May 2 marked 10 years ago that a group of Navy Seals dropped into Bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan and rid the world of this terrorist. The History Channel has just devoted several, several hours to some excellent documentaries looking back at 9/11, what was happening on board Air Force One immediately afterwards and the planning and execution of the raid to get Bin Laden.
It was excellent television in a time when I can’t say that very often and certainly caused viewers to reflect on these times–as well as the times we are now experiencing.
We have all seen the unbelievable destruction of 9/11. Still it is hard to grasp the panic and chaos that gripped not only New York City, but the entire country. We were dumbfounded and waiting for the next shoe to fall so to speak. Thankfully, that did not happen.
President George W. Bush was reading to a Florida classroom of elementary students when he got the word. As quickly as possible, he was aboard Air Force One and on a course to who knows where. Bush wanted to immediately return to the White House, but staff and security finally dissuaded him that this was not a good idea. The plane he was on is amazing in its capabilities. But many aboard it that day felt they were little more than a sitting duck to someone wanting to down it.
Finally they climbed to 45,000 so that they were high above most other air traffic. And after more than an hour, they were joined by two jet fighters who, ironically enough, were from Bush’s former National Guard unit in Houston. Their first stop was in Louisiana to take on fuel. Then they headed to a base in Omaha.
And while flying at 45,000 feet was great for safety, for the most part it took them out of range for most communications which were critical. From Omaha, the plane headed for Washington so Bush could speak to the American people and assure them as best possible that every measure was being taken to insure the safety of everyone.
The segment on the raid was fascinating. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people devoted untold hours following leads that might lead them to Bin Laden. They were looking for a needle in the haystack and no lead was too small to be ignored..
At long last, due to carefully planted informants, they settled on a three-story, heavily fortified structure in a small village about 160 miles inside of Pakistan. Then the real work. A carefully screened group of Seals with extensive experience were selected to begin training for this mission. They studied models of the compound and most importantly, went through numerous training exercises on a too-scale mockup of the compound.
All of this was under the watchful eye of Admiral William McRaven, who had the wholehearted support of President Obama and everyone with knowledge of the mission. And there were not many as this endeavor was highly secret.
Two Blackhawk helicopters departed on a moonless night to fly the 160 miles to the target and drop the Seals. Unfortunately, one of the Blackhawks crashed into a compound courtyard. No one was injured and the helicopter was blown up before the team left the site.. It was later theorized that because the night air was warmer than expected, this affected the Blackhawk’s ability to hover.
The Seals moved quickly. Every thing had been planned to the minute. Resistance was minimal. They found Bin Laden on the third floor and he was quickly dispatched. At one point, one of the Seals thought he saw a son of Bin Laden stick his head around a corner and quickly retreat. The Seal called the man’s name and the head came back into view He was shot.
It was critical that Bin Laden’s body be brought back so that positive identification could be made. He was put in a body bag and loaded on a helicopter. As soon as everyone was back at the base, McRaven came to see the body and Bin Laden was removed from the body bag. The admiral thought they had their man. Bin Laden was 6 feet 4 inches tall. McRaven looked around the room, spied the tallest guy there and asked him how tall he was. 6 feet, 2 inches wax his response. So McRaven asked him to lie down next to the body. After a pause to make sure he heard correctly, the soldier complied and the admiral noted that the body was about 2 inches taller than the soldier.
As we know now, everything was bein closely monitored by a small group back in the White House. McRaven immediately called the president and reported that they had the right guy and told him about using the solider as a measuring tape. As McRaven tells it, there was then a long pause before President Obama said, “We can spend $60 million on a helicopter but we don’t have $10 for a tape measure?”
DNA later made a positive identification.
One of the climatic scenes in the documentary was when the observers exited the White House only to encounter thousands gathered chanting USA, USA.
Without doubt, this was one of the finest moments in the history of this country. However, it is impossible not to reflect on our country just 10 years later. Whereas on a May night in 2011 we were united as one, that is definitely not the case now. We are more divided that perhaps ever before. And the last time a crowd gathered near the White House, they were encouraged to march down the street where some stormed our own Capitol.
Congress is at a total stalemate. The only thing that matters is winning–not for the people–but for themselves.
A few weeks ago the head of the FBI told us that domestic terrorists are now considered as much a threat to us as those from overseas.
To say things are a mess is an understatement. Unfortunately it will remain that way until the citizens of this great country refuse to be duped by the loudest, most unreasonable voices in the land and elect people to public office who are honestly public servants, not power hungry demagogues and hypocrites.
And that is what we will do if we truly claim to be patriots.