Ex-SEAL’s book on bin Laden raid hitting shelves

Matt Bissonnette was one of the Navy SEALs who killed Osama bin Laden. He was in the room when a fellow commando fired a shot through the al-Qaida leader's head. With life still twitching through bin Laden's body, Bissonnette and another SEAL trained laser-guided assault rifles on the world's most wanted terrorist and fired a few rounds into his chest as two women wailed in a corner.

News of the raid soon flashed across TV screens around the world as crowds of people filled streets in New York City, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere.

About 24 hours later, Bissonnette was listening to a country music station while driving his pickup to his home in Virginia Beach. He spotted a familiar neon glow and pulled off the road.

From the parking lot of a Taco Bell, Bissonnette downed a bean burrito, slurped a Pepsi and reflected on one of the most momentous military missions in U.S. history.

"Between bites, I tried to make sense of everything," he wrote in his book, "No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission that Killed Osama Bin Laden."

The much-anticipated memoir hits bookstores Tuesday, offering to date the most detailed and personal account of the bin Laden raid. Bissonnette co-wrote the book under the pseudonym Mark Owen, but his name was leaked to the media.

The book was originally scheduled for release on Sept. 11 but was moved up following a media storm and a surge in orders. The Virginian-Pilot obtained a copy last week.

The book opens with a tense helicopter flight into Pakistan. As the Black Hawk carrying Bissonnette and his team is spiraling toward a crash-landing in the courtyard of bin Laden's compound, the story flashes back to a training scene seven years earlier.

Bissonnette, 36, leads readers through the grueling Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training, his orientation into his elite unit, SEAL Team 6, and several special operations missions to Iraq and Afghanistan before delivering a gripping, blow-by-blow account of the raid in Abbottabad.

Bissonnette changed the names of his teammates to protect them but leaves out few of the gory details. As blood pooled around bin Laden's body, Bissonnette went to work documenting the scene. He yanked bin Laden's beard left to right to get the best possible identifying photograph.

Later, he and three other SEALs hauled the "dead weight" to a second helicopter. Inside the tight cabin, a SEAL had to sit on bin Laden's chest during the flight back to Afghanistan.

The book includes some surprises. If the SEALs were caught by Pakistani officials during the raid, they had been instructed to lie and say they were searching for a lost drone. Also, contrary to previous reports, Bissonnette said bin Laden made no effort to defend himself.

Bissonnette weaves in anecdotes from his upbringing in a remote Alaskan bush village, where he learned to work in extreme conditions and shoot guns.

Bissonnette, who also was involved in the high-profile operation to free Richard Phillips from pirates off the coast of Somalia in 2009, had harsh words for President Barack Obama.

Bissonnette writes: "We had seen it before when he took credit for the Captain Phillips rescue. Although we applauded the decision-making in this case, there was no doubt in anybody's mind that he would take all the political credit for this, too."

Later, while watching Obama's speech announcing the bin Laden killing, Bissonnette writes: "None of us were huge fans of Obama. We respected him as the commander in chief of the military and for giving us the green light on the mission." When one SEAL joked afterward that they just got Obama re-elected, Bissonnette asked, "Well, would you rather not have done this?"

The book ends with a final jab at Obama, who Bissonnette says reneged on an offer to share beers at the White House.

Bissonnette, a registered Republican, denies political motives. He said he wrote the book to "set the record straight" after leaving the service last spring. He grew frustrated watching and reading inaccurate news reports and wanted to honor the men he served with. Bissonnette said he will donate most of the earnings from the book to charity.

He may have incensed the Pentagon in the process. The government is threatening legal action for what it calls "a material breach of nondisclosure agreements."

Some within the SEAL community also are upset. The personal account peels the mystique from a highly secretive community and humanizes a team of commandos with a near-super-human reputation.

Following the bin Laden raid, one of Bissonnette's teammates came home to an overgrown lawn and spent the day cutting grass. Another walked into his home and was immediately placed on diaper duty.

"We just shot (bin Laden)," his friend told his wife. "Think I can sit down and drink a beer?"

The book also includes a few reminders that SEALs are not only stationed in Virginia Beach - they live here, too. Bissonnette writes fondly of relaxing days back home.

His first indication of the coming bin Laden raid came from an unlikely source - his landscaper. The guy spreading mulch at his Virginia Beach home worked for numerous SEALs during their frequent deployments.

The landscaper had noticed some top guys had been making trips to Washington and had heard rumors. "There's something big going on," he told Bissonnette while pushing a wheelbarrow full of mulch.

A few weeks later, Bissonnette was flying to Afghanistan for the biggest mission of his career.

Mike Hixenbaugh, 757-446-2949, mike.hixenbaugh@pilotonline.com

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