There’s a long, poorly written piece at Esquire called, “The Man Who Killed Osama bin Laden… Is Screwed.” The writer, Phil Bronstein, actually got face time with the former SEAL who put a bullet in Bin Laden. Unfortunately, Bronstein tried to do too many things with his piece, wandered all over the place, made the article twice as long as it should have been and turned it into a huge mess.
For the first time, the Navy SEAL who killed Osama bin Laden tells his story — speaking not just about the raid and the three shots that changed history, but about the personal aftermath for himself and his family.
…Others also knew, from the commander-in-chief on down. The bin Laden shooting was a staple of presidential-campaign brags. One big-budget movie, several books, and a whole drawerful of documentaries and TV films have fortified the brave images of the Shooter and his ST6 Red Squadron members.
There is commerce attached to the mission, and people are capitalizing. Just not the triggerman. While others collect, he is cautious and careful not to dishonor anyone. His manners come at his own expense.
“No one who fights for this country overseas should ever have to fight for a job,” Barack Obama said last Veterans’ Day, “or a roof over their head, or the care that they have earned when they come home.”
But the Shooter will discover soon enough that when he leaves after sixteen years in the Navy, his body filled with scar tissue, arthritis, tendonitis, eye damage, and blown disks, here is what he gets from his employer and a grateful nation:
Nothing. No pension, no health care, and no protection for himself or his family.
Since Abbottabad, he has trained his children to hide in their bathtub at the first sign of a problem as the safest, most fortified place in their house. His wife is familiar enough with the shotgun on their armoire to use it. She knows to sit on the bed, the weapon’s butt braced against the wall, and precisely what angle to shoot out through the bedroom door, if necessary. A knife is also on the dresser should she need a backup.
Then there is the “bolt” bag of clothes, food, and other provisions for the family meant to last them two weeks in hiding.
“Personally,” his wife told me recently, “I feel more threatened by a potential retaliatory terror attack on our community than I did eight years ago,” when her husband joined ST6.
When the White House identified SEAL Team 6 as those responsible, camera crews swarmed into their Virginia Beach neighborhood, taking shots of the SEALs’ homes.
…When the family asked about any kind of government protection should the Shooter’s name come out, they were advised that they could go into a witness-protection-like program.
Just as soon as the Department of Defense creates one.
“They [SEAL command] told me they could get me a job driving a beer truck in Milwaukee” under an assumed identity. Like Mafia snitches, they would not be able to contact their families or friends. “We’d lose everything.”
Private security still seems like the smoothest job path, though many of these guys, including the Shooter, do not want to carry a gun ever again for professional use. The deaths of two contractors in Benghazi, both former SEALs the mentor knew, remind him that the battlefield risks do not go away.
….”I left SEALs on Friday,” he said the next time I saw him. It was a little more than thirty-six months before the official retirement requirement of twenty years of service. “My health care for me and my family stopped at midnight Friday night. I asked if there was some transition from my Tricare to Blue Cross Blue Shield. They said no. You’re out of the service, your coverage is over. Thanks for your sixteen years. Go f*ck yourself.”
The government does provide 180 days of transitional health-care benefits, but the Shooter is eligible only if he agrees to remain on active duty “in a support role,” or become a reservist. Either way, his life would not be his own. Instead, he’ll buy private insurance for $486 a month, but some treatments that relieve his wartime pains, like $120 for weekly chiropractic care, are out-of-pocket. Like many vets, he will have to wait at least eight months to have his disability claims adjudicated. Or even longer. The average wait time nationally is more than nine months, according to the Center for Investigative Reporting.
Anyone who leaves early also gets no pension, so he is without income. Even if he had stayed in for the full twenty, his pension would have been half his base pay: $2,197 a month. The same as a member of the Navy choir.
…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.
As to his job situation, SEALS are indeed highly capable and adaptable human beings and it is a little surprising more companies aren’t willing to hire them. Of course, the most lucrative fields for them are going to involve their military expertise and, if like this guy, they don’t want to carry a gun, that limits their options. But, that’s how it works for everyone. If you decide you don’t want to be a high powered lawyer or a nuclear engineer at 35, you’re probably not going to be able to make a lateral move into another profession. You’re going to have to drop a few rungs down the ladder and work your way back up.
His health care situation is a little surprising and there’s no adequate explanation for him no longer being covered, but it sounds as if he lost his care, like his pension, because he left the service early. Granted, it’s tough to commit to what you’re going to be doing 15 years in the future, but it’s not as if he wasn’t informed of what would happen if he decided to leave early.
The biggest problem this guy really has is his security situation, which was created by the Obama Administration. Here’s a man who has to be afraid for his life and the life of his family because Barack Obama and company couldn’t keep their yaps shut. This guy is suffering a lot more real consequences than Valerie Plame ever did, but there’s a Democrat in office; so who cares, right? Yes, the Department of Defense should do more to safeguard the life of his family, but this isn’t private industry; government isn’t very smart or flexible. You give the government a situation that isn’t in the manual and it doesn’t handle it very well.
So, this SEAL and his family will live the rest of their lives in fear. Great job, Obama!