One of the first things Mark Owen and I talked about when we started working on No Easy Day was the book Men with Green Faces.
The novel, written by former SEAL Gene Wentz, is an action packed story full of ambushes and firefights in Vietnam's Mekong Delta. Owen read the book in junior high for a book report, but to this day he still remembers it. The book set him on the path that would eventually, after 13 combat deployments, lead to Osama bin Laden's door.
I've heard this kind of story before.
Many of the Special Forces point to The Green Berets by Robin Moore as the book that inspired them to join the Army and complete the grueling selection course.
Both books and the many like them are essential tools in inspiring the next generation of special operations soldier. Better than even the best commercial or recruiting poster, these books let aspiring SEALs and Green Berets experience the world first hand.
Even Admiral Bill McRaven, commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command, praised these kinds of books.
"Few senior (special operations forces) officers have benefited more from reading about the exploits of our legendary heroes than I... Most of these books were wonderful accounts of courage, leadership, tough decision making, and martial skill all of which benefited me as I tried to understand our past and how it could affect missions in the future," McRaven wrote in an August 24 email message to his troops.
While McRaven cautions against revealing secrets and classified material, he said movies also "provide the public insights into life in special operations or the service that can't be garnered anywhere else."
As Owen and I worked on the book, we had an eye toward the next generation of operators. The book was never going to be an expose on the mission to Abbottabad. This wasn't a gotcha book for the political season. Owen had no intention of revealing classified information, and he stressed from the start the book was about his teammates and that portions of the proceeds would be donated to SEAL charities. The book he wanted to write was a celebration of what the SEALs had done not only in Abbottabad, but around the world since Sept. 11, 2001.
One of the first things we had to do was make the SEALs human, and we set about doing it by telling the truth. We tried to capture the mood at the historic moment. SEALs use crass language, mercilessly tease one another, and gripe about their bosses. Their workplace is no different than any other. In the unit, pranking is an art form. Bombing someone's equipment with glitter is common. One time, a bunch of Owen's teammates inflated a rubber raft inside a teammates "cage," a room-sized locker used to store gear.
The pranks, the teasing, and even the complaining are essential for the reader to understand the team. It was important for the book to show the human side of the SEALs. It is their brotherhood that is the foundation for any successful mission. SEALs are well know for taking care of their own. When the story broke about the book and names were being broadcast over cable news, Owen was on a charity skydive raising money for the families of fallen SEALs.
The most important objective was to give readers a chance to go on the mission with some of America's best.
Before the SEALs even got involved, the CIA and other intelligence agencies tracked Bin Laden to Abbottabad. As Owen tells one CIA analyst before the mission, he and his teammates were coming in at the last minute to finish the job. The hard work of hundreds of men and women put everything in place for the SEALs to take the final step. Owen reserves his highest praise for the helicopter crews, many of whom had worked with the SEALs in the past, and two of which saved his life that night in Pakistan.
Sitting in his office, decorated with mementos from his years as a SEAL (he still has a picture of his training class on the wall), Owen relived the whole crash in his chair. Leaning forward as the helicopter started to lose altitude and mimicking how his teammate, Walt, pulled him back inside. By the time the helicopter hit the ground as he retold his story, he was leaning way back in his chair.
But then he stopped talking and leaned forward.
"If it wasn't for that pilot, I'd be dead. We'd all be dead," Owen said. "Those pilots are the best in the world. If he doesn't do that crash just right, the whole mission is over. Talk about a hero."
No Easy Day is full of heroes, but odds are none of them think of themselves that way. Mark Owen will admit that he just felt lucky to be on the team who carried the burden that night. He says that any other team in the unit would have performed just as well.
The public deserves to hear Mark Owen's account of the Bin Laden raid for many reasons. Chief among them is that though Bin Laden is dead, others will plot to attack the United States. We will need more men like the SEALs who answered the call in Abbottabad last May.
If just one person is inspired to follow in their footsteps, "No Easy Day" has accomplished its mission.
Kevin Maurer is the co-author of No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission That Killed Osama Bin Laden. He has covered special operations forces for nine years. He has been embedded with the Special Forces in Afghanistan six times, spent a month in 2006 with special operations units in east Africa, and has embedded with U.S. forces in Iraq and Haiti. He is the author of four books, including several about special operations.