Articles

Gear used by SEAL who shot bin Laden is going public for the first time

Robert O'Neill ate a last meal with his children and then hugged them goodbye — "most likely forever," he privately thought.


Even his wife didn't know where he was going.

On May 2, 2011, two helicopters touched down, one crash-landing, under the cover of darkness within an al Qaeda compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. The 23-strong team entered a house and crept up the stairs.

A SEAL in front of O'Neill went along a hallway to provide cover, he recalled. When O'Neill entered the bedroom, he saw a man — bearded, tall, and gaunt — standing there.

"I knew it was him immediately," he said. "He was taller than I imagined."

Osama bin Laden (left). (Photo from Wikimedia Commons.)

O'Neill, a senior chief petty officer in the US Navy SEALs, aimed his rifle and fired twice, he said, hitting the 6-foot-5 figure in the head both times. Osama Bin Laden collapsed. O'Neill shot him again.

Despite his training, which taught him to immediately start gathering intel, O'Neill said he was momentarily dazed by the magnitude of what he had just done.

He snapped out of it when a colleague said, "You just killed Osama bin Laden."

On July 26, the retired SEAL, in the midst of a lecture series to publicize his memoir, "The Operator," will come to the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda to speak about his life and how his experiences can translate to the lives of others.

And, for the first time ever, the gear he wore the night he hunted down bin Laden — boots, helmet, bullet-proof vest, all in desert-camouflage — is on public display, until the end of July.

Navy SEALs in desert camouflage. (U.S. Navy photo)

"This will probably be our biggest event of the year," said Joe Lopez, spokesman for the non-profit Nixon Foundation.

How did the Nixon pull off the coup before any other museum?

"They asked," O'Neill, 41, said this week. "They asked, and I said, 'Why not?'"

Hours after the raid, when then-President Barack Obama announced from the White House that Special Forces had killed bin Laden and that "his demise should be welcomed by all who believe in peace and human dignity," Americans erupted in celebration.

The details of the mission were classified. Retaliation, if members of SEAL Team 6 became known, was possible. Secrecy was paramount.

The initial excitement he felt over firing the kill shots, he said, eventually waned as his name spread through the military community and Washington, D.C.

Robert O'Neill. (Photo from Facebook.)

"The secret was poorly kept," O'Neill said. "And my name got leaked."

So in November 2014, O'Neill fully came out and said he indeed was the shooter.

Some fellow SEALs were irked at O'Neill's position under the spotlight. Several, anonymously, have accused him of breaking the military code by seeking glory or even lying about being the one who killed bin Laden.

Related: 7 amazing and surreal details of the Osama bin Laden raid

The US government won't confirm the shooter's identity.

"I don't really care," O'Neill said. "I was with the team. The tactics got me to the spot. I just fired the shots. There's no doubt it was me."

"The Operator: Firing the Shots that Killed Osama bin Laden and My Years as a SEAL Team Warrior" came out in April. The book, O'Neill said, is about success — how "a guy from Butte, Montana, who didn't know how to swim, became a Navy SEAL."

Navy SEALs train. (Army photo by Staff Sgt. Marcus Fichtl)

And how that guy, who had never envisioned a career in the military, spent 16 years in uniform because of a breakup with a girlfriend.

"I wanted to leave town so I signed up for the Navy," he said. "That's part of the book. Don't just sit there and sulk. Do something."

O'Neill went on 400-plus missions, including the 2009 rescue of Capt. Richard Phillips from Somali pirates, and the 2005 mission to save fellow SEAL Marcus Luttrell. Those rescues were turned into Tom Hanks' film, "Captain Phillips," and Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg's "Lone Survivor."

"When I discuss my missions," the former special operator said about his appearances, "I tell them why we were good at the missions, how we worked as a team, and how and why we developed these traits."

O'Neill, a Virginia native, has yet to visit the Nixon Library. But when approached, he quickly agreed.

Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons.)

"This is huge for us," Lopez said. "We also thought it would be cool to have something he wore that night on display."

Officials thought a boot would be good. Or maybe a glove. Perhaps, if lucky, his helmet.

Minus a T-shirt donated to New York City's 9/11 Memorial Museum, the Nixon got to borrow everything.

