Rob O’Neill: “The Operator: Firing the Shots that Killed Bin Laden” | Talks at Google

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SPEAKER: As you know, our guest
is former SEAL Rob O’Neill. Give you a little bit
of background about Rob. Rob has more than
a dozen deployments with over 400 combat missions. He was decorated with two
silver stars, four bronze stars with valor, a Joint
Service Commendation Medal, three Presidential Unit
citations, and two Navy commendations with valor. So today, Rob is going to come
up and join us, talk about what it takes to be successful in
high-paced, high-performance teams. And he’s going to
be drawing on some of his experiences
as a SEAL and some of the stories in the book. OK, cool. So let’s make Rob feel welcome. [APPLAUSE] ROB O’NEILL: Thank you. All right, buddy. SPEAKER: Thank you, sir. ROB O’NEILL: Thanks. Thank you very much. I appreciate it. SPEAKER: So first off,
thanks for coming today, Rob. ROB O’NEILL: Absolutely. SPEAKER: The book, it’s not
just a story about the bin Laden raid, right? It’s a story about a
kid from Butte, Montana, and his journey with the SEALs. Can you tell us
how it all started? ROB O’NEILL: Yeah. The book itself is– I was part of the mission
to go after Osama bin Laden, but it came after a long career
and a lot of stuff we did. I joined the Navy by accident. Like, it was because of a girl. I had to get away from
her in Butte, Montana. Because you know,
I was 19 years old, I knew everything about life. I had my heart broken
like we’ve all done, and I figured I’d
join the Marine Corps. And I tried to join
the Marine Corps, but the Marine recruiter
wasn’t in the office. That’s the easiest way to
get out of Butte, Montana, is to join the military. We’ve just got pavement
and power lines and stuff up there– kidding. But I went to join
the Marine Corps. He wasn’t in the office,
and two of my friends that were about two or
three years older than me named Ben and Jim were Marines. And they said the Marine
Corps is actually part of the Department of the Navy. It’s just the men’s department. It was one of their jokes. So I went in the
Navy guy because he would know where the Marine
was, all by accident, and he actually talked
me into being a Navy SEAL even though I didn’t
know how to swim. I remember standing in front
of him thinking, you know, I’m 19 years old. I’m kind of naive. This guy is a
professional recruiter. Why is he going to lie to me? So we signed it. I found out SEALs do swim. I found out I was in a pickle. But the point of
the whole book is I ended up being that naive
kid that had his heart broken, joined the military,
became a SEAL, learned how to
swim the hard way. I was involved with
a lot of missions. 17 years later, I’m in
bin Laden’s bedroom, part of one of the greatest
teams the military has ever assembled. The whole point of the book
is doesn’t matter what you look like or where you’re from. You can do anything you want. You just need to work hard. You need to believe in
yourself and certainly avoid the negativity. Negativity breeds and has
a tendency to spoil things. If you can stay positive
and be good to each other, you can do anything. That’s the whole
premise of the book. Cool. Appreciate that, thanks. [APPLAUSE] Awesome. And I was going to say, if
you haven’t read the book yet, there’s a spoiler alert. Bin Laden does die
at the end of it. SPEAKER: OK. So as you start SEAL training,
one of the major hurdles is BUD/S, right? ROB O’NEILL: Yep. SPEAKER: So any TV
show or book I’ve read, it’s just a hugely
demanding kind of a way to weed out some of
the candidates early in the SEAL process, and the
mental fortitude it takes is just so impressive. So can you give the audience
an idea of how intense that process is and what
your mental strategy is to survive that? ROB O’NEILL: Yeah. BUD/S is the course that every
Navy SEAL needs to go through, and it stands for Basic
Underwater Demolition SEAL training. And it’s the one that you
see on a lot of the TV shows, and it’s in a lot of books. It’s the hardest
military training in the world from the
first day to the end. Now, there’s about three or four
months prior to the first day if that makes any sense. But once you start,
it’s 26 weeks. The beginning of it,
the first 9 to 10 weeks is all calisthenics. So it’s like, the
workout starts at 5:00 AM, which means you’ve
got up at 4:00 or whatever and class gets together,
gets a full headcount. The workout starts at or 5:00. You work until about
6:30, go to breakfast. Then you come
back, and you’ll do like two hours of
log workouts, which means you’ve got a
couple-hundred-pound logs, where you’re working
out with six guys each holding a log doing
different drills, through negative
reinforcement teaching you that if one guy doesn’t pull his
weight then the team will fail. And then you’ll rest and
change into something. You have a seven-mile
