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Hundreds of Soldiers, civilians and their Family members gathered on Fort Jackson’s Patton Stadium early morning May 26. Hot, sweaty, and out of breath, they honored those who made the ultimate sacrifice by completing the infamous Murph Challenge. Gold Star Family members also joined and completed the challenge hosted by the 165th Infantry Brigade.
“We started bright and early this morning to do the Murph,” said Col. Kent Solheim, 165th Infantry Brigade commander. “Everyone thinks of the Murph Workout of the Day as a kind of Memorial Day event but what a lot of people don’t know is that it is commissioned for Lt. Michael Murphy who died during Operation Red Wings.”
Murphy, leader of a four-man team assigned to SEAL Delivery Team 1, was killed in action after overwhelming enemy forces surrounded the team in the Pech District of Kunar Province on the slopes of the Sawtalo Sar mountain, Afghanistan.
Murphy, alongside the only survivor of the mission Special Operator 1st Class Marcus Luttrell, would become well-known after the release of the 2013 movie Lone Survivor.
“He doesn’t like to be called hero,” said actor Mark Wahlberg of Luttrell during a premiere interview. “He’s humble.”
Luttrell made an appearance during the 165th Murph Challenge. He gave the opening remarks before the start of the victory lap around the stadium. Luttrell and Solheim share a common bond formed during the fatal event on the Afghan mountain slope.
“I came in today to rally up with the guys that pulled me out in Afghanistan,” Luttrell said. “As crazy as it sounds, a lot of them are still alive and some still serving. Capt. Solheim, now colonel, was in charge then.”
An MH-47 Chinook helicopter carrying an additional SEAL team of eight and an additional eight 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne) “Night Stalkers” were enroute to rescue the downed team when they were critically hit by a rocket-propelled grenade, killing all 16 passengers.
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“I was the ground forces commander that went into the village to recover Marcus Luttrell,” Solheim said. “I didn’t think I would be as emotional as I am today. I’m a 9.5, I never get this emotional.”
Despite his feelings and running with his carbon fiber blade prosthetic, Solheim lead the victory lap before the start of the challenge. Solheim received gunshot wounds to his leg during his deployment to Iraq in 2007. His leg was so badly damaged it was amputated. Solheim spent years recovering before being granted a waiver to return to active-duty status.
Running alongside Solheim was Collin McColskey. Collin is the son of Sgt. 1st Class Shawn P. McCloskey, 3rd Battalion, 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne), who was killed in action Sept. 16, 2009. McColskey and Solheim were close friends.
“He’s been a part of my life since I was born and an important role model for me,” McColskey said.
After completing the victory lap together, Solheim placed his hands on either side of his face and spoke to him. McColskey smiled as he did.
“He told me good job and how proud my dad would be of me,” McColskey recounted. “It’s very important for me to be out here and see how it’s all happening and how people are getting together.”
Though the challenge is named after Murphy, it has become a way to celebrate the lives of all those lost over the years.
“I agree it’s for everyone who has lost someone,” McColskey said. “It feels great seeing everyone together.”
A wall bearing the names of the Operation Red Wings victims stood at the end of the field. The wall also contained a series of running bibs containing the names of each sailor and Soldier. Those participating in the challenge were encouraged to take a bib or create one with the name of someone they personally knew and wear it throughout the challenge.
Music blared across the field to motivate the participants as they completed a one-mile run, 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups, 300 squats and a final one-mile run. Some completed the heavy challenge wearing a plate carrier while other completed the light challenge without wearing additional gear.
“I know a lot about the challenge, me and Mr. Murphy were together when the program was developed,” Luttrell said. “It’s been a joy and an honor to watch it grow throughout the years. To come out here and watch highly motivated people not only to do it the way we normally do it, but to add stuff to it affects me in ways you can’t even imagine.”
Luttrell watched as the participants struggled to complete the challenge, offering his own words of encouragement to the shouts of friends and Family members.
It took roughly two hours for everyone to finish the challenge. Afterwards, they were offered snacks, drinks and recovery therapy using percussion guns and leg compression devices by the battalion’s Fitness Training Company.
Each person who completed the challenge were presented with a commemorative shirt and patch bearing the challenge’s name.
“Their legacy lives on,” Solheim said. “We won’t forget.”