Eddie Penney spent 20 years in the U.S. military, first as a Marine and later as a Navy SEAL assigned to the Naval Special Warfare Development Group (DEVGRU), better known as SEAL Team Six. A high school athlete from the Cincinnati, Ohio suburbs, Eddie was drawn to the challenge and potential for adventure that the military could deliver. When the Marine Corps couldn’t provide the level of action that he sought, he made his way to the navy. During the grueling six-month SEAL training and selection program known as Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) Training, Eddie and his fellow trainees watched the 9/11 attacks live as the images streamed worldwide. Knowing that he and his classmates would soon be in harm’s way, the training took on a sobering importance. Suddenly, it was real.
After two combat deployments with SEAL Team Two, Eddie tried out and was selected for DEVGRU, the elite of the elite and the tip of the nation’s spear in the fight against terrorist threats worldwide. Terrified of missing the action, Eddie became a breacher, the first man to the door on a target and one of the most dangerous jobs imaginable. Eddie endured five more deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan and Africa in his role, relishing in taking the fight to the enemy as he engaged in countless examples of extreme close-range combat.
United States Marine Corps
On a mission in Iraq in 2008, Eddie was serving as the acting team leader when he ordered a close friend to move into position by his side near the front door of the target house. Then something strange happened, he felt an unnatural urge to move, a voice that told him to “get out.” Heeding the instinct, Eddie left the position just seconds before a massive explosion leveled the entire two-story building. Rather than being taken alive, the targeted insurgents had detonated 50 pounds of high explosive to destroy the house and its occupants. Eddie’s close friend lay dead, his shattered body pinned under more than a ton of concrete. Had an unseen hand not guided him away, Eddie would have been under the same slab. The guilt of having directed his friend to the very spot where he was killed became a heavy burden. After losing several close friends in such scenarios, he became consumed with the fight, obsessed with killing as many insurgents as he could to avenge the growing number of close friends who had been killed by his side. He progressed as a warrior, but became emotionally unavailable as a husband and father.
SEAL Team 2 and Team 6
Then, in the midst of near-constant combat, the unthinkable happened: two weeks before he was scheduled to go on an overseas deployment, Eddie became the single father of three young children. This hardened warrior who had never changed a diaper became a sole caregiver of an eight-month-old, a four-year-old and a nine-year-old overnight, thanks to the custody decision of a family court judge. Eddie dug into his new role with the same zeal with which he had attacked his enemies, putting his military career on-hold as he juggled the endless tasks of both mother and father.
With his family situation stabilized, Eddie arranged to complete one last deployment during his children’s summer vacation. It was on this trip to Afghanistan when the worst disaster in special operations history struck: a Chinook helicopter, known as Extortion 17, was shot down by an enemy RPG, killing all 38 aboard. Among the dead were 15 fellow SEALs from Eddie’s own squadron, close friends and colleagues, fathers and sons. He watched the scene helplessly on a live video feed, knowing that his best friend had just been killed. The emotional toll was immeasurable. That those very men had asked Eddie to join them on this deployment made the pain even greater. Eddie was asked by his friend’s widow to accompany his body on the long trip home, and he stayed by his friend’s side for over a week.
The stress and grief brought-on damaging behaviors, drinking, womanizing, anything that would stop him from feeling the pain. Eddie transitioned out of the navy and was physically there for his children, but his inability to show normal emotions challenged his relationships with them. He was on a dark path, with few signs of hope. He was on his way to becoming yet another statistic. On a whim and with nothing to lose, he agreed to attend a men’s retreat at a local church. The event changed his life, instilling in him the peace that he could be forgiven for his actions. His faith gave him hope and allowed him to attack civilian life with the same focus that he had used to forge such a successful military career.