Source: BILL GEROUX, TIMES-DISPATCH STAFF WRITE
Hampton Roads has lost that number in Iraq, Afghan wars
VIRGINIA BEACH — In Iraq and Afghanistan, Navy SEALs hunt for insurgents in remote mountains and tightly packed neighborhoods. They reach out to tribal chiefs in Iraq and train the local special forces on live missions.
“The SEALs get the most dangerous jobs on the battlefield,” said Lt. David Luckett of the Navy’s Special Warfare Group Two. And that is the reason, he said, that 16 Hampton Roads-based SEALs have been killed in combat since the start of 2002.
The list includes Chief Petty Officers Michael E. Koch and Nathan H. Hardy, both 29 and based here at Little Creek Amphibious Base. They were killed Monday in Iraq by small-arms fire. The SEALs, typically, have withheld further details.
Small-arms fire has been a frequent killer of SEALs in Iraq and Afghanistan and often marks a raid on a suspected insurgent hideout, Luckett said. But local SEALs also have died from mines, roadside bombs and other means.
Six Virginia Beach-based SEALs — and 11 SEALs in all — were killed in a single incident in late June 2005, when a rescue attempt in the mountains of Afghanistan ended with a helicopter being shot down.
SEALs and their families accept the risks as worth taking, Luckett said, and other units in the military have suffered great losses in recent years. But he said the toll has been heavy on the small SEAL community, which numbers roughly 1,200 members on the East Coast and an equal number on the West.
Seven SEALs from the West Coast have been killed since early 2002, bringing the Navy-wide total to 23, Luckett said. During the previous 20 years, one SEAL had been killed, in Kosovo, he said.
SEALs are best-known as sea-based special forces, but they have fought from the start along with other U.S. special forces in remote, landlocked reaches of Afghanistan and Iraq.
Gordon Calhoun, a historian at the Hampton Roads Naval Museum in Norfolk, said the SEALs have evolved from sabotage teams in World War II to specialists in deep reconnaissance and counter-insurgency. The Pentagon has stressed the use of special forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, Calhoun said, and the long conflict has exposed the SEALs to constant danger.
Luckett said a lot of what the SEALs do today is “identify a target, and go and grab that target.” He said the object is to capture rather than kill when possible.
The 2005 rescue attempt and helicopter crash in Afghanistan was the deadliest incident in the history of the U.S. special forces. It began June 27 when four SEALs were trapped by enemy forces in remote mountains where they were trying to capture or kill a Taliban leader. An attempt to save them ended with a helicopter being shot down. In all, 19 SEALs and Army Special Forces soldiers died.
Other recent reports of SEAL deaths offer spare details.
Three SEALs died in Iraq in 2007, one when a bomb exploded near his vehicle, a second by enemy fire and the third “during a mission.”
One SEAL died in 2004 when his vehicle hit a roadside mine in Afghanistan.
Two SEALs died in 2003 in Afghanistan, one in an attack on his convoy, and another “in combat.”
Two SEALs died in 2002 in Afghanistan, one in an encounter with enemy forces and the other in an explosion at a remote site.