When special operators (or any armed force, for that matter) goes on an operation, Murphy (of “Murphy’s Law” fame) can be an uninvited and very unwelcome guest — whether with last minute changes in the plan, an inopportune discovery by civilians, or gear breaking down.
America’s highly-trained commandos have an amazing track record of achievement, wracking up huge wins with very few losses over the decades since World War II. But their missions are often so high stakes that when Murphy does pay a visit, the damage has an outsized public impact.
Here are some of the more notable instances where Murphy’s Law sent spec ops missions into a tailspin.
1. Desert One
On April 24, 1980, the newly established Delta Force attempted a daring rescue mission of the 66 Americans being held hostage in Iran.
At the initial landing site codenamed “Desert One,” the mission went south in a big way. Ultimately, eight special operators died in the abortive effort, which contributed to the undoing of the Carter administration. The mission did become the backdrop used for the opening of the Chuck Norris classic, “The Delta Force,” which was also Lee Marvin’s last role.
2. Operation Urgent Fury
After a Marxist coup seized power of the small Caribbean nation of Grenada in 1979, tensions between the country (essentially a Cuban puppet) and the United States increased. After an internal power struggle ended up leaving the island nation’s president dead, President Ronald Reagan ordered American forces to settle the matter.
Unfortunately the SEALs involved with the invasion really had a rough time of it.
The Navy SEAL Museum notes that a drop that was supposed to be in daylight and calm seas got delayed to night. A bad storm resulted in the loss of four SEALs. The lack of reconnaissance and bad comms (SEALs who rescued the island’s governor, had to use a phone to call HQ for support) created problems, but the operation was successful.
The SEALs at the governor’s mansion were eventually rescued by Force Recon Marines. Other SEALs managed to destroy a radio tower and swim out to sea, where they were picked up. Grenada was a success, and many of the lessons learned were applied in the future.
3. Operation Just Cause
The SEALs again were involved in an op where Murphy paid a visit when the United States decided to remove Manuel Noriega from power after Panamanian troops killed a U.S. Marine.
SEAL Team 4 drew the assignment of taking Punta Paitilla airport and disabling Noriega’s private jet. According to the Navy SEAL Museum’s web page, Noriega’s jet had been moved to a hanger.
As a result of the move, the SEALs ended up into a firefight that left four dead. One of those killed in action. SEAL Don McFaul would receive a posthumous Navy Cross, and have an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, USS McFaul (DDG 74), named in his honor.
4. ODA 525 – Desert Storm
In this special op, Murphy took the form of children discovering the hide site of nine Green Berets lead by Chief Warrant Officer Richard Balwanz. Balwanz made the decision to let the kids, go, and his force found itself under attack.
Despite being heavily outnumbered, the Daily Caller noted that Balwanz brought his entire team back. In this case, the special operators overcame Murphy in an outstanding feat of arms that few Americans have heard about.
If you’ve seen “Black Hawk Down,” you pretty much know the story of how the firefight in Mogadishu went down. In this case, a 2013 article at RealClearDefense.com noted that two MH-60 Blackhawks from the 106th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (the “Nightstalkers”) were shot down. Murphy had a lot of room to maneuver when armor and AC-130 support was denied.
6. Operation Red Wings
If you read the book, “Lone Survivor” (or saw the movie), you have a very good sense as to what went wrong here. Lieutenant Michael Murphy’s team of SEALs was discovered by civilians, a force of insurgents launched an attack and three SEALs were killed in the harrowing firefight.
It got worse when a Chinook helicopter carrying a quick reaction force was shot down by insurgents, killing 11 SEALs and eight Nightstalkers.