Don’t fear death. It makes you weak. We need you to fight your way back to us.
As Navy SEAL Thom Shea lay on his back, dazed, bleeding and in shock, he heard his wife Stacy’s clear, strong voice ringing in his ears, commanding him to get up and move. To fight. To live.
Fight your way back to us.
On this mission in Afghanistan, Shea and his SEAL teammates were inserted by helicopter roughly four miles from their target in Kandahar province. They were in a sustained firefight throughout the first day, spending about six hours in a heated battle, fending off enemy fire.
By the following afternoon, they felt a relative calm. The bullets stopped flying and they made it a good distance toward their target. For a few minutes, Shea remembered, they thought they were in the clear.
Then with just about two hours of daylight left, their position was overrun.
“We got overwhelmed by the enemy; there were 65 of them to about 12 of us,” Shea recalled. “The sniper position was overwhelmed and the guys had to jump off the roof, several of our weapons were fired at and destroyed.”
They were pinned down, and all hell broke loose.
Shea was in a building alone when a rocket blasted just outside the window, blowing him back against the wall.
Ears and head ringing, he tried to call out for his teammates. But he heard nothing.
“I thought I was dead or alone,” Shea said. “My radio wouldn’t work and I couldn’t hear anyone saying anything, so in that moment I realized that I might be alone. And that’s when I heard Stacy’s words just playing over and over again.”
Fight your way back to us.
It was the voice of his “Spartan wife,” the warrior he left back home to protect and defend their children, and her words gave renewed energy to this battle-hardened Navy SEAL.
“In that moment I realized that moment I could either give up and die, or keep moving,” Shea said. “I realized in that moment of clarity, that I wasn’t going to die, that I was going to be unbreakable. So as I fought my way back to lucidity … and we rallied the troops.”
For the next 45 minutes, Stacy’s words were the only thing Shea could hear as he fought back to defeat the enemy.
Don’t fear death. Fight your way back to us.
“That was a tough moment as a leader to realize that everything that I do affects everyone else,” Shea remembered. “When you realize every step you take could have been the last one and I was responsible for all those men — and their lives and their future … that’s a tough moment.”
“We couldn’t maneuver, but we did what we needed to do, and we eventually won the battle,” he said, describing the end of the 2009 mission that would eventually earn him a Silver Star.
Years earlier, before Shea left for one of his multiple overseas deployments, Stacy said they needed to find a way to capture his stories and his life in case the worst happened, and so their children could know their father through his own words.
“When our son Chance was 4 months old, Thom left for Iraq, and anybody whose husband or wife is leaving for a combat deployment it becomes very real, the mortality of your husband.
“All the things I thought were important, strong and admirable qualities of my husband, I couldn’t preserve alone to pass on to our kids,” Stacy Shea said. “I wanted to make sure Thom was writing those down, he is the expert on what make him strong through those successes and failures.”
Thom Shea retired in January after 23 years of service in the Navy, having served as a SEAL since 1996. He said his wife is the rock that kept him grounded during the dangerous deployments, especially knowing that she had everything under control back home.
Shea documented his deployments as a SEAL, the life lessons he learned a long the way, and the importance of having a “Spartan wife” in the recently published book, “Unbreakable: A Navy SEAL’s Way of Life.”
“I wanted the kids to know how important a woman is to a man, and you don’t hear about that a lot in life in general,” Shea said.
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