May 1, 2012, the first anniversary of the bin Laden mission. The Shooter is getting ready to go play with his kids at a water park. He's watching CNN.
"They were saying, 'So now we're taking viewer e-mails. Do you remember where you were when you found out Osama bin Laden was dead?' And I was thinking: Of course I remember. I was in his bedroom looking down at his body."
The standing ovation of a country in love with its secret warriors had devolved into a news quiz, even as new generations of SEALs are preparing for sacrifice in the Horn of Africa, Iran, perhaps Mexico.
The Shooter himself, an essential part of the team helping keep us safe since 9/11, is now on his own. He is enjoying his family, finally, and won't be kissing his kids goodbye as though it were the last time and suiting up for the battlefield ever again.
But when he officially separates from the Navy three months later, where do his sixteen years of training and preparedness go on his résumé? Who in the outside world understands the executive skills and keen psychological fortitude he and his First Tier colleagues have absorbed into their DNA? Who is even allowed to know? And where can he go to get any of these questions answered?
There is a Transition Assistance Program in the military, but it's largely remedial level, rote advice of marginal value: Wear a tie to interviews, not your Corfam (black shiny service) shoes. Try not to sneeze in anyone's coffee.
"It's criminal to me that these guys walk out the door naked," says retired Marine major general Mike Myatt. "They're the greatest of their generation; they know how to get things done. If I were a Fortune 500 company, I'd try to get my hands on any one of them." General Myatt, standing in the mezzanine of the Marines Memorial building he runs in San Francisco, is surrounded by so many Marine memorial plaques he's had to expand the memorial around the corner due to so many deaths over the past eleven years of war.
He is furious about the high unemployment rate among returning infantrymen and has taken on that issue as his own, as well as homelessness, PTSD, and the other plagues of regular troops returning home.
General Myatt believes "the U.S. military is the best in the world at transitioning from civilian to military life and the worst in the world at transitioning back." And that, he acknowledges, doesn't even begin to consider the separate and distinct travesty visited on the Shooter and his comrades.
The Special Operations men are special beyond their operations. "These guys are self-actualizers," says a retired rear admiral and former SEAL I spoke with. "Top of the pyramid. If they wanted to build companies, they could. They can do anything they put their minds to. That's how smart they are."
But what's available to these superskilled retiring public servants? "Pretty much nothing," says the admiral. "It's 'Thank you for your service, good luck.'"
One third-generation military man who has worked both inside and outside government, and who has fought for vets for decades, is sympathetic to the problem. But he notes that the Pentagon is dealing with two hundred thousand new veterans a year, compared with perhaps a few dozen SEALs. "Can and should the DOD spend the extra effort it would take to help the superelite guys get with exactly the kind of employers they should have? Investment bankers, say, value that competition, drive, and discipline, not to mention people with security clearances. They [Tier One vets] should be plugged in at executive levels. Any employers who think about it would want to hire these people."
For officials, however, everyone signing out of war is a hero, and even for the masses of retirees, programs are sporadic and often ineffectual. Michelle Obama and Jill Biden have both made transitioning vets a personal cause, though these efforts are largely gestural and don't reach nearly high enough for the skill sets of a member of SEAL Team 6.
The Virginia-based Navy SEAL Foundation has a variety of supportive programs for the families of SEALs, and the foundation spends $3.2 million a year maintaining them. But as yet they have no real method or programs for upper-level job placement of their most practiced constituency.
A businessman associated with the foundation says he understands that there is a need the foundation does not fill. "This is an ongoing thing where lots of people seem to want to help but no one has ever really done it effectively because our community is so small. No one's ever cracked it. And there real-ly needs to be an education effort well before they separate [from the service] to tell them, 'The world you're about to enter is very different than the one you've been operating in the last fifteen or twenty years.'" One former SEAL I spoke with is a Harvard MBA and now a very successful Wall Street trader whose career path is precisely the kind of example that should be evangelized to outgoing SEALs. His own life reflects that "SpecOps guys could be hugely value-added" to civilian companies, though he says business schools — degrees in general — might be an important step. "It would be great to get a panel of CEOs together who are ready to help these guys get hired." Some big companies do have veteran-outreach specialists — former SEAL Harry Wingo fills that role at Google.
But these individual and scattered shots still do not provide what is needed: a comprehensive battle plan.
In San Francisco recently, I talked about the Special Ops issue with Twitter CEO Dick Costolo and venture capitalist and Orbitz chairman Jeff Clarke. Both are very interested in offering a business luminary hand to help clandestine operators make their final jump. There is enthusiastic consensus among the business and military people I have canvassed that this kind of outside help is required, perhaps a new nonprofit financed and driven by the Costolos and Clarkes of the world.
Even before he retired, the Shooter's new business plan dissolved when the SEAL Team 6 members who formed it decided to go in different directions, each casting for a civilian professional life that's challenging and rewarding. The stark realities of post-SEAL life can make even the blood of brothers turn a little cold.
"I still have the same bills I had in the Navy," the Shooter tells me when we talk in September 2012. But no money at all coming in, from anywhere.
"I just want to be able to pay all those bills, take care of my kids, and work from there," he says. "I'd like to take the things I learned and help other people in any way I can."
