terrain under heavy fire. Marcus watched as his teammate and brother’s best friend died in his arms. Murphy and Dietz were killed, too, as were all 16 of the men (eight SEALs and eight Army Airborne Night Stalkers) dispatched as a QRF to rescue Marcus’s team. It was the worst U.S. loss of life in a single event in Afghanistan — a grisly record of a tragedy that was broken only six years later when a Chinook helo was shot down in August 2011.
We were devastated when we heard the news. I’d lost other friends before, but this was the worst. I’d gotten close to all those guys during the course and had especially come to know Marcus and Axelson really well. As far as we knew, Marcus had died, too. That was what almost everyone believed (although Morgan insisted that he knew his twin brother was still alive). It wasn’t until five days later that we learned Marcus had miraculously pulled through.
Badly wounded and with all his buddies gone, this big Texan who had failed stalk after stalk when he first landed in our course had managed to walk and crawl undetected through some seven miles of hostile terrain, somehow evading capture and killing six more Taliban fighters along the way, until he made it to an Afghan village that shielded him until he could be rescued.
Marcus was the only one out of the entire operation who made it home alive.
The next time I saw Marcus was more than a year later, in the late summer of 2006, on the deck of the USS Midway off San Diego where the Navy was holding a big fundraiser. He and his coauthor, Patrick Robinson, had just finished writing Lone Survivor, although it would not come out on the bookstands until the following summer. I spotted him at the event and went over to talk with him.
We embraced each other, then quickly caught each other up on what was going on in our lives. There was quite a crowd around us, and we both knew we wouldn’t have more than a minute to talk. He grabbed me by both shoulders and said, “Brandon, listen. You need to know, that stalking course? That saved my life. If you hadn’t pounded that training into me, I wouldn’t be standing here today.’