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In the early morning hours of August 6, 2011, a U.S. Army Chinook (CH47D) helicopter engines fired up and rotor blades began to turn for a mission that would end the lives of 38 souls on board; this Chinook was known by the call sign “Extortion 17.” A name synonymous with the deadliest day on the war on terror for U.S. troops, but more importantly, the deadliest day for special operations forces – the U.S. Navy SEALs.
Along with Extortion 16, another U.S. Army Chinook helicopter, Extortion 17 was on another leg of its mission to assist the 75th Ranger Regiment neutralize a high value target (this high value target, a senior Taliban chief named Qari Tahir, was believed to have ties to the top tier Taliban leadership in Pakistan) in Juy Zarin in the Tangi Valley region of Afghanistan. While the 75th Ranger Regiment raided Tahir’s compound, both Extortion 16 and Extortion 17 flew at break-neck speed back to base for refuel while awaiting orders to extract the Rangers, rescue the wounded, or get reinforcements to Juy Zarin.
When both Chinooks landed near Juy Zarin, the landing zone went hot almost immediately with eight Taliban militants rushing out of buildings with AK 47 rifles and one with an RPG. A U.S. Army Apache helicopter crew immediately took action and unleashed its 30mm cannons on the enemy combatants, killing six with two escaping the infrared scanners of the Apache gun ship. After a few hours, Tahir’s men were captured, but Tahir himself was nowhere to be found. This set in motion the series of events that would lead to the deaths of our bravest and finest with a nation reeling in shock as we tried to grasp the gravity of it all.
Because Tahir couldn’t be located and enemy combatants were beginning to gather in the area, military planners had made the decision to change up strategy by deploying an ‘Immediate Reactionary Force’ (IRF) to intercept these gathering enemy combatants while the Rangers held the compound. The landing zone would be changed by the planners but it would only accommodate one Chinook, Extortion 17, and because of that, the IRF team the planners put together would all be on that Chinook while Extortion 16 flew empty.
Because of the nature of the mission and landing zone restrictions, the IRF team the planners put together increased the number of men for the mission from 17 to 32 and the objective was to get in fast and catch the Taliban off guard before they had any time to react. Extortion 17 took off flying a different flight path than the first time and unbeknownst to all on board, it was merely minutes away from certain death.
As Extortion 17 approached the new landing zone (LZ), they requested an infrared spotlight be turned on, a bright light that could only be seen if wearing night vision goggles. This spotlight lit up the LZ like a Christmas tree as Extortion 17 began its approach and Rangers on the ground assured the pilots that the LZ wasn’t hot and free of enemy combatants.
Only seconds after the transmission by the Rangers on the ground, Extortion 17 hovered about 100 feet above the compound when Taliban militants armed with RPGs rushed out of a two story building approximately 220 yards from the fated helicopter. Two Taliban militants each fired RPGs at Extortion 17, one missed and the other did not; the RPG that hit the Chinook hit the rear rotor blades sending the helicopter into a spiral where it crashed into a dry creek bed and exploded on impact.
The aftermath of this horrific loss of of life would be known the world over in a matter of a few hours with Americans, the entire U.S. military, the Navy SEALs, U.S Army, U.S. Air Force, and special operations community in a state of shock and immediate grief at the tragic news of losing our own on that fateful morning on August 6, 2011 in the Tangi Valley of the Wardak Province of Afghanistan.
Though controversy will forever surround this single greatest loss of life on the war on terror, it’s the memory of these brave men who gave the ultimate sacrifice for freedom, for liberty, and for a world free of terrorism that we will forever mourn their loss.
“It doesn’t take a hero to order men into battle. It takes a hero to be one of those men who goes into battle” ~ General Norman Schwarzkopf
Lt. Cmdr. (SEAL) Jonas B. Kelsall, 32, of Shreveport, La.
