Former Navy SEAL Team 6 Member Shares Insights
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And I'm Melissa Block.
The commandos who swooped in and stormed Osama bin Laden's compound were an elite team of Navy SEALS, SEAL Team 6. It was formed as a counter-terrorist unit after the disastrous rescue attempt of the U.S. hostages in Iran in 1980.
If only the best of the best make it into the SEALS, only a small percentage of SEALS make it onto Team 6, and it is a highly secretive group.
I spoke with a former leader of an assault unit at Team 6, Commander Ryan Zinke. He retired in 2008 after 23 years with the Navy SEALS, about eight of those years with Team 6. And he described the rigorous training to become a SEAL.
Mr. RYAN ZINKE (Former Navy Seal, Team 6): Well, it's rigorous because the SEAL stands for sea, air and land, and you had to be equally adept to operate at sea as well as land. And so, you know, the ocean is deep and cold.
And some of the training involves what's called hell week, which is a week where you - of training where you have about two hours of cumulative sleep, you're always wet, sandy and cold and moving, you know. And when you haven't slept for a week, you know, your mind drifts and you think about all the things you'd rather be doing. And really, what you're training an individual to do is go to the wall and not quit.
BLOCK: It's been reported that SEAL Team 6 had been doing trial runs in the weeks leading up to this raid, including a replica of this compound. Can you walk us through what those trial runs might have included? What would they have been doing.
Mr. ZINKE: Well, what they would do is, they would break the operation down into phases, from the first phase of loading the helicopter, to the transit, to exiting the helicopter, and they would walk through - literally, rehearse the mission from bow to stern, from beginning to end, multiple times with emphasis at what we call actions at the objective area.
You know, when that helicopter is going to touch down or that fast rope is going to be released, what are they going to do in the compound? And, you know, these guys are hard combat veterans, you know. They've done over 100 operations successfully. In Afghanistan most of them have done multiple deployments, as many as 12 or 15 rotations.
You know these guys - these guys get it. And this is not their first rodeo.
BLOCK: I wonder this, we're learning from the White House today that Osama bin Laden was not armed. He was not holding a gun. And yesterday we heard from the White House counterterrorism advisor, John Brennan, saying if we had the opportunity to take bin Laden alive they were prepared to do that.
What would the operating instructions be - the orders on shooting and shooting to kill?
Mr. ZINKE: Well, these guys, when they fire and they pull the trigger, they know exactly where the round's going to go. I mean, they're that good. And no doubt the rules of engagement was if you perceive a threat to yourself or your teammates, then you're free to engage.
BLOCK: As you've been hearing details coming out about this mission to get Osama bin Laden, have you been, as a former member of Team 6, have you been imagining yourself inside that compound wondering what that would have been like, wanting to be part of it maybe?
Mr. ZINKE: Well, you know, I think every SEAL wishes they were there. You know, just to be a part of it. But, you know, I'm just happy that A, that bin Laden is dead; and B, the SEALS had a part in doing it. And I think we should give credit where it's due as a team effort. It just wasn't the SEALS, it was everyone involved.
BLOCK: Will the public ever know the names of the SEALs on this mission, and in particular, the SEAL or SEALs who shot and killed Osama bin Laden?
Mr. ZINKE: Well, I hope not, you know. It's my hope that the SEALs remain faceless. I was shocked that SEAL Team 6 came out, you know, severely, (unintelligible) once it became public knowledge and then verified, then I didn't have a problem with explaining to people what SEAL Team 6 was, you know, to set the record straight.
But certainly in my world, you know, it's best to leave much of the details, you know, secret for (unintelligible). I think to protect the individuals and the family and the command, I think that's appropriate.
BLOCK: Ryan Zinke, a retired U.S. Navy SEAL and a former assault commander with SEAL Team 6. He's now a state senator in Montana. Ryan Zinke, thanks for talking with us today, appreciate it.
Mr. ZINKE: Thank you, and have a good day.
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