Let’s remember and honor Master Sergeant Joshua L. Wheeler

I wanted to take a moment to do my small part to honor a warrior and true American hero.

Master Sergeant Joshua L. Wheeler was the first American to die in combat in Iraq in four years, and he was a highly decorated Delta Force member who was killed taking part in a joint raid to rescue 70 hostages held by ISIS.

The hostages were expected to be executed within hours, after morning prayers. In fact, their graves had already been dug.

Thus, a joint, night-time raid was launched with Kurdish commandos.

The fighting was fierce and scary, as evidenced by this helmet camera footage dug up by the Washington Post. You can just feel the fear and confusion in the video, as a fire burns, people scramble, and bullets snap past.

And going beyond the call of duty in this battle was Master Sergeant Wheeler.

The Kurds were trying to blast a hole in the outer wall to breach the compound, but were unable to do so, according to The New York Times.

Wheeler, just one of many Delta Force operators advising the Kurds, rushed to the front of the line to fix the charges. And when the hole in the wall was blown, Wheeler led the way through it.

“When you blow a hole in a compound wall, all the fire gets directed toward that hole, and that’s where he was,” said a former Delta Force officer, who once led Wheeler and was briefed afterward about the mission.

The New York Times wrote an impressive tribute to Wheeler, who leaves behind a wife and infant boy, plus three sons from an earlier marriage.

Incredibly, Master Sergeant Joshua L. Wheeler had been on 14 deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan since joining the Army, and he had already earned 11 Bronze Stars.

I’m not sure it’s possible to explain those kinds of numbers to someone who’s never served.

In my four years of service, I merely did two measly, six-month deployments, and only spent two days in harm’s way, and it COMPLETELY changed my life. This man may have spent as much as 10 years (or more) in harm’s way. (The math on that is that at one point Army deployments were as long as 13 months, assuming your unit wasn’t extended. Truthfully, we’ll probably never know the real figure, since the Army doesn’t even admit to Delta Force’s existence).

Nonetheless, you can’t really put 14 deployments into words. For instance, both of my deployments had major training work ups (one lasting six months), and these are exhausting and dangerous in their own right. These super-intensive training exercises are far more dangerous than more typical, peace-time training — we actually lost a great Marine during this kind of training, when Lance Corporal Foster died on April 10, 1999, while my company — Alpha Co., 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment — conducted highly dangerous jungle training in Okinawa. Foster drowned while crossing a roaring stream in full combat gear. (Photo by Cpl. Conwell.)

Additionally, there are also air alerts periods for units, where you can’t go far from the base and have to be ready to deploy within hours. (These air alerts involve drills, which are launched by surprise — usually at night or on the weekend! — and you have no idea if they’re real or not until the exercise is ended.)

I say all this because there’s probably no way to accurately measure how much time Master Sergeant Wheeler spent either on air alert, or impossible-to-describe training, or on dangerous deployments into harm’s way.

This man spent the better part of nearly 20 years in the complete, full service of our country. He was away from his family. He was away from comforts, such as a bed, a shower, a TV, or any of the other things we all take for granted.

And even when he didn’t have to be up front, when he could have taken his foot off the gas — he was planning to retire soon — he moved to the front and freely accepted the most dangerous position.

My former platoon leader Captain Eaton said it best.

“This guy had 11 Bronze stars. Even if the ‘plan’ is for foreign fighters to take the lead on a mission, U.S. Commandos will not be mere observers once bullets start flying. They are neither physically nor morally capable of just standing by.”

I wish we had more Americans like Master Sergeant Wheeler, who are neither physically nor morally capable of just standing by.

This man was a warrior. He was a hero. And his record of service and sacrifice should inspire us all.

And while not all of us can serve as Master Sergeant Wheeler did, we can remember that we still have a war going on. We still have troops in danger every single day. And we can do far more to support them.

Furthermore, we can remind our kids that real heroes don’t play on the football field or on the basketball court. They sleep in mud. They deploy thousands of miles away. And they rush through holes that they don’t have to.

Keep the faith,

Stan R. Mitchell

About meStan R. Mitchell writes some of the most action-packed, fast-moving gunfighter novels around. Tired of slow-paced, investigative novels that take 300 pages to excite you? Look no further! Stan is the best-selling author of 5 novels in 3 different time periods. He’s also a prior infantry Marine with Combat Action Ribbon, and a former journalist who spent ten years in the newspaper business, learning how to hook the reader, cut out the filler, and just tell the story. In short, Stan is knowledgeable, he’s fast, and his books will blow you away. Don’t forget to subscribe for email alerts to keep up with his latest works.

16 thoughts on “Let’s remember and honor Master Sergeant Joshua L. Wheeler

  1. This is the spot where you should say something meaningful, but I can’t
    find any words. But I did find the letters, RIP Master Sgt.


    1. Bruce,

      In a weird way, your comment makes me feel a little better. I nearly didn’t finish this post — fought with it for two days — because I don’t even rate to clean this man’s weapon, much less write a post trying to summarize his life.

      But if a Marine who spent his time in hell in Vietnam is also at a loss for words on what to say, it makes me realize that I was absolutely right to not feel worthy to write a post about him.

      Nonetheless, a man of his fabric rates to be remembered for at least the next hundred years, minimum…

      Semper Fi,


  2. Stan,
    When I read about men like this – who stand in the breach to protect others – all I can do is be grateful that our country continues to produce moral giants.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. And they do so voluntarily, multiple times. It’s not like they’re drafted, as some people forget.

      Even stranger is that they do it despite how they’re treated afterward by our government, i.e. failure to recognize Gulf War’s disease, effects of Agent Orange, etc….


  3. Awesome, tribute, Stan! I also liked the fact that Top Wheeler died rescuing Kurds — they ‘re the guys we should be helping out. I’m hoping we don’t get side -tracked again.

    Fair winds and following seas, Sir. Semper Fi


      1. And I hear ya on the work ups and training to deploy as equally hazardous, Stan. We had an Amtrak just sink in the middle of the Indian ocean in one float. Not to mention helicopter crashes and 5 tons rolling downhill, crushing Devils on board.


        1. Yeah, we had those two helicopters crash into each other on a night op during Operation Purple Storm. I think that might have been like 14 killed, if memory serves me correctly.

          I was always scared to death of those amtracks when they rolled off ship. We hear the stories of them sinking, same as everybody else.

          Did any of those Marines in that Amtrack make it out?


          1. Naw. It was only the crew, they figured the waters were calm and did a couple of horsetracks around the ship, I think (I didn’t see it personally)…

            I think a ship (another Navy ship, not part of the ARG, but part of the Carrier Group) did the whole deep sea salvage, while we continued on. But rumor had it that they were never able to recover.


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