Retired Naval Fighter pilot lends insight to Navy Seals tragedy

MAINEVILLE, OH (FOX19) - A local U.S. Navy Fighter pilot who retired with a long and decorated history with the military is reacting to the tragedy in Afghanistan that killed 30 U.S. troops.

A helicopter was brought down by a Taliban rocket-propelled grenade. Several U.S. Navy SEALSs were on board, including members of SEAL Team 6, which was responsible for the death of Osama bin Laden.

Lieutenant Colonel Jeff Lay worked closely with the Navy Seals and says he was lucky he spent most of his naval career, 24 years, in the air flying the fighter jets.

"Well, the first thing I thought about was, was this at night?," Lay said. "So, a lot of the operations and we've flown under the cover of night for so many years, and increasingly you're flying at night and the helicopters are really strained, it's hot where they are."

Lay has flown countless night missions as a Naval Fighter pilot.

"I had the luxury of being up high and we could avoid everything on the ground," Lay said. "But (the SEALs), don't have that luxury."

He and many others are heartbroken at the news of so many Navy SEALs perishing over the weekend.

"They're a family within a family," Lay explained. "It's a very elite unit, there's some 2,000 members strong and they lost 1-percent of their force in one day."

Lay said about 10-percent of the entire force that's in Afghanistan are Special Operations forces.

"Well, when you go into it, it's a lot of unknowns, so these soldiers that are out there, they're rushed at this helicopter at the last moment," said Lay.

"It was a complete flashback for me, to Operation Red Wing in 2005, the story of Marcus Luttrell, and his book that was written about an operation called, 'Lone Survivor'," Lay said. "Thinking about the number of people that were actually on-board the helicopter is a tremendous loss in one accident."

During major operations, Lay explained all communications like email, can be shut-down or cut off until the mission is completed.

"It's tremendously frustrating," Lay said. "You've got family all the way back at home and you're with your family overseas, and you're really in the heat of the moment and they're back at home and wondering and you find out an operation like this goes down and the first thing they think is, was that my spouse? It's a terrible feeling for those at home."

He showed what his helmet looked like, from his last mission. The Navy SEALs helmets are a little different, but both elite forces use night vision goggles to see.

"The Special Forces soldiers have the most advanced night vision goggles possible," Lay said.

They also have split-second decisions to defend themselves. He explained further showing us the actual joystick from his aircraft and the buttons used to release missiles or bombs on-board.

"This is physically how you're going to fire missiles," he said pulling a red trigger. "So, any of the missiles that are on the aircraft, that's the way you fire the missile. If you want to drop the bomb, what you do is over the top, there's actually a bomb button, you click and you hold that down right there."

Lay said that lone Navy Seal survivor from a previous incident, Marcus Luttrell, who is a personal friend, will be meeting the families and bodies of the deceased at Dover Air Force Base Tuesday, with his twin brother Morgan.

Lay said the ceremony will be touching and that this is a time of reverence for those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.

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