May 28, 2012 2 Comments
“And we wanted to thank the … wives, mothers and spouses of those who go down range and serve our country. We set out to make a movie but we discovered a brotherhood of men we thought only existed in mythology, but they existed in the world.” – “Act of Valor” movie directors Scott McCoy and Scott Waugh
They (SEALs) not only existed in the world, but some of them starred in the movie that is about real-life US Navy SEAL jobs and real-life SEAL families. It also seems well within character for the SEALS to have insisted that their own names be excluded from the film credits. Also likely is that these men supported and may have influenced the inclusion (in the film) of the names of roughly 60 SEALs who have died in action in recent years. Yes, people actually take these jobs knowing they could die at work on any given day. Their families also understand this to be a very real possibility.
There are really very few of these SEAL guys running around. So it is largely through good fortune that I met Retired CAPT Randy Albracht (SEAL-BUD/S Class 81). Randy is also a former Underwater Demolition Team (UDT) member / SEa Air Land (SEAL) team instructor, and is currently a Senior Special Operations Advisor with Wisdom Tree Technology, a Native American owned company. He remains very well-connected to his SEAL classmates and also within the special ops community. Albracht’s long-standing friendships include Medal of Honor (MoH) recipients and their families. As Albracht says, “the families, particularly the “care givers”, are the real unsung heroes.”
Like the best corporations, the success of the SEALs and other special operations teams relies heavily on selection, training, and culture. However, what definitively separates these military groups from those who work in more traditional corporate jobs are the deep bonds and an ultimate in family commitment. With SEAL-like determination, Albracht consistently advocates for the role that family plays behind the scenes. In this way, Randy fans the flames of those who keep the home fires burning. This story is about family.
Michael P. Murphy
Full of life, the high-potential Suffolk County, New York native and 1998 Penn State graduate with dual majors in political science and psychology, looked beyond the immediacy of law school acceptances in deciding to serve his country. Lieutenant Murphy became a United States Navy SEAL in 2002 (BUD/S class 236). At the age of 29, he was killed in action in Afghanistan on June 28, 2005 during Operation Red Wing. Murphy and two other members of his four person team died that day, marking at that time the single largest SEAL loss since the Vietnam War era. Marcus Luttrell was the only survivor in this attack, and his account is chronicled in “Lone Survivor“, a book he wrote with Patrick Robinson.
Medal of Honor
The Medal of Honor is the military’s highest decoration and may be awarded to the members of all branches of the United States Armed Forces. To date, there have been a total of 3,475 Medals of Honor awarded to 3,456 different soldiers. Since the World War II era, roughly 60% of the Medals have been presented posthumously. Medal of Honor recipient Navy Lieutenant Michael P. Murphy is one such recipient.
Bonds of Heroes
The bonds of heroism run deep as previous Medal of Honor recipients attended the Michael Murphy MoH ceremony. The associations become quite entwined, as at one time or another Albracht has met all four MoH recipients pictured above. While at the White House for Petty Officer (SEAL) Monsoor’s MoH ceremony, Albracht met Harvey Barnum . Several occasions, including the Naval Special Warfare Group TWO building dedication ceremony and the Tommy Norris 9/11 Distinguished Hero Award ceremony/reception, have brought Albracht into contact with Thomas Norris (SEAL). This was primarily because MoH Recipient Mike Thornton (SEAL), who earned his MoH for saving Thomas Norris’ life, was Albracht’s BUD/S Instructor and is a life-long friend. Albracht initially met Bob Kerry (SEAL) as then-Senator Kerry was putting on his leg to go for a run when visiting the US Navy’s stronghold Coronado (CA). Albracht sat humbly next to Thomas Kelley at the Admiral Olson USSOCOM Commander Portrait Ceremony and then shared a bus ride with Kelley and Thornton over to the USSOCOM Change of Command where ADM (SEAL) Eric Olson was relieved in command by ADM (SEAL) Bill McRaven. Albracht has met many other heroes such as two-time Medal of Valor recipient Ron Relf (SEAL) who was a Denver police officer and is one of Albracht’s BUD/S Class 81 classmates. With laser-like focus, Albracht cuts through it all, when he says, “One thing about heroes is that they’re always aware and thankful for their families, comrades, and other Americans who support them!…. and unfortunately and tragically…. for the fallen heroes.”
Penn State Distinguished Alumni Award Reception
“No one among our ranks is more distinguished and more deserving of Penn State’s highest honor than Michael Murphy,” said Ret. Captain Ryan J. McCombie. The McCombie name is important to this story and will appear again. In 2008, Penn State bestowed upon Mike Murphy its highest honor – the Distinguished Alumni Award – the first and only to be awarded posthumously out of the 220 given in the Penn State award’s history. Murphy is also the only Penn State alumnus to have been awarded the Medal of Honor. Fittingly, the University and its ROTC program held a reception to honor Lieutenant Murphy and his family. This relatively small but important event was attended by Albracht, Maureen Murphy, the McCombies, and other University dignitaries.
Albracht says, “This event did not receive a lot of wide-spread publicity at the time, but the story that surrounds it is very important…..especially looking back now in the midst of the current scandal and JoePa’s ouster. The issues surrounding the scandal are indeed very serious and carry with them a truly unfortunate set of circumstances and understandably negative publicity. That’s why I think it’s so important to talk now about how Dr. Dave Joyner, the rest of the board of trustees, and the University’s administration really got this one right. Working together with the military community, all the right things happened to honor Mike and his family at this event.”
Thomas “Brandan” McCombie
Family connections continue to run deep in this story as the McCombie and Murphy families have endured similar losses. Captain Ryan J McCombie (whose remarks at Penn State are quoted above) and his family lost their son Brandan, who died in action at the age of 25. Lt j.g. Thomas “Brandan” McCombie was one of three crew members who died in action as their Navy SB-3 Viking aircraft crashed on a training mission near the Puerto Rican island of Vieques on September 10, 2002. Hailing from State College, PA, Brandan, like Mike Murphy, was a 1998 Penn State graduate. While at Penn State, McCombie majored in finance, carried a minor in military history, and was a member of the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps (NROTC) program. According to friends and family, Brandan had always wanted to be a pilot. “It’s been his dream ever since he was a little boy to fly,”….. He was always looking skyward.”, said Brandan’s sister Shannon in an interview with the Penn State Daily Collegian. She also said her brother had an amazing ability to make friends, and that his friendships extended far beyond the reach of State College. “He never met a stranger,” she said, adding that her brother had friendships that extended across the world. Another friend of Brandan’s, Kim Merriman added that, “He was so proud of his family….wanted to make his father, a Navy SEAL, proud. His dad was his hero, his idol.” She went on to say that McCombie was the only person she knew who was determined enough to accomplish every goal he set out for himself. “His drive was amazing,” she said.
“Seeing the the families there that night…especially the two Moms- Maureen Murphy and Denise McCombie, really drives this story home”, says Albracht. “Way beyond just the event itself, the strong connections in that room that night, and now the scholarship in Mike’s honor, it’s about the utlimate sacrifice that Mike Murphy, Brandan McCombie, and their families, especially the Moms have made. It really exemplifies the epitome of commitment to one’s country and why those who serve continue to serve.”