Special Warfare Operator Master Chief Petty Officer (SEAL) Louis J. Langlais, 44, of Santa Barbara, California
Special Warfare Operator Senior Chief Petty Officer (SEAL) Thomas A. Ratzlaff, 34, of Green Forest, Arkansas
Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician Senior Chief Petty Officer (Expeditionary Warfare Specialist/Freefall Parachutist) Kraig M. Vickers 36, of Kokomo, Hawaii
Special Warfare Operator Chief Petty Officer (SEAL) Brian R. Bill, 31, of Stamford, Connecticut
Special Warfare Operator Chief Petty Officer (SEAL) John W. Faas, 31, of Minneapolis, Minnesota
Special Warfare Operator Chief Petty Officer (SEAL) Kevin A. Houston, 35, of West Hyannisport, Massachusetts
Special Warfare Operator Chief Petty Officer (SEAL) Matthew D. Mason, 37, of Kansas City, Missouri
Special Warfare Operator Chief Petty Officer (SEAL) Stephen M. Mills, 35, of Fort Worth, Texas
Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician Chief Petty Officer (Expeditionary Warfare Specialist/Freefall Parachutist/Diver) Nicholas H. Null, 30, of Washington, West Virginia
Special Warfare Operator Chief Petty Officer (SEAL) Robert J. Reeves, 32, of Shreveport, Louisiana
Special Warfare Operator Chief Petty Officer (SEAL) Heath M. Robinson, 34, of Detroit, Michigan
Special Warfare Operator Petty Officer 1st Class (SEAL) Darrik C. Benson, 28, of Angwin, California
Special Warfare Operator Petty Officer 1st Class (SEAL/Parachutist) Christopher G. Campbell, 36, of Jacksonville, North Carolina
Information Systems Technician Petty Officer 1st Class (Expeditionary Warfare Specialist/Freefall Parachutist) Jared W. Day, 28, of Taylorsville, Utah
Master-at-Arms Petty Officer 1st Class (Expeditionary Warfare Specialist) John Douangdara, 26, of South Sioux City, Nebraska
Cryptologist Technician (Collection) Petty Officer 1st Class (Expeditionary Warfare Specialist) Michael J. Strange, 25, of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Special Warfare Operator Petty Officer 1st Class (SEAL/Enlisted Surface Warfare Specialist) Jon T. Tumilson, 35, of Rockford, Iowa
Special Warfare Operator Petty Officer 1st Class (SEAL) Aaron C. Vaughn, 30, of Stuart, Florida
Special Warfare Operator Petty Officer 1st Class (SEAL) Jason R. Workman, 32, of Blanding, Utah
Special Warfare Operator Petty Officer 1st Class (SEAL) Jesse D. Pittman, 27, of Ukiah, California
Special Warfare Operator Petty Officer 2nd Class (SEAL) Nicholas P. Spehar, 24, of Saint Paul, Minnesota
U.S. Navy SEAL Military Working Dog, Bart (Belgian Malinois)
Chief Warrant Officer David R. Carter, 47, of Centennial, Colorado. He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 135th Aviation Regiment (General Support Aviation Battalion), Aurora
Chief Warrant Officer Bryan J. Nichols, 31, of Hays, Kansas. He was assigned to the 7th Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment (General Support Aviation Battalion), New Century, Kansas
Sgt. Patrick D. Hamburger, 30, of Lincoln, Neb. He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 135th Aviation Regiment (General Support Aviation Battalion), Grand Island, Nebraska
Sgt. Alexander J. Bennett, 24, of Tacoma, Washington. He was assigned to the 7th Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment (General Support Aviation Battalion), New Century, Kansas
Spc. Spencer C. Duncan, 21, of Olathe, Kansas. He was assigned to the 7th Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment (General Support Aviation Battalion), New Century, Kansas
Tech. Sgt. John W. Brown, 33, of Tallahassee, Florida
Staff Sgt. Andrew W. Harvell, 26, of Long Beach, California
Tech. Sgt. Daniel L. Zerbe, 28, of York, Pennsylvania
Theresa Giarratano is a retired US Army NCO studying Middle Eastern affairs with special emphasis on global terrorism. Her current status is assisting the Kurdish people by disseminating information regarding the fight against ISIS via social media platforms.