"My uniform was at my dad's house," he said. "So I had it shipped there."

O'Neill's gear is mounted on a mannequin inside a glass case, flanked by American flags with a video nearby explaining his non-profit, Your Grateful Nation, which helps veterans, particularly those from the Special Forces, prepare for second careers.

The case is next to the front entrance in the lobby, opposite a wall-length portrait of the 37th president.

Army photo by Staff Sgt. Marcus Fichtl

"He's a hero," said retired Air Force Maj. Terry Scheschy, of Riverside County, who fought in the Vietnam War and, last week, visited the Nixon Library. "To me, this provides a lot of value to the museum."

Betty Kuo, 42, of Manhattan Beach, came to the Nixon with her family, including her two young children and their cousins. As she was buying tickets, the children saw the SEAL uniform and sprinted toward it.

Kuo joined them.

"It's good to teach them that we're safe, but we can't take that for granted," she said. "The military keeps us safe."

Going into the mission, O'Neill certainly didn't feel safe himself -- he had doubts that his team would escape without harm.

"I thought the mission was one-way," he said. "That's why everyone was so excited after the mission. We all got out."

The Air Force snagged the alleged Minot M240 thief

The Air Force's long national nightmare is over. Its missing M240 machine gun was finally recovered from the home of an airman stationed at the base, according to a press release from the Air Force Global Strike Command.

The theft prompted many to question how it could have been lost, why the Air Force has an M240, does the Air Force really need an M240, how many do they have or need, and would the Air Force notice if I took one.

The Air Force Office of Special Investigations obtained a federal search warrant, executing it at the off-base residence of a Team Minot airman on June 19, 2018.

Missing for little over a month, the automatic weapon and the fallout of its theft made waves across the military-veteran community and in the military news cycle. After a box of 40mm MK 19 grenades fell off the back of a humvee while traversing a Native American reservation, the subsequent inventory of the Air Force arsenal on Minot discovered the missing M240 machine gun. This prompted the 5th Bomb Wing, 91st Missile Wing, and other installations to make a thorough inventory of their weapons.

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This Microsoft training fast tracks veterans into sweet tech careers

Solaire Brown (formerly Sanderson) was a happy, gung-ho Marine sergeant deployed in Afghanistan when she realized her military career was about to change. She was tasked with finding the right fit for her post-military life – and she knew she wanted to be prepared.

Injuries sustained during mine-resistant vehicle training had led to surgeries and functional recovery and it became clear Brown would no longer be able to operate at the level she expected of herself as a Marine.

Like many of the 200,000 service members exiting the military each year, Brown knew her military training could make her a valuable asset as an employee, but she was unsure of how her skills might specifically translate to employment in the civilian world.

Enter Microsoft Software & Systems Academy (MSSA), a program Microsoft started in 2013 to provide transitioning service members and veterans with critical career skills required for today's growing technology industry.

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The horrifying way Iran cleared mines in the Iran-Iraq War

The only good mines are one that are cleared — or better yet, never used in the first place. Today mines are generally seen as relics of bygone eras, deadly weapons that remain dangerous long after the war is fought. Forgotten minefields all over the world kill civilians by the score – more than 8,600 in 2016 alone. Many of these are children.

Many who join armed forces around the world do so with the idea that they can keep their children and families – along with the children and families of their fellow countrymen – safe from the imminent dangers of impending war. When faced with an existential threat, countries will go to horrifying lengths to defend themselves.

This isn't World War I — it's the 1980s. No one told Saddam or Khomeini.

Such was the case in the early 1980s, the nascent years of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Iran fought a brutal war against Iraq since 1980, when Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein smelled blood in the disorganized post-Revolution Iran and attempted to seize its access to the Persian Gulf by force.

The Iran-Iraq War was particularly brutal, even as far as warfare in the Middle East is concerned. The war was defined by eight years of stalemates and failed offensives, indiscriminate ballistic missile attacks — often using chemical weapons — and insane asymmetrical warfare.