conditioning run in the soft sand, followed
by a two-mile timed swim in the ocean. Then you’d run to
the pool, which is a mile and a half away, swim
there, get tied up, thrown in, do different drills. You do this all day
long every single day. And something funny, too,
that no one seems to realize is, from where you do these
workouts to the galley– which is where you eat– it’s a mile away. So no matter what, you’re
running six miles a day just to eat. I love this building. Food is 300 feet
away at all times. That’s not a bad gig. But yeah, it’s a tough course. One of the hardest parts
is called Hell Week, which is where they wake you up for
training on Sunday late morning and then you do that kind
of training around the clock every day until Friday. So you don’t sleep. It’s miserable. It’s so bad they keep you
covered in salt water and sand the entire time. By Wednesday morning,
your skin is so soft that every part of your
body that touches cloth starts to bleed. And you’re wearing
clothes, so you just become a bloody, sloppy mess. It’s a horrible time. Right now, I think it’s
85% of the people who try out do not make it through. SPEAKER: Wow. ROB O’NEILL: And that’s
the initial testing to try to become a SEAL. After that, it’s another year
until you get your Trident and become a SEAL– more
advanced tactics, small unit stuff, tendencies of
other people and all that. But it’s a tough course. SPEAKER: So once you finished
your training, after BUD/S, you make it onto the SEAL team. That brought you to a couple
of different deployments, and one of those
was Afghanistan. ROB O’NEILL: I got
there pre 9/11, so my first four
deployments were actually to a lot of Europe,
a lot of Africa, some of the Middle East. The only jobs we
really had going on as far special operators were
like Kosovo, Bosnia, Liberia. There was a few things we had
to go help with the embassies. Generally, they were training– training with Allied
Special Forces in case of contingencies, like
the stuff that we actually saw after 9/11, the stuff
in North Korea right now, training with our allies. Because we were SEALs,
we worked with people called the Special Boat Service,
the SBS, the Brits in the UK. We’d work with some of our
Northern Africa allies a lot, some of our United Arab
Emirates, Norwegian Jaegers, things like that. I didn’t go to Afghanistan
until after 9/11. SPEAKER: OK. Got ya. So when you did
get to Afghanistan, though, in the book it seemed
like it was a new environment for a lot of people. It was a little ambiguous. Can you talk us
through how you were able to make decision-making
processes and strategy decisions in an ambiguous
environment like that? ROB O’NEILL: Yeah. It was, too. We’d never really been to war
as a nation since Vietnam, and we’d never been
in a war like this, a certain counterinsurgency-type
operation like in Afghanistan. And when we first
started going there, we realized that the way
you’re going to win that– not win that, but make it more
stable, I guess– would be you need the locals to
be on your team. You need them to like you. And a lot of people
say hearts and minds. I think that gets overused. More minds than anything. We were trying to be innovative. And we realized that if we
can make their lives better, we can get them on our team. And how do you make
someone’s life better? Family first. You want to help them
support their family. So you’ve got to give him a job. So we would find
a spot with some of the money we
were given, and we’d get what’s called a safe house. So you’d buy a building,
make it a safe house, then you hire first
security– so you actually have interviews with locals
that know how to use guns. So they are your security,
once you vet them. You hire plumbers,
make your place better. You’re hiring cooks,
hiring all kinds of stuff– drivers. And then we actually expanded
it to going out in the towns, shopping in the bazaars,
eating at the restaurants in Afghanistan, getting
to know the neighbors and their children so that if
a parent sees you getting along with their, kids they’re going
to try to protect you as best they can from people
like the Taliban, like al-Qaeda, through anything. Because it’s not just
bombs and bullets, it’s human intelligence. People that go to the internet
cafes and the coffee shops, they’re hearing stuff
from other people. They’re talking to
their cousins who hear from the Taliban,
intel chains like that. So it was working for a while. We– I felt like we
had it won over there for a long, long time. The issue is a lot of
government agencies, they’re not innovative. And they love to say this is
the way we’ve always done it. And they do what’s
called a surge. I’m sure if people
have heard about that. It kind of worked in Iraq. It worked in Europe
in World War II. It didn’t work in Afghanistan. And just, I remember
seeing the process of that, how it’s not going to work. Didn’t even explain it to the
