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Navy Electronics Technician 1st Class (SEAL) Jeffery A. Lucas

Died June 28, 2005 Serving During Operation Enduring Freedom

33, of Corbett, Ore.; assigned to SEAL Team 10, Virginia Beach, Va.; killed June 28 when an MH-47 Chinook helicopter crashed while ferrying personnel to a battle against militants in eastern Afghanistan.

* * * * *

Wife of SEAL killed in Afghan crash struggles with his death

By Louis Hansen

The Virginian-Pilot

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — Their plans were set.

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.

Three weeks ago, a pair of Navy officers knocked on her door. Petty Officer 1st Class Jeffrey A. Lucas husband, father, confidant, prankster and Navy SEAL was missing in action, presumed dead somewhere in Afghanistan.

A helicopter crash had killed 16 members of the special operations forces, including eight SEALs. It was the worst loss for elite Navy forces since World War II.

Rhonda Lucas sat on a leather chair in her living room and replayed her recent days of loss and pain. Seth sat on her lap and hugged her.

The signature tools of a Navy commando’s life — swim fins, a K-Bar combat knife, and dive mask — were temporarily kept on the table in the neat dining room.

“My life has been Jeff’s life,” she said softly. “Now I have to figure out what my life is.”

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.

In the basement of the family’s rented home, young Jeff watched mice crawl along a ledge under the floorboards. He sat in an old chair, aimed his BB gun, and dropped mouse after mouse.

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.”

He was rarely home. Rhonda learned to stifle her concerns.

“It’s hard to comprehend what your husband’s doing,” she said.

Six years ago, they moved to the East Coast. Soon, the family settled in a comfortable home near the Chesapeake Bay. The neighborhood’s thick pine canopy reminded the couple of the Northwest. Rhonda kept the finances, paid the bills, scheduled the family vacations. She runs her own pet-sitting business.

She built the scrapbooks: Jeff diving on a tropical island vacation, wearing a thong and fins as a prank. On the ground at night in Kosovo, behind his rifle, with a small mutt perched on his back. In front of a helicopter with buddies. At the hospital, cradling his newborn son.

He shielded her from his work, she said. He liked her to take on responsibilities. “Jeff needed me to be an independent woman,” she said.

If she allowed her fear to rise, she said, “I wouldn’t sleep at night. I wouldn’t be able to pick up my child at day care.”

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.

Family flew in from across the country. Her estranged father and half-brother called. The governor left two phone messages.

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.”

A week after a memorial ceremony at Little Creek, the Lucas home was still filled with family. A small box of tissues sat on the coffee table.

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.


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