Freedom, Honor, Country: Slain SEAL Remembered as a 'Happy Hero'
September 11, 2001 changed everything and awakened a nation. Some men recognized the signs of the time. They stepped forward, prepared to sacrifice all to defeat a vicious evil confronting civilized society. They understood that victory would cost blood, and they willingly entered the fray at its most dangerous precipice. US Navy SEAL Special Warfare Operator Chief Brian Bill was one such man.
On August 6, 2011, Brain and sixteen other SEALs from the vaulted Team DEVGRU (otherwise known as SEAL Team Six) were killed in action when their Chinook transport, call sign Extortion 17, was shot down by enemy fire. Other Navy, Army, and Air Force heroes perished with them on their rapid reaction force mission to assist Army Rangers battling Taliban fighters in Wardak Province, Afghanistan. Many of their comrades had given the full measure before them. Others will follow. They will never relent in their pursuit of those intent on terrorizing free people. Brian’s story tells us why.
Brain entered BUD/S (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL) training immediately after the murder of innocent Americans in New York, Arlington, and Pennsylvania on 9/11. In 2003, he was assigned to his first SEAL Team, and in 2007, following a rigorous selection process, began training with Naval Special Warfare Development Group leading to his selection as a member of SEAL Team Six. He completed numerous deployments and specialized missions around the globe.
He was a highly decorated combat veteran. It is a measure of his impact to reflect on some of his awards, including: the Bronze Star with Valor, awarded four times including one for extraordinary heroism; Purple Heart Medal; Defense Meritorious Service Medal; Joint Service Commendation with Valor; Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal; multiple Combat Action Ribbons; multiple Presidential Unit Citations; and numerous other personal and unit decorations.
The highly specialized missions of Tier 1 special warfare operators like Brian require stealth, not headlines. The successful raid by other SEAL Team Six operators on bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan on May 1, 2011 became the exception to that rule when an administration official publicly revealed the team’s role. But the SEAL Ethos reflects a conviction born of a deeper integrity:
I do not advertise the nature of my work, nor seek recognition for my actions. I voluntarily accept the inherent hazards of my profession, placing the welfare and security of others before my own. I serve with honor on and off the battlefield. The ability to control my emotions and my actions, regardless of circumstance, sets me apart from other men.
Brian was set apart. He breathed the same air and walked with humility but he was a giant among men. He and his comrades were warriors and such souls serve our nation still. Their greatness is enshrined in the Ethos they lived and died to honor:
My Nation expects me to be physically harder and mentally stronger than my enemies. If knocked down, I will get back up, every time. I will draw on every remaining ounce of strength to protect my teammates and to accomplish our mission. … We train for war and fight to win. I stand ready to bring the full spectrum of combat power to bear in order to achieve my mission and the goals established by my country. The execution of my duties will be swift and violent when required yet guided by the very principles that I serve to defend.
War has losses, and Brian was keenly aware of the risks. He faced danger with the certainty that the cause was just. He faced death and vanquished enemies many times. And he suffered painful losses in the most dangerous of professions. Several years earlier, his close SEAL friend, Marc Lee, was killed during operations in Iraq. In March, 2010 his teammate, Adam Brown, a legendary SEAL Team Six operator, was KIA during Objective Lake James, an audacious yet classic Team Six mission into the heart of the Taliban controlled territory.
The operation itself is vividly recounted in Eric Blehm’s Fearless. It is worth the read by every man, woman and teenager in America. It brings home the undaunted courage of Brian and his team, the nightmare of war, and the realization that no greater dishonor could befall our nation than to abandon the war on terror which has done so much to keep so many evils from our shores for so long.
Brian loved his teammates and his mission. And he loved life. Intensely. He was an avid mountain climber, marathon runner, beer drinker, civil aviation pilot, BASE jumper, motorcycle enthusiast, and future NASA astronaut, the next endeavor he had set his sights on. He was kind, honest, respectful, and fun. How many of those kind of people will you meet in a lifetime? His presence and vibrancy were infectious. He was a happy hero.
A trident fashioned from beams recovered from the World Trade Center stands in front of the headquarters of Brian’s team. It marks a memorial to Brain and other SEALs who have died defending freedom. It is a silent reminder that murder is the method of our enemy and that the cost of freedom is dear.
Brian and many others lost on Extortion 17 were laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery late in August, 2011. If you are ever in Washington, D.C., it’s a short trip to Section 60. In that place of honored rest for the fallen, one may find renewed confidence in the ideals of those who inspire not with speeches but with action. Brian’s own words from 2008 best describe his conviction:
The truth is I want you to live a life of fun and excitement. I want you to travel and to go to music festivals and art shows and all that fun stuff. I want you to live a life of freedom and spontaneity. That is why I work where I work. That is why I do what I do. I do it because I know that people are out there free enjoying the things they love to do.
In the end, it all came down to love. When the beloved is endangered, love does not shy away, not when it is embodied in a man like Brian Bill. Love fights. The prophet Isaiah heard the voice of the LORD saying “Whom shall I send; who will go for us?” Brian made his answer his own: “Here I am. Send me.”
Brian’s legacy is carried on by his sister, Amy Bill Kutney, who has organized Little Warriors, A Brian Bill Project, an endeavor that tells Brian’s story and empowers the children of fallen SEAL and Naval Special Warfare Personnel to achieve excellence by teaching them Brian’s core values--teamwork, courage, honor, and heritage--through outdoor adventure programs ranging from mountaineering, orienteering, backpacking, fishing, skiing, diving, and more. These skills, mastered by Brian and his teammates, instill confidence and leadership in the next generation of American heroes.
Long Live the Brotherhood.