bosses before it happened. We have the safe houses. The locals like us. We’re shopping in the bazaars. And they decided– this is like
big military, big government. Well, let’s get a base
here, build walls, and we’ll pull everyone
out of the city and you can live there. And then the only
people driving outside will be the scared 20-year-old
guy that’s never been to war, so he’s driving fast
and hitting people. And if you want to shop,
we’ll bring five vendors into the base and
then they can sell, but now they upped
their prices by 800%. These people get nothing. They see that happening. They’re upset. They’re rich. You sort of see
what’s happening. You’re going to become
what’s known as occupiers, and that’s how you get
in a quagmire 2017. So it was interesting
to see both sides of it and actually kind of a
business-like team building and almost local leadership,
just in a military aspect. That’s kind of where
we learned that. SPEAKER: Cool. ROB O’NEILL: That was
a long answer, sorry. SPEAKER: So by late
2000s you made it to senior chief
petty officer, right? ROB O’NEILL: Mm hmm. SPEAKER: Can you tell us what
skills and leadership traits you feel like developed the
most from when you first got to the SEAL teams against
when you were a senior chief? ROB O’NEILL: Yeah. What developed the most– experience doesn’t necessarily
come from a classroom. It comes from on
the job training, and it comes from watching both
your peers and your superiors, how they’re going to act. And one thing that I noticed– I was on a lot of
different teams at a lot of different
times, and the teams that performed at
the highest levels were teams that communicated,
but got along with each other. And I remember watching
bosses of mine. They were so senior
to me they didn’t even need to acknowledge me, but they
would say good morning, please, and thank you for normal work. Not all the time, but when it
was legitimate compliments just to make you feel like
you’re part of the team. And we noticed, when people
want to be where they’re working and truly respect each other
that the team works harder. So what we learned about it– one of my tactics
was I would, even if I had a decision made
as one of the team leaders, I would always ask my people
for their input for two reasons. One, they would maybe have
a better idea than I did. But they also felt like
they’re part of the solution. So morale is high,
and people skills is one of the major reason we
were a very successful team. SPEAKER: I think a tricky
thing to do sometimes is balance overplanning
with micromanagement. ROB O’NEILL: Yes. SPEAKER: The bin Laden raid,
from what I read in the book, it seemed like every
contingency plan and every detail
was planned out. ROB O’NEILL: Yes. SPEAKER: How do you balance
planning a mission out with that much detail and not
micromanaging your people? ROB O’NEILL: The first
part is, with the planning, the realization that the
only time the plan exists is while you’re planning. And then once you go to do it,
everything is going to change. It’s the whole thing,
the only thing that’s wrong is that nothing’s wrong. And anything that you do can get
you killed including nothing, if that makes any sense. And then life, by the way, is
what’s happening around you as you’re planning. A prime example was
the bin Laden raid. We had some of the
best military minds in the country
coming up with a plan because we knew
what it looked like. So we came up with
the perfect plan, and we rehearsed
the perfect plan. Over and over, we trained with
the helicopters in the day, and then eat something,
then train at night. And when we were done at 11:30,
midnight, or whatever, go back and we stand around a table– perfect model of the thing–
and talk about the perfect plan till we’re talking
about everything. Then we came up with
the contingencies, tried to what if everything. But we know the perfect
plan is going to work. And then one night we’re
standing around very tired, and the boss said OK, what’s the
worst thing that could happen? And the youngest guy
in the room said, well, the helicopter could
crash in the front yard. And he pointed right
there, and everyone kind of looked at him like, you
don’t want to jinx it. Hey, negative. Why would you say that? And he goes, I don’t know, let’s
talk about that for 30 seconds. And we did. And that’s exactly
what happened. The helicopter
crashed, and none of us knew it except the
guys that crashed. But we didn’t know. We were in the other one. But yeah, the
micromanagement process– I always ask people, are
you teaching your people how to do their jobs
or are you trying to do their job for them? We were big believers in making
sure our guys are prepared, teaching them exactly what we
think they need to do, and then let it eat. Let them do what they should do. The whole rule of threes. We thought that you can do
three major tasks at once. If you get to four and
