President Trump to Welcome Family of Michael J. Strange to White House
On Monday, June 5th, President Trump will welcome 50 Gold Star families (families who have lost immediate relatives in military combat) to the White House to honor the memory of their loved ones and recognize the sacrifices they made for our country. Among the honored guests will be Charlie Strange, whose son Michael was from the Riverwards. Charlie will be accompanied by his wife Mary Ann.
Michael J. Strange was born on June 6, 1986 to Charlie and Philadelphia Police Officer Elizabeth Strange. He attended St. Bartholomew’s and graduated from North Catholic High School before heading off to boot camp. After completing his studies at the Naval Technical Training Center in Pensacola, Florida, he was sent to the Navy Information Operations Command (NIOC) in Hawaii, where he honed his skills as a cryptologist. Over the course of the next few years, Michael climbed the military ladder. Eventually he was assigned to the United States Naval Special Warfare Development Group, more commonly referred to as SEAL Team Six.
In the early hours of May 2, 2011, SEAL Team Six shot and killed Osama bin Laden, the founder and leader of the terrorist organization al-Qaeda, in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Michael came home several weeks later to spend time with his family.
“Michael was completely different when he came home,” Charlie said.
According to Charlie, on Michael’s 25th birthday, while sitting with his father, Michael mentioned wanting to put together his will. Then he grabbed his father by the bicep and said: “Dad, you would not believe what’s going on in [America].” Charlie says he pressed his son for details, but Michael did not elaborate, nor did he ever talk about what had happened overseas. He left for Afghanistan several days before the end of his leave.
Two months later, on the night of August 5, 2011, a group of 47 Army Rangers traveled to Wardak Province, Afghanistan to capture or kill Qari Tahir, a senior leader of the Islamic fundamentalist group known as the Taliban. The Rangers engaged in battle with the Taliban forces in the area. The fighting spilled into the early hours of the morning, at which point a quick reaction force (QRF) was sent in to provide backup for the Rangers.
The QRF approached the battle in a Chinook military aircraft known as Extortion 17. 38 people, including Michael Strange, and one military dog were on the aircraft. At approximately 2:40AM, a group of Taliban fighters began firing rocket-propelled grenades at the Chinook. The aircraft went into a spin and crashed, killing the 30 Americans, the eight Afghans and the one military dog on board. The shootdown of Extortion 17 is the single-largest loss of American life in the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars.
Many have come to regard the shootdown of Extortion 17 simply as an unavoidable tragedy of war. Charlie has not. Michael’s mysterious, troubling remarks several months before his death — as well as a number of other pieces of compelling evidence and apparent glitches in the presented narrative — have led the Charlie and his wife Mary Ann to believe that the story might be a little more complex than most people think.
In October 2011, the families of those who died in Extortion 17 were invited to a naval base in Virginia. According to Charlie, Brigadier General Jeffrey Colt presented the families the results of the military’s investigation of the incident. Each family was given a folder containing a full summary of the investigation and a CD. When Charlie and Mary Ann returned home, they examined the contents of the folder. They discovered that the printed text in the summary was so faded that it was unreadable. The Stranges tried to procure another copy of the document, but to no avail.
The CD proved to be a little more useful. It held a 1,364-page report, complete with more than 60 interviews with commanders and soldiers. Charlie says that Mary Ann uploaded the file to her computer and printed it out for her and her husband to read. Not long after, an aggressive virus attacked her computer, causing it to crash. According to Charlie’s friend, whom they asked to examine the computer, the CD was filled with spyware, which is what prompted the activation of the virus. This ultimately led the Stranges (and their lawyer, Larry Klayman) to file a lawsuit against the United States government for collecting phone and Internet metadata from millions of Verizon customers.
The Stranges, along with a few other parents of Extortion 17 victims, began to thoroughly examine the report. Based on the content of the document, Charlie thinks the shootdown could have been prevented. If not for the military’s rules of engagement, the Army Rangers probably could have stopped the Taliban fighters from firing rocket-propelled grenades at the Chinook. Presumably the Rangers were told not to intervene because of the possible presence of innocent civilians in the area.
But why was the QRF deployed to Wardak Province, a historically dangerous area, in a Chinook when Chinooks are not equipped to combat rocket-propelled-grenade attacks? Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Garry Reid later said that other, similar aircrafts are not designed for higher elevation and would not have been able to fly over the mountainous region of Wardak Province.
Some have speculated that the eight Afghans aboard Extortion 17 (seven Commandos and one interpreter) were somehow involved in an elaborate setup of the QRF. Such claims were supported by the fact that the names of the Afghans who died in the shootdown did not match the names of the Afghans on the aircraft’s passenger list. Reid said that there were two groups of Afghans involved in the mission — one with the Army Rangers, the other with the QRF. He attributed the discrepancy to simple human error.
“There was a mistake made after the crash in retrieving the list of Afghans that were aboard,” Reid said. “The list that was provided was for the other squad that was with the Rangers. This created confusion and led to some speculation that there was a switching out of the actual forces. That was not the case.”
According to the 1,364-page report, a U.S. commander claimed that the Chinook’s black box — a crucial piece of evidence that might have been able to shed more light on the shootdown — was swept away in a flash flood after Extortion 17 crashed. Reid assured the families of Extortion 17 victims that Chinooks do not have black boxes, only “analog gauges.” Why, then, would the commander claim that the black box was swept away? Perhaps he was simply confused.
In December 2011, Charlie requested Michael’s autopsy report, which the Navy sent to him on a disc. After the shootdown of Extortion 17, a Casualty Assistance Calls Officer (CACO) informed the Stranges that everyone in the Chinook had been burned beyond recognition when the aircraft crashed. Thus, Charlie expected the autopsy report to be filled with gruesome, grisly pictures of his son. Not so. According the Charlie, Michael’s body was completely intact (except for his badly bent right ankle). According to a Department of Defense official, this was merely a result of conjecture being misconstrued as fact.
“I think there was speculation by some people that the bodies would be in really bad shape,” the official said. “Now, whoever said something [about the bodies] did not have authority to say that.”
At present, it is unclear what exactly happened in Wardak Province, Afghanistan on August 5 – 6, 2011. The Stranges are convinced that someone in the Obama administration is responsible for the shootdown of Extortion 17. They are determined to uncover the truth, and they will not rest until the guilty party receives his or her comeuppance.
“Who is going to be held responsible?” Charlie said at a press conference in Washington, D.C. in May 2013. “Someone has to be held responsible. It says in the paperwork that it goes all the way up to the top. It mentions [David] Petraeus. It mentions Leon Panetta. All the way to the top.”
Amidst their grieving and their investigations of the shootdown, the Stranges have been able to turn this entire ordeal into something truly good. In 2012, Charlie and Mary Ann established the Michael J. Strange Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides comfort and support to other Gold Star families.
“We [started this foundation] because there was such a great need for it,” Charlie said. “Our sons, they went to war. [Michael] gave it all, and I’m going to give it all to reach out to these other parents, these other brothers and sisters. We got to start something here and do some healing for ourselves.”
As a result of their tireless efforts, the Stranges have attracted the attention of President Trump, with whom they will be meeting in less than one week.
“We’re very excited and honored to meet the President and the First Lady,” Charlie said. “People wait all their lives to meet the President and go inside the White House. I never met anybody who was invited.”
While there, Charlie plans to discuss further investigations into the shootdown of Extortion 17 and the possibility of altering the military’s rules of engagement to better protect our troops.
To learn more about the Michael J. Strange Foundation, visit www.michaelstrangefoundation.org. •