Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Jeffery A. Lucas

Remember Our Heroes

Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Jeffery A. Lucas, 33, of Corbett, Oregon.

Petty Officer Lucas died while conducting combat operations when the MH-47 helicopter that he was aboard crashed in the vicinity of Asadabad, Afghanistan in Kumar Province. He was assigned to SEAL Team Ten, Virginia Beach, Virginia.

Rhonda and Jeff Lucas were to meet in Germany. They would spend 10 days together while family watched their 4-year-old son, Seth, back home. Then Rhonda would wait until October when Jeff’s fifth deployment would be over. He needed a little more than three years to reach his Navy retirement.

Jeff Lucas, 33, joked that he’d become a professional golfer with his GI Bill. Maybe Rhonda, also 33, would go back to school and become a dental hygienist. They always had plans.

Rhonda and Jeff Lucas met at a friend’s party near Portland, Ore., when they were 19. She grew up in the Northwest, her family living in Oregon, Washington and Alaska, where her father worked on a commercial fishing rig.

Jeff was from rural Oregon, a town named Corbett, with nurseries, berry farms and logging trails, and only 600 children in its public school system.

Soon, he introduced her to his younger brother, Jamie. “Hey, this is my girlfriend, Rhonda.” A year later, he brought her around to his family again. “Hey, this is my wife, Rhonda.”

They both had plans. She wanted to be a dental hygienist. He wanted to be a Navy SEAL.

Pat Lucas always knew her oldest son would follow other men in the family and go into the service. At birth, his mother said, “he came out screaming.”

In fourth grade, Jeff wrote an essay about military special forces, explaining that the best were Navy SEALs.

He starred at Corbett High School in football, basketball, baseball and track. He’s a local legend, as much for being a 150-pound all-state tailback as for being a SEAL.
Jamie Lucas remembers the high school basketball game when his 5-foot-8 point-guard brother led his team against another that had no player shorter than 6-foot-1. Lucas torched them for 32 points, his brother recalled. “The bigger the challenge, the better he responded,” Jamie said.

He graduated from high school in June 1989 and enlisted eight weeks later.

Rhonda knew Jeff wanted to be a SEAL but “I wasn’t quite excited about that,” she said. They put his career first.

He entered Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL school, where just one in five men complete the brutal training. The school starts the transformation of top young sailors into highly skilled amphibious warriors. Jeff graduated from Class 191. From the SEAL base in Coronado, Calif., he deployed regularly around the globe — Sri Lanka, Philippines and Kosovo.

Deployment often came with little notice. She heard brief sketches of perilous operations and training. He shrugged off the danger. When a helicopter Jeff was in crashed into a ship during training, his brother remembers Jeff’s reaction: “Aw, it was just a hard landing.”

Jeff’s work mounted with the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Deployment pace was intense six months on, six months off, Rhonda said. Even when Jeff was stateside, he usually was training somewhere around the country.

Jeff tried out for a particular SEAL team based at Dam Neck in Virginia Beach, Rhonda said. He collapsed during summer drills. His body temperature rose to 105 degrees. He fell into a coma for three days. It was the most serious incident in his SEAL career. Until June 28.

He was golfing on a clear day in early April when the Navy ordered him overseas. He and the other SEALs had two days to get ready and go. The deployment would last until October. Part would be spent in Afghanistan, part in Germany. It was Jeff’s first deployment to the Middle East.

“He was ready to go,” Rhonda said. “He could not wait to get over there and fight the fight.”

Jeff called his wife several times in the days leading up to the last mission. Enough, she finally told him. She had work to do.

On a Tuesday night, Rhonda got a call from a close friend, another SEAL wife. The friend heard that a helicopter went down in Afghanistan. The news ricocheted around the insular SEAL community.

The next day, the phones crackled with facts and rumors. Her husband did not call. Rhonda cried all day.

That afternoon, casualty officers began to visit homes. Rhonda waited. By 5 p.m., they reached her door.

“It was like watching somebody else’s movie. Officers in dress blues — I still don’t believe “

She paused. “Sometimes I think he’s going to come out,” she said.

Seth asked questions: Why didn’t he jump? Did other daddies die? How long will he be dead?

Family members said they were told the battle was heavy and bloody.

Sixteen special operations forces, including the eight SEALs, had volunteered to fly in broad daylight to rescue four SEALs who were on a reconnaissance mission. The four men were pinned down by Taliban and al-Qaida fighters.

The helicopter flew high into the rugged terrain. Enemy fire, possibly a rocket-propelled grenade, brought the aircraft down, killing everyone on board. The dead included six SEALs based in Hampton Roads. One SEAL on the ground survived.

Pat Lucas believes her son dropped more than his share of enemy fighters before he died. “This was the end,” she said. “God called him home.”

Rhonda thought about her husband, and looked into space. She swore at him. Hard. Then she smiled. Shook her head.

“You think you’ve got it all planned,” Rhonda said. “You don’t.”

Jeff Lucas left these instructions in case he died: Cremate my body. Bury me at Arlington. No (expletive) bagpipes at my funeral.

The rest, he wrote, my wife knows.

Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Jeffery A. Lucas was killed in action on 06/28/05.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That's my boy!! - Grew up with Jeff and Jamie - playing army in the woods hiding in them tall ferns!! - my dawg is as good as a man gets on this earth...Peace...