Insane symmetrical warfare is a very clean term for the tactics Iran used to level the playing field of the Western-backed, technologically superior Iraqis. Iran recently purged its professional military of those loyal to the deposed Shah and was by no means ready to fight a war with a series of Revolutionary militias. The Ayatollah Khomeini was no military commander. He saw a success in war in terms of casualties inflicted on the enemy versus the number his forces took, a World War I-era approach to warfare.

They also dug trenches. A lot of trenches.

To Khomeini, as long as the math worked and his fighters were sufficiently motivated by religious fanaticism and revolutionary spirit, he could push all the way to Baghdad. So he enlisted large numbers of civilians with little or no military training to execute his plans. This entrenched incompetence included the field command leadership who most often sent men to die in droves using human wave attacks, another World War I relic. The horror doesn't stop there.

The New York Times' Terence Smith, writing about Iran in 1984, described the use of child soldiers by Iran to clear minefields. Young boys, aged 12-17 years, wore red headbands with the words 'Sar Allah' in Farsi (Warriors of God) and small metal keys that the Ayatollah declared were their tickets to Paradise if they were martyred in their mission. Many were sent into battle against Iraqi tanks without any protection and bound by ropes to prevent desertion.

They were the first wave, making the way for Iranian tanks by clearing barbed wire and minefields with their bodies.

Iranian child soldiers marching off to fight Iraq in the Iran-Iraq War.

These children weren't the only human wave attackers, but they certainly were the most notable – and effective. In the same interview, Smith notes the Iranian commanders are unapologetic. Iraq has many tanks and a lot of support. Iran has very few. What Iran had is exactly what the Ayatollah predicted, a large population filled with religious fervor.

The total number of casualties inflicted on Iran and Iraq throughout the war isn't clearly known, but what is known is a number ranging anywhere between 500,000 to one million killed and wounded in the eight-year slugfest.

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Tom Clancy used this wargame for 'Red Storm Rising'

Tom Clancy's 1986 novel Red Storm Rising is arguably his literary tour de force. Following on the heels of 1984's The Hunt for Red October, it cemented Clancy's status as the inventor of the techno-thriller genre. Despite being a massive best-seller, Clancy never won a Pulitzer Prize or Nobel Prize for his contributions to the field of literature.

In Red Storm Rising, "Dance of the Vampires" featured a Soviet attack on a NATO carrier force centered on USS Nimitz (CVN 68), USS Saratoga (CV 60), and the French carrier Foch (R99). In the book, the Nimitz was badly damaged by two AS-6 Kingfish missiles, while the Foch took three hits and was sunk.

There was little understanding of how new technology like the Tu-22M Backfire would play into a war.

(DOD painting)

But how did Clancy manage to make that moment in the book so realistic? The answer lies in a wargame designed by Larry Bond called Harpoon. Bond is best known as a techno-thriller author of some repute himself, having written Red Phoenix, Cauldron, and Red Phoenix Burning, among others. But he designed the Harpoon wargame, which came in both a set of rules for miniatures and a computer game. (Full disclosure: The author is a long-time fan of the game, and owns both miniature and computer versions.)

Alas, poor Foch, you were doomed from the start.

(U.S. Navy photo)

At WargameVault.com, Larry Bond explained that while the end result had been determined, what was lacking was an understand of two big areas: How would all these new systems interact, and what would the likely tactics be? As a result, they ran the game three times, and it was not a small affair: A number of others took part, resulting in each side's "commander" having "staffs" who used written standard orders and after-action reports.

A simulated massacre of Tu-22M Backfires off Iceland also shaped the plot of 'Red Storm Rising.'

(U.S. Navy)

Each of the three games had very different results, but the gaming helped to make Red Storm Rising a literary masterpiece of the last 20th century. Incidentally, Harpoon further shaped Red Storm Rising through a scenario called the "Keflavik Turkey Shoot" – a gaming result that convinced Clancy to include the Soviet Union taking Iceland in the early portions of the book.

While she sits in reserve today, at the time of 'Red Storm Rising,' USS Ticonderoga (CG 47) was the latest and greatest in naval technology.

(US Navy photo)

Bond released a collection of those scenarios, and some other material into an electronic publication called "Dance of the Vampires," available for $8.00 at WargameVault.com. It is a chance to see how a wargame shaped what was arguably the best techno-thriller of all time.

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