One of the biggest crimes perpetrated on Americans was the horrific terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001. It is said, “Real heroes are born in the face of danger.” This is no more evident than when Navy SEAL Robert O’Neill took the three shots that killed Osama bin Laden.
In the just-published book “The Operator,” O’Neill recounts his years as a SEAL Team warrior. Joining the SEALs on a whim after growing up in Butte, Mont., he participated in many high profile missions. These include being a part of the team that rescued the “Lone Survivor” Marcus Luttrell, Capt. Richard Phillips from the Somali pirates and searching for the deserter Bowe Bergdahl. The book is a story of his adventures and missions that captured the human side of those in the Special Forces.
The bin Laden mission was extremely dangerous because of the different variables: Not knowing the defense systems inside the compound, if there would be suicide bombers or improvised explosive devices inside the house and the fear of being stuck inside Pakistan. Yet, on the helicopter ride he thought of “the single mom who jumped to her death, the realization of the last time I saw my family, and President Bush’s quote, ‘Freedom itself was attacked this morning by a faceless coward, and freedom will be defended.’”
It is obvious when a SEAL unit is deployed that individual heroes arise within the team effort. O’Neill explained that Americans should think of the player who made the last shot to win an important game. Although he received much of the acclaim, it was very much a team effort where each player made some impact. In the bin Laden kill, it was his teammate who shot the son Khalid that allowed O’Neill to make the ascent up the stairs to the room where bin Laden was found.
The book describes how “The point man lunged at the two women, assuming they had suicide vests… If they blew up, his body would absorb most of the blast, and I’d have a better chance of surviving… In less than a second, I aimed and pulled the trigger twice. Bin Laden’s head split open, and he dropped. I put another bullet in his head. Insurance.”
Similarly, the book describes how a teammate, Johnny, rescued Capt. Phillips by shooting a “pepper popper,” a target that pops up randomly and briefly requiring an immediate reaction with a perfect shot. But unfortunately, afterward, some of the team displayed envy and distrust. These emotions would also come into play after O’Neill shot bin Laden.
“Johnny took this incredible heroic shot, and those people who did not shoot, got upset with him,” O’Neill said. “I did tell him he was a hero and he should ignore them. I understand that these are Tier 1, alpha personalities and were jealous. I am also assuming there will be more ill will now that the book has come out. Guys were talking about me, saying ‘With all the extra attention, why is he bragging about it?’ I know that anyone on the team could have done what I did just as effectively.
“Even though I intended to stay in the Navy for 30 years, I now decided to retire after 15 because people were bashing me for ‘trying to cash in.’ I should not have to prove myself to anyone, but had the feeling that I needed to.
“I did stay in a year and a half more after those died in the helicopter crash in Afghanistan. The crash was the worst loss in Naval Special Warfare history, 31 Americans killed. I think the terrorists were given too much credit. It came down to a mission that should not have happened and just a lucky shot.”
Does he feel he broke the SEAL code of silence? What he first wants to make clear is that he was not the person who wrote the book published in 2014, “No Easy Way: The Firsthand Account of the Mission that Killed Osama Bin Laden.” It was Mark Owen, the pen name for Matt Bissonnette. O’Neill thinks that being a “silent warrior” has been overplayed, since before his own book there are “like 90 books out there by SEALs.”
Ernest Hemingway once said, “Courage is grace under pressure.” It is obvious that O’Neill and others in the Special Forces community have that as well as bravery and a patriotic spirit. He told of having a beer and pointing to the sky. This is something that should be done by every person on a regular basis because these people are the shields that keep Americans safe.