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Wilkes County Veterans History Project: Kevin Holland

Green Beret Kevin Holland

Green Beret Kevin Holland in Iraq

Holland at the 2016 Veteran Day Ceremony 

Capturing Saddam Hussian  

Kevin Holland's story - submitted by Jerry Lankford

Danger is a concept Kevin Holland understands well.
After around 2,000 combat missions, Holland is very familiar with the experience. And he is no stranger to hellish, violent engagements with enemy forces.
When asked to describe such action, he said:
“You’re kind of scared. There are bullets flying past you. You are more hyper-focused. You’re on a mission. You can almost see the bullets. Everything slows down. If a bullet hits close to you, you kind of snap out of it. It’s almost like being in a trance, there is so much adrenaline pumping through you. You just kind of roll with it.”
After he answered the question for The Wilkes Record, Holland gave a slight grin and said, “It’s funny that no one’s ever asked me that.”
Perhaps that’s because there are just too many questions to ask this man about his extraordinary life and military career.
Holland, 54, of Ferguson, a 1988 graduate of West Wilkes High School, is the only man known to have served in both the Navy SEAL’s (Sea, Air, and Land) Naval Special Warfare Development Group (
DEVGRU), and as a Green Beret in the U.S. Army’s 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment (1st SFOD-D).
He served from 1988 to 1995 as a SEAL, supporting Operations Desert Shield, Desert Storm, Provide Comfort, and Uphold Democracy. Upon separation from the Navy, he worked as a N.C. Wildlife Officer from 1997 to 2001, until the events of Sept. 11, 2001, compelled him to return to active duty military. He served from 2001 to 2013 as an operator for The United States Army Special Missions Unit. In 2011 he suffered a severe injury during combat and retired in 2013.
Holland was among the team that tracked down and captured ousted Iraqi president Saddam Hussien just before 8:30 p.m., on Dec. 13, 2003, in Operation Red Dawn. Hussein had been hiding in an underground bunker. Holland helped pull the former dictator from the entrance hole of the bunker by the hair of his head and beard.
“I used my right hand and grabbed his beard, and my left hand to grab the back of his head and we pulled him out,” he said.
Holland said that a “big Texan” punched Hussein in the mouth.
“He (Hussein) said he was president of Iraq and wanted to negotiate,” Holland said. “We told him it was too late for that, and we told him President Bush sends his regards.”

After the team’s dog refused to go into the hole, Holland made the descent – he had his .45 pistol in one hand and a buddy’s 9 mm pistol in the other. He then cleared the bunker of any danger.

The seized fully automatic Glock pistol in Hussein’s possession was sent to President George W. Bush as a souvenir.


