By Debbie Gregory.
In the military, there is usually a code of conduct to keep missions secret, even when completed. As civilians, we never truly know what happens on most of these missions. But one mission that has always sparked curiosity was the one that brought us the news that Osama bin Laden was dead. Now, the former Navy SEAL who claims to have delivered the fatal blow is speaking out.
Robert O’Neill says he and his team members thought they were going on a suicide mission.
Referring to the actual compound itself, O’Neill said, “… it looked exactly like I thought it would. It was kind of surreal. It was a realization that we are never going to come home, so you might as well take in a few things and remember them and enjoy them.”
But the team would become secretly famous after that night. O’Neill said bin Laden was waiting for him after his team climbed stairs from the second floor. O’Neill recalls being behind another SEAL team member, who fired an initial shot upstairs, encountering two women as they reached the top. The first SEAL shoved them aside, presuming they were about to detonate explosives.
Standing before O’Neill was bin Laden, something he says is a moment that really stuck out.
“Seeing him standing up — being one of the few people to ever see Osama bin Laden alive. It was under night vision, so I could still see the clothes he was wearing, the cap he had on his head and his short gray beard.”
O’Neill says bin Laden said nothing before a bullet tore into his forehead. Two more shots were fired at bin Laden, a precaution to ensure the terrorist was dead.
After hearing bin Laden expel his last breath, the team put him in a body bag, dragged him downstairs and across the grounds to their helicopter. When asked who delivered the fatal shot, O’Neill said it was himself, prompting a teammate to give thanks.
U.S. special operations leaders have been critical of O’Neill for making public comments about the raid, calling them an unseemly quest for attention that is damaging to the Special Forces program.
O’Neill said he expected his decision to speak publicly about the raid, despite a code of silence among Navy SEAL special operations forces, would upset some and bring personal risk to himself. But he said he did not believe he was revealing secrets.
“Yes there’s personal risk but I’ve accepted personal risk before. It’s bigger than me. It’s not about me,” O’Neill said.
O’Neill co-founded a veterans charity, and interest in it has skyrocketed since his name became known. The nonprofit, Your Grateful Nation, is devoted to helping Special Operations troops transition out of the military. O’Neill said that veterans are more nervous about trying to find a job after they separate than they are about going into combat. Charities like Your Grateful Nation help bridge the gap for veterans who need help figuring out their next steps and how to land jobs.
The former Seal will be appearing at a charity poker tournament and private luncheon aimed at helping U.S. Special Forces Veterans in Buford, Georgia on May 2nd.
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Military Connection: Bringing Down bin Laden: By Debbie Gregory