Many of you have emailed, called and written to ask me this question after the recent targeted operation against Osama Bin Laden:
“What was going through the minds of the SEALs as they assaulted Osama Bin Laden’s compound?”
Here is my answer to your question:
The silent darkness of night is violently disturbed with the pounding sound of MH-60 Blackhawk helicopter blades cutting through the thin mountain air. Within the next instant, 24 black clad figures are silently and purposefully gliding through the darkness with weapons held at the ready.
The minds of America’s most elite warriors at this very instant are clear and prepared.
As a 10-year combat veteran of the Navy SEALs who was lucky enough to be involved in many high risk missions similar to the Bin Laden raid, I wanted to use this post to describe what went through my mind at these moments to give you a glimpse into the emotions and thoughts of a warrior in action.
One emotion that is not present in this high risk moment is the emotion of fear, but not for any of the reasons that you might expect.
A tenant that we live by in the SEAL Teams is: “Courage is not the absence of fear, rather it is the mastery of fear.” It is true that only crazy men or dead men have no fear. Even the world’s most elite warriors feel fear. What separates us from others is the ability to continue to operate effectively despite feeling fearful.
I remember very distinctly a time when I was preparing for a mission where the expected casualty rates were 50%. This means that I had a coin flip’s chance of surviving. This knowledge caused me to be fearful in the weeks and days that preceded the operation. Yet, I was confident in my teammates’ abilities and I knew that I needed to continue to lead them to keep them safe.
As we started the operation, we reached what we refer to as the “drop dead point.” This point is considered the point of no return, where we are fully committed to the operation and to any danger that might lie ahead. I noticed that any fear I had felt initially had at this moment been completely transformed into anger. The anger I felt rose from that fact that I had knew that these bad men that we had to confront were the reasons that my closest friends and my own safety was at risk. Their choices and actions were the cause of this situation, and that made me upset.
The other reason that my fellow warriors would not be feeling fear is due to the years of intense training we experience. In these types of operations, I have found that you are in a dynamic, 360-degree environment. In this type of environment, threat levels are constantly changing, enemy and friendly positions are changing, and this is occurring all around you, above and below you simultaneously.
In that type of situation, you cannot rely on your mind’s ability to make conscious decisions. You must have been trained to a level that allows you to instinctively react. With our level of training, I have found that my mind actually becomes very quiet. All of the background “noise” that usually exists in our minds is shut off. There are no thoughts of cause or effect, just action and reaction. It is the ultimate example of being in the moment.
This “in the moment” feeling is unparalleled in life. I have jumped out of airplanes, surfed monster waves, flown aerobatic airplanes, and mountain biked down mountainsides in search of that single, powerful feeling, yet none even come close. It is one of the most addictive feelings on earth and part of the reason why operating as a Navy SEAL, where I could protect the country I love, was the best calling I have ever had.