March 26, 2020

Profiles of Valor: U.S. Army CWO 5 (Retired) Douglas Englen

During a time of crisis, taking note of American heroes is well worthwhile.

In the midst of updates on mortality rates and event cancellations, one recent positive story went largely unnoticed. That’s probably just fine as far as the subject — a true “quiet professional” — is concerned, but in this age of the anti-hero, the story of his life and career of integrity, patriotism, and service warrant the widest possible dissemination.

U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 5 (Retired) Douglas Englen was the aviation element commander for the 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden, Operation NEPTUNE SPEAR. As such, he led the highly compartmentalized planning effort and was responsible for making several “audibles” during the execution phase that ensured the ultimate success of the mission.

Following his retirement earlier this month, he shared his perspective on the raid with Military Times. The interview highlights the detailed planning and exceptional professionalism that allowed the raid to succeed despite a Blackhawk crashing into bin Laden’s compound in the early stages. That the raid force was able to overcome such a significant setback so early in the mission is a testament to Englen’s leadership. Unsurprisingly — and in contrast to the SEALs’ “I’m really the one who shot OBL!” squabble — Englen didn’t just talk the “aw shucks … it was a team effort” talk; he reportedly demurred when told he was nominated for the Distinguished Service Cross (second only to the Medal of Honor in awards for valor) and argued that the entire crew of his helicopter shared the same risk and should receive the same award. They all — including Englen — received Silver Stars.

While the bin Laden raid had the highest profile, Englen’s 34-year career featured many other noteworthy events, including a second Silver Star-worthy mission in Afghanistan later in 2011. His 2,500 missions in Iraq and Afghanistan alone include inserting the first Special Forces team into Afghanistan in October 2001 and high-risk insertion flights into Iraq prior to the 2003 invasion. Admiral William McRaven, retired Commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, called Englen “the finest Army aviator of our generation.” In fact, he added, “There truly are few people of this 9/11 generation that have been as heroic and as courageous.”

As amazing as the “action” side of Englen’s story is, the personal side is equally praiseworthy. Doug has been married to his high-school sweetheart, Tina, for 31 years. She’s been a hero in her own right, effectively being a single parent to their four children during the almost seven (cumulative) years Doug spent deployed to combat zones. The article paints a vivid picture of the life of a military family, particularly one whose service member is special operator.

As if a daughter’s high-school prom doesn’t provide enough drama on its own, imagine it coming on the heels of several months of the husband/father’s undefined absence. Doug was planning and preparing for the OBL raid and couldn’t tell his family what he was doing or when he’d be back. His daughter’s prom was interrupted by news of the raid, with his family knowing that it was the most likely explanation for his absence, while at the same time not yet knowing whether he had survived what was undoubtedly the highest-risk operation in decades. Tina recalled, “As I’m sitting there watching the television, trying to figure out where Doug is, what’s going down — I’m worried: ‘Am I going to get a knock on the door [from a uniformed officer and the chaplain]?’”

We owe Tina and her kids — and the countless other military family members who have endured and are enduring similar hardships — an immense debt of gratitude for their role in making Doug Englen’s heroic career possible. And we will always be grateful for his selfless service to our great nation.

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