Holland’s story is one of determination and perseverance.
He was raised by a working-class family. His father, William Eugene Holland, is a retired textile company owner, and his mother, Jeanette, is a retired CNA. His grandfather was Constable George Holland, who fought at the Battle of San Juan Hill during the Spanish-American War.
The lush, thick forest lands of Ferguson were his childhood playground. “I was hunting and fishing every chance I got,” he said, adding that he favored movies starring John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, and the like. “It made an impression on me,” he said. “I wanted to be like them.”
It also spawned his interest in joining the military.
Excelling in sports, Holland played both football and baseball for the West Wilkes Blackhawks.
While still in school, he said he had seen an article in Parade magazine – a supplement in Sunday newspapers at the time – depicting a group of mud-covered Navy SEALs. This gave him his first knowledge of the elite force.
Prior to his high school graduation, he visited the local Navy recruiting office and asked about joining the SEALs.
“I’d researched it,” Holland said. “The recruiter gave me some pretty poor advice. He told me to cut myself a log and ‘carry it up and down the hills where you live, and you’ll be ready.’ I carried it up and down Gladys Fork Road. People would stop and say, ‘Throw it in the back of my truck.’ I’d say, ‘No I’m training.’”
When they asked him what he was training for, he figured most of them had never heard of the SEALs, “I told them I planned to join the Marines.”
Also, Holland didn’t consider himself a strong swimmer.
“In high school, Andy Pierce, a friend of mine, had a swimming pool,” he said. “We spent a lot of time there.”
After graduation, Holland joined the Navy. His desire to become a SEAL never wavered.
Holland, in a 2016 Veterans Day speech at Memorial Avenue in North Wilkesboro, said, “From the beginning, my goal was to become a U.S. Navy SEAL. My thinking was if you're going into the military, possibly to war, then it'd be best to go with the toughest outfit you could find.”
He did well on his physical training test while in basic and that allowed him to go to BUD/S (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL) school, which is the first step in becoming a SEAL.
After taking the shortest basic training route – which was to study to be a photographer’s mate – he was on his way to becoming one of those mud-covered, log-carrying men he had seen in the magazine.
From 1989 to 1992, Holland was assigned to SEAL Team 8. While serving on the team, Holland excelled in every way, deploying on several reconnaissance missions which included utilizing his marksmanship - honed during his youth - as a sniper.
His first deployment was to Northern Iraq during Operation Desert Storm in 1990. For his service there, he was awarded the Navy Achievement Medal.
In 1992, he was asked to screen for the Naval Special Warfare Development Group. He was selected and assigned to be an assaulter and a sniper.
Holland was also tasked with getting his team battle hatchets. He saw what he needed in the movie “The Last of the Mohicans.” He watched the credits and he saw who made the bladed weapons for the film – Daniel Winkler of Foscoe, N.C.
He contacted Winkler, who made and sent him his tomahawk.
“Now every operator in Tier 1 units in the SEALS and other special operations are carrying them,” Holland said.
At the time, the United States wasn’t involved in any full-scale military activity. “We might perform one mission a year,” Holland said.
By then, Holland had a wife and children. He left the Navy in 1995. For a while he worked with his father at his textile factory. He later went on to become a N.C. Wildlife officer– a job he loved and was good at, he said. He served in that capacity for five years in Henderson and Montgomery counties and was stationed in Wilkes in 2001.
It was during the time he worked with his father that Holland found his faith in God. He said a friend and co-worker kept asking him to go to church. Holland said he would always put him off. Then, one day his friend said he wanted to become the preacher for his church and asked him to come on a particular Sunday to listen to his sermon.
After the service, Holland said that he and his wife were driving away from the church, then finally spoke up. The message had stuck a chord with the couple.
Holland said he then had everything he could want: a good job, a loving family, and a strong Christian faith.
Then came Sept. 11, 2001.


“I would have still been a wildlife officer if it wasn’t for 9/11,” Holland said. “I got out of the military because we weren’t at war. Now that we were at war, I knew I wanted to go back.”
Just a few days passed before he called one of his old SEAL buddies still in service and told him he wanted to come back. His friend was glad to hear it but told him he’d have to start from scratch. His friend suggested that he try out for the Army’s Special Missions Unit.
He called an Army recruiter on the phone and told him what he wanted to do. The recruiter asked what outfit he was currently in. “I told them I was a wildlife officer in North Carolina,” Holland said, adding that he was told he would have to be enlisted in the military to try out for the special unit.
Holland immediately drove to North Wilkesboro and joined the National Guard, then called back.
“I said, ‘I’m in the military now. I’m in the National Guard.’”
Holland, who had kept himself in good physical condition, drove to Fort Bragg and passed the physical training test. He made it through selection and the Operator Training Course. Of the 116 who tried out for the unit, Holland and 15 others were all who had made it through.
Then the U.S. invaded Iraq.
His unit was deployed to the Middle Eastern country to cause diversions.

