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No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission That Killed Osama Bin Laden

December 25, 2012


The second subtitle of this book—“The Autobiography of a Navy SEAL”—is a little more accurate, as the book covers the author’s upbringing in remote Alaska, his training as a Navy SEAL, various missions and, ultimately, his role in the mission that took out Bin Laden.

I’ve read a few accounts of SEAL training (most recently Eric Greitens’ The Heart and the Fist). In that regard, this book isn’t as good as some of the others I’ve read. A little too much of the expected, gung-ho stuff. Certainly not as introspective as Greitens’ account. Still, it’s pretty interesting.

What makes the story of Mark Owen (a pseudonym) unique, of course, is that he was involved in the raid on UBL (the SEAL nickname for Bin Laden). He discusses the mission prep (including the anxious wait for the White House to decide if they would assault the compound believed to be Bin Laden’s with the SEAL team or bomb it instead), the mission itself and the follow-up from a soldier’s point of view. Among other duties in the assault on the compound, he took the photos of UBL’s body.

One of the most striking things about the UBL mission was how routine it was from a tactical perspective. The men involved had performed dozens of more challenging close-quarter assaults and hostage rescue missions before. Bin Laden was just another target. Of course, psychologically it was a different story. It’s interesting to see Owen balance those two impulses—trying to focus on what he has been trained to do and disregard the historic impact of what he’s actually doing.

It’s this quiet, business-as-usual aspect of the SEALs that has always seemed most admirable to me. These guys are about as badass as it gets, but their quiet heroism embodies a professionalism and humility that reflects a deep belief in their teaching, their team and their country. Their very demeanor contrasts so starkly with the bombast of our mainstream culture, where men make millions of dollars to throw or catch a ball, look pretty or act obnoxious on television. It makes all of that look childish. Yet, ironically, it’s part of what they protect by putting their lives on the line time and again.

Owen gets on a plane, and a few days later he is photographing the dead body of the greatest villain of our time, the culmination of a decade-long manhunt and billions of dollars. Then a couple days later, he is sitting in his truck in the parking lot of a Taco Bell, quietly munching on his traditional post-mission meal. When his neighbor sees him back home, she gives him a hug. And then it’s on to the next mission.

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