The media has been abuzz with the news that the Special Forces soldier who shot and killed Osama bin Laden has decided to step out of the shadows and reveal himself.
Robert O’Neill was identified by name by the Washington Post yesterday. His decision has caused controversy within military circles, his former unit SEAL Team 6 and the US military who made it clear that it did not approve.
Another former SEAL who was part of the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound is being investigated for writing a book on the subject. His book wasn’t cleared by the US military and the author Matt Bissonnette could face indictment.
But there is more to this controversy than meets the eye. There have been no shortage of explosive books lifting the lid on operations by former Special Forces soldiers. The book that was the catalyst for the huge public interest in the exploits of elite soldiers was Bravo Two Zero written by the former Special Air Service soldier known by the pseudonym Andy McNab. Since publication of that bestseller members of the SAS are forced to sign a contract effectively ensuring they will never author books relating to their exploits.
But behind the scenes of all this is a frustration among Special Forces that when it comes time to retire they aren’t sufficiently prepared for life in the world outside of the military. With a small pension and very few transferable skills former Special Forces operators are left with stark choices when it comes to surviving in the far less dangerous world beyond the uniform. Telling their stories becomes one of the only marketable skills they have. In the UK 10% of homeless people are former soldiers.
As far back as 2011, when O’Neill told his story anonymously to Esquire magazine he was looking at retirement from the Navy SEALs and had no idea how to feed his family. One option he was presented with was;
“They [SEAL command] told me they could get me a job driving a beer truck in Milwaukee”
And it isn’t just in the United States that elite warriors are finding that they get a raw deal from the governments and country they put their lives on the line to protect. Here in Israel there have been no shortage of controversies involving the lack of care provided to elite soldiers.
The day that the man who put three bullets into the body of Osama bin Laden revealed himself to the world was the same day that the International Criminal Court announced that it would not be moving forward with charges against Israel for the Mavi Mamara raid in 2010. That raid saw nine Turkish activists killed by commandos from the Israeli equivalent of the SEALs, Shayatet 13.
In that raid seven Israeli commandos were injured. The Prime Minister went to their base and told them and the world that their actions had been “heroic” yet a year and a half later three of them hired lawyers in an attempt to force the Defense Ministry to recognise them as disabled veterans and provide them with the pay they deserved after having been wounded in combat.
In this climate, where Special Forces soldiers are denied the opportunity to tell their stories, yet are abandoned by the military as soon as they take off the uniform and sometimes while still wearing it, soldiers will continue to ignore the military regulations against writing books and find the necessity of the money they could make overwhelming.