In a YouTube video entitled, 
“The Real Story of DEVGRU and Army Special Missions Unit Veteran Kevin Holland” on the channel IRONCLAD, he stated:

“(We were) making the Iraqis think they were being attacked by an army and it was 60 of us. You know, we were creating havoc. Every mission you’re in close combat with somebody whether it’s with your hands or with weapons. So, it’s a constant. Hey, it’s a fight. When you go through that door it’s a fight with whoever is in that house.”

He also served in Afghanistan. 
Telling of a March 2011 operation near Kunduz, Afghanistan, Holland said, “Our mission was basically (to stop) paid mercenaries coming across the border. They’d come in and kill Coalition troops, so our job was to hunt them down.”
Holland stated, “They would come across platoon strength with machine guns, RPG’s (rocket propelled grenades) and they would take a house and kill the adults and rape all the kids and then kill all the kids. But we didn’t know this early in the rotation until one night we caught them before they could do all that and we killed them all.”
In one of those missions, as the mercenaries came across the border, Holland and his group exited their “Little Bird” helicopters and engaged the enemy. Holland and an adversary about 20 yards away spotted each other about the same time. The enemy fired at Holland with a Soviet made PKM, belt-fed machine gun.
A 7.62 X 54 mm round (ballistically similar to a .30-06) struck Holland in the left part of his chest, just above his body armor. He then dived into a pool of water, chilled by the 25-degree weather.
Holland thought he would surely die.
“I first thought, ‘God this is probably it. Take care of my family.’” With a laugh he added, “But, then I was like, 'It’s going to ruin my bow season if I make it.' I know my arm’s paralyzed. I can’t move it.”
His assailant eventually ran after being fired upon, and was later captured. “I sat there a while in the water just waiting on him to come back…everybody thinks I’m dead. The guy that was with me said, ‘I thought I saw him shoot your head off.' I went up to a new guy and said, ‘Hey, I’ve been shot I need you to help me out here.’ He said, ‘Where?’ I said, ‘Right here (pointing to his chest).’”
The man told Holland he wasn’t bleeding too bad, then he goes around to his back and saw the large exit wound.
“He’s like, ‘Oh my God!’ And I’m like, ‘What!’ He said, ‘You have a huge hole in your back.’ And I’m like, ‘Well put something in it!’”
He walked about two kilometers to an awaiting helicopter, climbed on board and was flown out to get medical attention.
“You really look at the world like every day is a gift,” Holland said. “I mean, honestly, you don’t survive getting shot with a PK.”
But Holland did.


It took a couple of years for Holland to recover.  Looking at him you would never know he had been wounded not once, but twice in service, earning him two Purple Hearts. He was also awarded seven Bronze Stars, with two being for Valor in Combat.
In 2013, Holland retired from the military as a Master Sergeant. He had spent the better part of two decades in elite combat units.
But his mission continues.
He works as a private contractor doing various work – dangerous work which can only be accomplished by highly skilled, well-trained operatives.
Holland has helped rescue Americans in Afghanistan after the U.S. military pulled out in 2021.
He has rescued hostages in Ukraine, having to shoot it out with members of the infamous Wagner Group in the process.
And he also helps find and bring home underage victims of human trafficking.
He works with the E3 Foundation, a counter child trafficking group. “I’ve been with them for a year and been on half a dozen operations, rescuing around 50 people in the U.S.,” Holland told The Wilkes Record.
During his most recent interview, Holland excused himself to answer a call about one such case in North Carolina. Having left the room, the only words he said were, “OK.”
Holland is constantly on call. At any moment he could be sent anywhere – Greensboro, Texas, Haiti, Ukraine, Israel…
“With all the current conflicts, we’re busy,” he said.
Holland also works part-time for the company Kryptek, which supplies various gear and equipment for military, law enforcement and hunters. He is also an ambassador for Sig Sauer firearms.
Kevin Holland is a man who has achieved every goal he has set for himself. He has also seen many horrors.
When asked if he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder after all the battles and bloodshed he’s witnessed, his answer was straight to the point.
“No,” he said. “I just wish I could have done more.”