TAMPA — Marcus Luttrell was 14 when he started training to become a Navy SEAL.
Generations of men in his family had served in the armed forces, so the young Luttrell and his twin brother, Morgan, growing up in Texas, didn't think twice about turning themselves over to a neighbor and former U.S. Army soldier for training every day.
The boys learned to do pushups in unison and think as a team. At the Tampa Theatre on Tuesday, on the first stop of his multicity Patriot Tour, Luttrell, a retired Navy SEAL, spoke to a full house, many of them veterans and their families, about the power of that lesson.
"War's not black and white; it's gray," Luttrell said. "If you don't fight in the gray area, you're going to lose."
On June 28, 2005, SEAL Team 10, including Luttrell, Michael P. Murphy, Danny Dietz and Matthew Axelson, were assigned to Operation Redwing. Their mission in Afghanistan was to kill or capture the high-ranking Taliban leader Ahmad Shah.
After a group of goat herders found the team, they let the herders go. The team was found again and a gun battle with Taliban forces erupted. Luttrell recalled the chaos as each member of the team tried to help the others to safety. Dietz had broken both thigh bones, and Luttrell tried in vain to carry him, barely able to keep himself upright. He would hear another scream his name for help.
"It was so terrible," Luttrell said. "I put my weapon on my knees and put my hands over my ears. I couldn't stand to hear him die."
Luttrell was the only member of his team to survive. He traveled 7 miles to avoid capture, and an Afghan tribe gave him shelter. Six days later, he was rescued by American forces.
Luttrell wrote about his experiences in the 2007 book Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10. The book became the basis for the 2013 movie Lone Survivor. His second book, Service: A Navy SEAL at War, with more details about his time in Afghanistan and rescue, was published in 2012.
Other veterans and family of veterans joined Luttrell on the tour and spoke of how their trials had shaped them. Taya Kyle's husband, Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, was known for having the most confirmed kills.
"He always said he'd rather be known for the number of lives he saved rather than the number of lives he took," she said. "It's not about killing, it's really about protecting."
Her husband was killed at a gun range in Texas in February last year, but she said she still sees his ripple effect in things like the tiny American flags anonymously placed in her yard on holidays.
"We started out knowing we had faith," she said. "We had no idea how much we'd need our faith as the years went by."
Ann Marie Amato of Hudson came to see Luttrell with her husband, a Navy veteran. She has two sons, one in the Navy and one in the Marines. One of her sons suggested they read Luttrell's book. Reading and hearing the story live were inspirational, she said.
"It makes you feel motivated, alive," she said. "Don't sweat the small stuff."