Esquire and the Center for Investigative Reporting teamed up for a story that would likely be dominating this morning if it weren’t for the surprising news out of the Vatican: A detailed profile of the Navy SEAL who shot and killed Osama Bin Laden.
It’s a powerful read and well worth your time. The piece—which includes lengthy quotes from the shooter himself—is packed with interesting anecdotes about the historic raid, and also paints a somewhat gut-wrenching picture of the man’s transition back to civilian life now that his days of night-vision goggles and firefights are over.
It’s difficult to pick just one nugget to whet your appetite with, but this one is as good as any: The shooter’s first-person account of the moment itself, as he retold it to reporter Phil Bronstein:
I had my hand on the point man’s shoulder and squeezed, a signal to go. The two of us went up. On the third floor, he tackled the two women in the hallway right outside the first door on the right, moving them past it just enough. He thought he was going to absorb the blast of suicide vests; he was going to kill himself so I could get the shot. It was the most heroic thing I’ve ever seen. I rolled past him into the room, just inside the doorway.
There was bin Laden standing there. He had his hands on a woman’s shoulders, pushing her ahead, not exactly toward me but by me, in the direction of the hallway commotion. … I’m just looking at him …. He’s got a gun on a shelf right there, the short AK he’s famous for. And he’s moving forward. I don’t know if she’s got a vest and she’s being pushed to martyr them both. He’s got a gun within reach. He’s a threat. I need to get a head shot so he won’t have a chance to clack himself off [blow himself up].
In that second, I shot him, two times in the forehead. Bap! Bap! The second time as he’s going down. He crumpled onto the floor in front of his bed and I hit him again, Bap! same place. That time I used my EOTech red-dot holo sight. He was dead. Not moving. His tongue was out. I watched him take his last breaths, just a reflex breath.
And I remember as I watched him breathe out the last part of air, I thought: Is this the best thing I’ve ever done, or the worst thing I’ve ever done? This is real and that’s him. Holy shit.
Read the whole thing here. After you’re done, check out this piece from the Washington Post that digs a little deeper into another nugget that is easy to lose track of when focused on the first-person account of the raid itself: The fact that the shooter lost his military insurance the day he retired because he declined to become a reservist. “I asked if there was some transition from my Tricare to Blue Cross Blue Shield,” the shooter explained. “They said no. You’re out of the service, your coverage is over. Thanks for your sixteen years. Go fuck yourself.” [UPDATE: Turns out the health-care anecdote is much more complicated than it first seemed. Here’s the full story.]