In the last few months, the Shooter has put together some work that involves a kind of discreet consulting for select audiences. But it's a per-event deal, and he's not sure how secure or long-term it will be. And he wants to be much more involved in making the post — SEAL Team 6 transition for others less uncertain.
The December suicide of one SEAL commander in Afghanistan and the combat death of another — a friend — while rescuing an American doctor from the Taliban underscore his urgent desire to make a difference on behalf of his friends.
He imagines traveling back to other parts of the world for a few days at a time to do dynamic surveys for businesses looking to put offices in countries that are not entirely safe, or to protect employees they already have in place.
But he is emphatic: He does not want to carry a gun. "I've fought all the fights. I don't have a need for excitement anymore. Honestly."
After all, when you've killed the world's most wanted man, not everything should have to be a battle.
"They torture the shit out of people in this movie, don't they? Everyone is chained to something."
The Shooter is sitting next to me at a local movie theater in January, watching Zero Dark Thirty for the first time. He laughs at the beginning of the film about the bin Laden hunt when the screen reads, "Based on firsthand accounts of actual events."
His uncle, who is also with us, along with the mentor and the Shooter's wife, had asked him earlier whether he'd seen the film already.
"I saw the original," the Shooter said. As the action moves toward the mission itself, I ask the Shooter whether his heart is beating faster. "No," he says matter-of-factly. But when a SEAL Team 6 movie character yells, "Breacher!" for someone to blow one of the doors of the Abbottabad compound, the Shooter says loudly, "Are you fucking kidding me? Shut up!"
He explains afterward that no one would ever yell, "Breacher!" during an assault. Deadly silence is standard practice, a fist to the helmet sufficient signal for a SEAL with explosive packets to go to work.
During the shooting sequence, which passes, like the real one, in a flash, his fingers form a steeple under his chin and his focus is intense.
But his criticisms at dinner afterward are minor.
"The tattoo scene was horrible," he says about a moment in the film when the ST6 assault group is lounging in Afghanistan waiting to go. "Those guys had little skulls or something instead of having some real ink that goes up to here." He points to his shoulder blade.
"It was fun to watch. There was just little stuff. The helos turned the wrong way [toward the target], and they talked way, way too much [during the assault itself]. If someone was waiting for you, they could track your movements that way."
The tactics on the screen "sucked," he says, and "the mission in the damn movie took way too long" compared with the actual event. The stairs inside bin Laden's building were configured inaccurately. A dog in the film was a German shepherd; the real one was a Belgian Malinois who'd previously been shot in the chest and survived. And there's no talking on the choppers in real life.
There was also no whispered calling out of bin Laden as the SEALs stared up the third-floor stairwell toward his bedroom. "When Osama went down, it was chaos, people screaming. No one called his name."
"They Hollywooded it up some."
The portrayal of the chief CIA human bloodhound, "Maya," based on a real woman whose iron-willed assurance about the compound and its residents moved a government to action, was "awesome" says the Shooter. "They made her a tough woman, which she is."
The Shooter and the mentor joke with each other about the latest thermal/night-vision eyewear used in the movie, which didn't exist when the older man was a SEAL.
"Dude, what the fuck? How come I never got my four-eye goggles?"
"We have those." "Are you kidding me?"
"SEAL Team 6, baby."
They laugh, at themselves as much as at each other.
The Shooter seems smoothed out, untroubled, as relaxed as I've seen him.
But the conversation turns dark when they discuss the portrayal of the other CIA operative, Jennifer Matthews, who was among seven people killed in 2009 when a suicide bomber was allowed into one of their black-ops stations in Afghanistan.
They both knew at least one of the paramilitary contractors who perished with her.
The supper table is suddenly flooded with the surge of strong emotions. Anguish, really, though they both hide it well. This is not a movie. It's real life, where death is final and threats last forever.
The blood is your own, not fake splatter and explosive squibs.
Movies, books, lore — we all helped make these men brilliant assassins in the name of liberty, lifted them up on our shoulders as unique and exquisitely trained heroes, then left them alone in the shadows of their past.
Uncertainty will never be far away for the Shooter. His government may have shut the door on him, but he is required to live inside the consequences of his former career.
One line from the film kept resonating in my head.
An actor playing a CIA station chief warns Maya about jihadi vengeance.
"Once you're on their list," he says, "you never get off."
Read more: Man Who Killed Osama Bin Laden - Treatment of Veteran Who Shot bin Laden - Esquire http://www.esquire.com/features/man-who-shot-osama-bin-laden-0313-7#ixzz2Kgd7VPi7
Dan Rivers “The Voice of the Valley, or some say the voice of reason. Dan is a transplant from Northwest Ohio, where he learned the carpentry trade at the age of 13 in his uncle’s home construction company. His trade led him to two tours of Viet Nam with the U. S Naval Sea Bees where he helped construct bridges and housing. Upon return to country he followed his dream of broadcasting. After graduation from Youngstown State in 1981 Dan joined WKBN.Currently Dan hosts “The Dan Rivers Show from 7a-noon daily on News Radio 570 WKBN. The show is centered on the honest commentary of a Valley resident who thinks our best days are ahead.Dan’s show can be heard throughout Northeast Ohio and Western Pennsylvania on News Radio 570 WKBN, and across the country on I Heart Radio.
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