LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
More than two dozen American commandoes carried out the raid on bin Laden's compound. The identities of the men who did it are not public. But they were members of Seal Team Six.
NPR's Tom Bowman has a look at the history of the group, how it trains, and how it operates.
TOM BOWMAN: First, a little clarification. There's a unit called Navy SEALS and then there's SEAL Team Six. They're not the same.
Eric Greitens is a Navy SEAL. He made it through a grueling six-month course in California, where some two-thirds of candidates fail. Then he was sent to Afghanistan as a member of that elite unit, hunting down al-Qaida fighters.
Challenging enough, but Greitens says the commandoes who slipped into bin Laden's compound this week are a cut above.
Lieutenant Commander ERIC GREITENS (U.S. Navy SEALs): They're experienced operators who have years under their belt conducting operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. And they are really the very best of the best.
BOWMAN: The best of the best, he says, is SEAL Team Six, the anti-terrorist unit created three decades ago. They're selected from the talent pool of SEAL operatives after they've spent years on the job, then six more months of training as part of what's called the Green Team. They practice clearing a room of enemy fighters, parachuting from high altitudes, boarding ships in stormy seas. Only about half those who apply make the team.
One who did was Ryan Zinke. He spent a dozen years as a member of SEAL Team Six, part of that time in the Balkans in the 1990s tracking down suspected war criminals.
State Senator RYAN ZINKE (Republican, Montana): Out mission was to, at that point in time, really to capture.
BOWMAN: How many did you capture?
State Sen. ZINKE: You know, a few.
(Soundbite of laughter)
BOWMAN: If Zinke sounds cocky, he says that's kind a Team Six spirit.
State Sen. ZINKE: There's an air, I don't want to say arrogance, but to a degree that they understand who they are. They understand the level of commitment to get to be who they are. And they understand that they represent the best in the world.
BOWMAN: Admiral Bob Natter commanded the Atlantic Fleet nearly a decade ago. He was familiar with Team Six missions. To this day he won't talk about them in detail.
Admiral BOB NATTER (U.S. Navy, Retired Commander): Many of those operations are quick response. Some of them they're able to train for.
BOWMAN: Train by building an exact replica of their target site. In the case of bin Laden, a compound and its two buildings.
Zinke, the former member of Seal Team Six, says they would practice the assault over and over at a secret location.
State Sen. ZINKE: They have a number of sites throughout the U.S. that are that are kind of tucked out of the way.
BOWMAN: Then the team would put together a detailed list of everything that happens on the mission - when a helicopter lands, when they enter the target area. Each movement labeled with a specific time.
State Sen. ZINKE: And in this operation, considering how complex it was, there were probably 40 pages of execution checklist calls and timeframes.
BOWMAN: The mission this week was over in less than 40 minutes, ending with the codeword for bin Laden and his fate: Geronimo EKIA - Enemy Killed in Action.
Tom Bowman, NPR News, Washington.