As the helicopter swayed above Osama bin Laden’s compound and troops hung off the sides, the pilot fought to keep control. They were on a mission into Pakistan, without Pakistani approval, hovering over the outskirts of Abbottabad in the middle of the night, armed to the teeth, unsure of the weapons that awaited them, intent on capturing or killing bin Laden.
The chopper’s noise alerted everyone.
That’s the scenario at the beginning of No Easy Day, a book by Mark Owen (a pseudonym) one of the SEAL Team 6 special operation soldiers who was there on May 2, 2011 when Bin Laden was finally killed after a 10-year search.
In the first chapter, Owen sits on the edge of the chopper's doorway over the compound, ready to lead the charge, as the big bird flails about.
After setting up the story with that description, the story cuts back to a training session in Mississippi, seven years earlier.
Owen's unfolding story is one of aspirations, training, determination and discipline.
It gives a glimpse of the improvements that have been made in Special Ops since the failed Operation Eagle Claw mission into Iran in 1980 that doomed Jimmy Carter’s presidency.
The book is an easy read, written in matter-of-fact simple chapters by a brave, no-nonsense soldier.
It is not a tell-all. Nor is it highly critical of the Obama White House, although Owen expresses the frustrations of awaiting battlefield directions while politicians consider the situation at the highest levels of government.
It is a story of success, reassuring us that the U.S. military can still function well.
The author's descriptions are detailed -- of pranks pulled, individual decisions, characters and characteristics.
At this level of special operations, soldiers can wear their hair as they choose, pick their own gear and to some extent, figure things out as they go along -- and keep their teamwork intact.
Several pictures of the compound, and the guns Owen chose for the attack, are included.
No Easy Day also gives us a look at some of the intelligence reports involved – including bad intelligence that wasted time, security and money, and then good intelligence that led to the successful mission.
The training, including a mock-up of the compound that captured everyone’s attention, is detailed.
The battle against nerves, against the unexpected, and against bullets -- that too is detailed.
The killing of bin Laden was the most definitive victory in the long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Other operations, including the rescue of a freighter-ship captain off the coast of Somalia, and the successful attack on an al-Qaeda stronghold high in the Afghan mountains, are also described.
Owen said his decision to write the book was difficult. Like is fellow SEALs, he doesn't like the spotlight.
“No one at the command thought much of the notoriety that came after the bin Laden raid,” Owen said.
“We always prided ourselves for being quiet professionals, but the more coverage I saw of the raid, the more I wanted to set the record straight," he wrote. "To me, the story is bigger than the raid itself and much more about the men at the command who willingly go into harm’s way. Theirs is a story that deserves to be told, and told as accurately as possible.”
Owen has often been asked, “I’m not a SEAL and probably couldn’t do it if I tried, but what can I do to help?”
Don’t just live, he answers, live for a purpose bigger than yourself. Be an asset to your family, community and country.
It's foreseeable that there will be ample opportunities on the horizon to help others, once the realities of the soaring federal deficit hit home. Most of us will probably have to learn to do with less, and to honor Owen and the battle against terrorism, we need to be brave, courageous and bold. This tale of real dedication, sacrifice and success helps us get ready.