Leadership Theory: LT Michael P. Murphy, USN
Written by: Brandon Nicholson
“Seal of Honor” by Gary Williams is a biography of the life of Navy Lieutenant Michael P. Murphy, a breakdown of the rigorous training involved in Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S), and a detailed description of what happened during Operation Red Wing. Michael “Murph” or “Mikey” Murphy of Holtsville New York on Long Island was born May 7th, 1976 to parents Maureen and Dan Murphy. Named after the arch angel, Michael quickly lived up to his namesake and earned the reputation as “The Protector” in eighth grade defending a special needs classmate that was being pushed into a locker by bullies in his class. After graduating High School Michael attended Penn State where he graduated with honors, passed the LSAT and had multiple offers to attend Law school, but all Murph wanted was to be a Navy SEAL. It was a topic he frequently brought up with Dan who had served in Vietnam; against his father’s wishes this was the route he chose. The Protector was the chosen team leader for Red Wing, where events lead him to make the ultimate sacrifice for his brothers and his country, earning him the Medal of Honor, posthumously. Michael P. Murphy embodied the values of a hero and leader in every facet of life. He showcased true integrity in his decision making, unwavering commitment to his country, and unthinkable courage in the face of his enemy.
LT. Murphy appeals to me because he was a young situational leader with a warrior’s heart that always put his men first. He was never afraid to take charge regardless of the situation and was never above listening to his men when there came time to make a decision, unless the options provided were illegal or immoral; he always did the right thing. Mike Murphy is most known for his heroic acts in the Hindu Kush Mountains of Afghanistan during Operation Red Wing. His four-man reconnaissance team consisted of himself as the team leader, Petty Officer Matthew Axelson, Petty Officer Danny Dietz, and LPO (Leading Petty Officer) Marcus Luttrell; their job during Red Wing was to locate Mullah Ahmad Shah, who was one of Osama bin Laden’s top Lieutenants. Shah was the commander of a militia force known as the Mountain Tigers an element of 40 to 150 fighters. After locating Shah they were to report their location on Sawtalo Sar’s ridge and wait for the assault team to join them and take him and his militia down. Once in position, they were spotted by three goat herders which put LT. Murphy in a position to make a critical decision. In their briefings leading up to this mission they were informed that majority of the time these herders were harmless, and this was likely to happen however it was still considered a soft compromise. They tried to call back to Bagram to inform their Commander of the issue, but there was no communication due to the rough terrain. Making a call in the absence of orders, Murph gave the order to cut the herders loose and move their position because the operation had been compromised. “As the Officer in Charge LT. Murphy knew the essence of leadership: in any moment of decision, doing the right thing was always the right thing to do… regardless of the consequences.” The team moved up the mountain to establish a defense position until it was dark and then relocate again to prepare for extract. After some time, LT Murphy noticed 80-100 Taliban fighters closing in on their position. Unable to communicate due to the rough terrain the four-man team engaged until they could no longer. Murphy, wounded, courageously made is way to an open area, exposed to the enemy, to make one last attempt to use his cell phone to call for help. Luttrell said, “He walked until he was more or less in the center, gunfire all around him, and he sat on a small rock and began punching in the numbers to HQ. I could hear him talking, ‘my men are taking heavy fire…We’re getting picked apart. My guys are dying out here…we need help.’ then he took a bullet straight in the back. He slumped forward, dropped his phone and his rifle, but he braced himself, grabbed them both, sat upright again, and once more put the phone to his ear. I heard him speak again, ‘Roger that, sir. Thank you.’”
Great leaders almost always have mentors and influencers along the way, and are driven to learn and master their skills. LT. Murphy had two key influences to include, Captain Andrew Bisset who was Michael’s Recruiting District Assistance Council (RDAC), as well as Captain McCombie, the senior Navy Representative and facility instructor at the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. LT. Murphy got Captain McCombie’s attention with his first impression showing great motivation to attend Officer Candidate School (OCS) and BUD/S. Initially CPT McCombie didn’t have time or was not interested in talking to Michael because he had heard so many times from dozens of people how they wanted to be a Navy SEAL, but after having an encouraging conversation, Michael stood out as exceptional, and he convinced McCombie to tell him how to get his foot in the door. That is when he introduced Murphy to Captain Bisset, who helped him train for BUD/S.
LT. Murphy also had a way of influencing others with his exceptional leadership skills and infectious personality. When he passed, friends, family and Navy Personnel of all ranks above and below him knew who he was and made an appearance. There were more than twelve hundred in attendance at his funeral and when Rear Admiral Joseph Maguire spoke with Dan Murphy he said, “Mr. Murphy, I just wanted you to know that I don’t think that your son and his men went down easy, because there were Taliban bodies strewn all over the place, eighty-some causalities, blood trails everywhere. This was a pitched battle and they did not go down easy.”
LT. Murphy’s exceptional leadership skills, courage, and drive were apparent in everything he did, and were obvious to those who encountered him along the way. However, his journey did not come without its challenges. To name a few, any man would face adversity in the BUD/S program. It is said to be the most difficult school offered by the US Military and that encompasses Special Forces Assessment and Selection and US Army Ranger School. While in BUD/S LT. Murphy developed cellulitis and stress fractures completely halting his training and progression through the course until he healed and was cleared by physical therapy. LT. Murphy persevered and resumed his training, graduating with BUD/S class 236 in October of 2001.
In addition, an incident nobody wants to face is a training incident on a live fire range. In Pearl City, Hawaii, in 2003 LT. Murphy and his platoon were conducting live-fire immediate action drills when Ensign Haffele, a member of the platoon, unintentionally entered Murph’s line of fire and was hit in his right axillary by his .556 round. The team responded quickly to stop the bleeding and was able to save Ensign Haffele, however his career ended due to his injuries sustained by Murphy’s firearm. Commander DeGhetto who wrote the report on the training incident expressed that this sort of incident is bound to happen at some point during live fire training and it is always a sigh of relief when there are no injuries. While many others would have lost their position on the team for an incident like this, his reputation preceded him, and therefore he was allowed to continue in his role. Through difficult situations, and intensely challenging training, it is how LT. Murphy responded to these challenges that furthers his narrative as a true leader.
I have many good qualities and personality traits that make me a strong leader, but I do not compare to a Medal of Honor recipient that laid down his life for his men and his country. His mental and physical toughness is nothing short of extraordinary and I will strive to uphold the standards that he established; I will always come up short. I strive daily to operate with the integrity, selflessness, and drive for which LT. Michael Murphy is known.
Having a leader like LT. Murphy in the workplace would be incredible. I know that regardless of the mission he would uphold policies and procedures and work with the team to accomplish goals and tasks. He would be there to coach, guide, and mentor, allowing failure occasionally to help you learn from your mistakes. He would lead by example, establish high standards, promote teamwork, and provide support for the growth of his coworkers.
In conclusion, I am humbled by reading “Seal of Honor” and learning more about the life of my personal hero and esteemed leader, LT. Michael Murphy. “Seal of Honor” and the movie “Lone Survivor” have been written and produced to capture the essence of his heroism. His leadership style led to the ultimate sacrifice of his life for his country, and the legacy as a leader he left behind has not only impacted and inspired me personally, but millions of people across the world.
Williams, G. (2011). SEAL of honor: Operation Red Wings and the life of Lt. Michael P. Murphy, USN. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press.