American Portraits

An Act of Supreme Valor: Michael Murphy and Self-Sacrifice

In this lesson, students will learn about Michael Murphy and his unselfish actions while on Operation Red Wings in Afghanistan. They will explore how his actions helped his team and how they can use his example to act selflessly in their own lives.

Founding Principles

Individual Responsibility image

Individual Responsibility

Individuals must take care of themselves and their families and be vigilant to preserve their liberty.


In the early morning of June 27, 2005, Lieutenant Michael Patrick Murphy received word that an al Qaeda leader had been found. “[Operation] Redwing is a go!” his commander told another member of the team, Marcus Luttrell. “This is it, Marcus. We’re going. Go get the guys ready.” The four-man team gathered their M4 rifles with eight thirty-bullet magazines, grenades, four days’ supply of food and water, and various communications and camera equipment weighing almost fifty pounds in their rucksacks. They climbed aboard the special operations helicopter and lifted off into the darkness of the night sky toward their destination. Any apprehensions and fears the four men had were tempered by years of training and their experience on dozens of missions as Navy SEALs, among the most professional and dangerous soldiers in the world….

Narrative PDF

Compelling Question

How can Michael Murphy’s heroic actions inspire you to be unselfish in pursuit of a greater good?

Virtue Defined

Self-sacrifice is purposeful action exchanging personal loss for the good of others.

Lesson Overview

In this lesson, students will learn about Michael Murphy and his unselfish actions while on Operation Red Wings in Afghanistan. They will explore how his actions helped his team and how they can use his example to act selflessly in their own lives.


  • Students will analyze Michael Murphy’s actions while on Operation Red Wings
  • Students will understand how acting selflessly can benefit those around them
  • Students will understand how they can act more selflessly in their own lives.


Lieutenant Michael Patrick Murphy was a highly-trained Navy SEAL who was deployed to Afghanistan in March 2005. He was an honors graduate of Pennsylvania State University, a hockey player, and a voracious reader. Murphy was engaged to Heather Duggar, and the couple planned to marry that November. He strongly believed in the SEAL philosophy, which read in part: “I will draw on every remaining ounce of strength to protect my teammates and to accomplish our mission. I am never out of the fight.”

In the spring of 2005, U.S. intelligence was tracking the location of an al Qaeda leader who was responsible for the recent deaths of several U.S. Marines, had an estimated 100-200 fighters at his disposal, and was a known associate of terrorist leader, Osama bin Laden. When they finally tracked him and pinpointed his location, four Navy SEALs were dispatched to find him and radio in for a larger task force to capture or kill him. The four SEALs were Murphy, Petty Officer Marcus Luttrell, Sergeant Matthew Gene Axelson (“Axe”), and Senior Chief Daniel Richard Healy (Danny). The mission was known as Operation Red Wings.


  • Voracious
  • Al Qaeda
  • Osama bin Laden
  • Apprehension
  • Tempered
  • Arduous
  • Concealment
  • Tenacious
  • Valor

Introduce Text

Have students read the background and narrative, keeping the Compelling Question in mind as they read. Then have them answer the remaining questions below.

For more robust lesson treatment, check out our partners at the Character Formation Project

Visit Their Website


Walk-In-The-Shoes Questions
As you read, imagine you are the protagonist.

  • What challenges are you facing?
  • What fears or concerns might you have?
  • What may prevent you from acting in the way you ought?

Observation Questions

  • What was Michael Murphy’s role in Operation Red Wings?
  • Why was the risky mission undertaken by the SEAL team?
  • How do Michael Murphy’s unselfish actions help shape his identity?

Discussion Questions
Discuss the following questions with your students.

  • What is the historical context of the narrative?
  • What historical circumstances presented a challenge to the protagonist?
  • How and why did the individual exhibit a moral and/or civic virtue in facing and overcoming the challenge?
  • How did the exercise of the virtue benefit civil society?
  • How might exercise of the virtue benefit the protagonist?
  • What might the exercise of the virtue cost the protagonist?
  • Would you react the same under similar circumstances? Why or why not?
  • How can you act similarly in your own life? What obstacles must you overcome in order to do so?

Additional Resources

  • Luttrell, Marcus, and Patrick Robinson. Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10. New York: Little, Brown, 2007.
  • Lone Survivor. Universal Pictures, 2013. Film.
  • “Medal of Honor Recipients – Afghanistan.”

Give Feedback

Send us your comments or questions using the form below.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.