themselves, with their handheld ready bag, which holds each SEALâs M-4 rifle, body armor for Iraq, plus night-vision goggles, a combat knife and Sig-Sauer pistol, helmet, and medical blow-out kit.
The ready bag contained all the essentials in case they ran into what they quaintly describe as an âOh shit! scenario.â As the enormous Boeing freighter commenced its final flight path, helmets and body armor would be pulled on, with rifles ready. No SEAL would disembark through that aircraft door unless the platoon was prepared as a fighting unit to engage the enemy.
One by one they embarked the aircraft, climbing the boarding stairs in the early morning darkness of Virginiaâs Atlantic coast. When they were inside and all together, the CO reminded them for the last time on American soil: âThis is a very serious SEAL deployment. We are going to an extremely dangerous place, and every one of you needs to remember every last lesson you have been taught. Might as well start right now and put on your game faces. Because thatâs the way itâs likely to be from now on.â
Matt recalls that this was a departure like no other they had ever experienced. There was not one iota of levityâno laughs, no jokes. Like so many valorous young men in the past, all of them holders of the legendary SEAL Trident, they were leaving for a war zone. And not everyone comes back.
In silence they each sought out a spot on the aircraft, slinging their hammocks between the great steel packing cases that were stacked high to the ceiling. They cleated them off about ten feet above the cargo floor, some fastened to the high freight palettes, others to the heavy nets that covered the weapon cases.
And everyone felt the faint shudder down the interior as the four giant Pratt and Whitney engines were fired upâspecial military designation: Globemaster IIIâF117-PW-100, over forty thousand pounds thrust on each oneâseventy-two tons of raw turbo-jet power to hurl them skyward.
They set off into a gusting March wind, the twenty wide wheels of the undercarriage rolling hard through the first revolutions of a journey that would put both Matt McCabe and Jon Keefe through some kind of a living hell. But not yet.
The C-17 thundered southwest, rising off the runway and banking left over the myriad of bays behind the SEAL base. Climbing north up the Atlantic, they left the long finger of Virginiaâs eastern shore to portside and pressed on along the eastern seaboard over the deep waters off New Jersey, staying well out to sea as they made for Nantucket Island and then the coast of Nova Scotia.
The nine men who traveled with Matt and Jon were a highly diverse groupâthe most important of them was almost certainly the experiencedSam Gonzales, from Blue Island, South Chicago, a Special Operations petty officer 1st class, aged around twenty-nine and a highly decorated SEAL, including a Bronze Star with valor. Sam had been in the Navy since 1999 and a SEAL since 2006.
He was one of the most popular SO 1s on Team 10, a very smooth operator of the comms systems and a joint terminal attack controller (JTAC). And on top of all that he dealt with the onerous duties of the leading petty officer. He stood only five feet seven inches tall, but he found a way to look like an offensive lineman for his local Chicago Bears.
Also on board was a highly amusing twenty-nine-year-old petty officer 1st class from South Carolina, a SEAL who had served in Yemen and Baghdad. He was a breacher by trade and went by the colorful name of âGreens.â
Next to Jon on the flight was another exquisitely named Navy SEAL: Carlton Milo Higbie IV, a twenty-six-year-old petty officer 2nd class. Carl, as he was usually called, was the son of a wealthy financier, basedâwhere else?âin Greenwich, Connecticut.
This six-foot, 240-pound SEAL had always known he would greatly prefer some bomb-blasted landing beach or the rubble of the