five, you’ll lose something. You get complacent. So you need to hand those
tasks to someone else knowing that they’ll
get to three or four and then hand the fourth one
to another part of the team. And just the micromanagement
slows everything down, and then there’s
overcommunication, which is the opposite of
effective communication. That’s kind of the
way we tried to roll. SPEAKER: Got ya. So leading into the raid– so night of, you’re
on the helicopter. Can you tell us what some
of your thoughts were? I imagine it had to
be very stressful. It’s maybe the most important
mission you’ve been on. ROB O’NEILL: Yeah, it was. SPEAKER: In your
career at that point. ROB O’NEILL: It was. SPEAKER: Take us through
your mindset there. How did you manage the stress. ROB O’NEILL: This team that
I was on, we were fortunate, right place at the right time. We were part of
the coalition that rescue the lone survivor,
Marcus Luttrell. They made a book and
a movie out of that. We were in Ramadi when
“American Sniper,” that story with Chris Kyle. We rescued Captain Richard
Phillips from Somali pirates, and then we were picked
to do the bin Laden raid. So we’d been there
quite a few times. We fought in a bunch of
different theaters of war. But when they picked us
for the bin Laden raid, that was the one where we
weren’t going to come home. We knew that we were
going to die or get captured, which in
that part of the world is probably worse than dying. So we went into it
with the expectation that the probability of
dying, very, very high. To the point where we were
actually having conversations about, OK, we’ve got to
think about how are we getting focused for this. I think I was like 35 years old. And I was like,
well, if I don’t go on this, what if when I’m
70, I look back and just have nothing but regret because
I didn’t go on that mission. I need to go on this mission. I need to accept the fact
we’re not coming home. When we were going up
the last set of stairs, the guy who ended up
being in front of me– the first guy up the
stairs and I was second– he said, don’t get me wrong, I’m
going– because it’s all going, this is the thought process– I’m really going. But if we know we’re going
to die, why are we going? Which is legit. I’d want a wargame
that one, too. But then the conversation
we came up with was, well, we’re not
going for ourselves. We’re not going for
bravado or fame. We’re going for the single
mom who dropped her kids off at elementary school
on a Tuesday morning and 45 minutes later she
jumped to her death out of a skyscraper because
that was a better alternative than burning alive. And her last gesture
of human decency was holding her skirt down
so no one saw her underwear as she killed herself. She didn’t want
to do either one, and she wasn’t supposed
to be in the fight. We are. And that’s the kind of
conversations we’re having. That’s where we’re going. So when we left, I remember
it wasn’t a stress, and it wasn’t a fear. It was a focus. You have the last
meal with your kids even though you can’t
tell them you’re leaving. This is probably the
last time I see them, watching them eat a chicken
sandwich as they go play in the playpen, but you’re
thinking about leaving for Pakistan in two hours. So very, very focused, very
good group of people that went. SPEAKER: So after
the mission, the team got a visit from
President Obama– ROB O’NEILL: We did. SPEAKER: And Vice
President Biden. Right? ROB O’NEILL: Yes. SPEAKER: How did that go? ROB O’NEILL: That was like a 180
out from how we felt going in because you’ve got to figure,
everyone from the government agencies up to the White House,
especially, President Obama had to think– he made the call, I don’t
care about who argues on TV. He made the call. And he did that knowing
that, if we fail, I mean, obviously, he’s
losing some of his soldiers, but he’s also losing his legacy. He’s not going to
win a second term. There’s a thing called
Desert One in 1980 when we tried to rescue
hostages in Iran, complete failure, horrible
for that administration. And he knew he was rolling–
not rolling the dice. He was very cool because he
said, when I made the decision, I didn’t know for 100% that
Osama bin Laden was there, but I knew 100% you guys could
go and find out and come back. So he had that on his mind, and
that’s a lot to think about, along with all the
other stuff that comes with being the president. And then we were thinking about
death and this and whatever. And then we all got back,
and we’re all alive. So now, we’re all happy. So when we met the
president, I remember sitting there
thinking, man, I wonder if I’m going to get starstruck,
and I hear, hey everybody. It’s President Obama. Yeah, so I’m starstruck. That’s kind of– But it was neat, too. We had an issue
when we brought– how I mentioned
that you think you can be prepared for
everything, but you’re not. When we brought Osama
bin Laden’s body back, we were on the phone
with the White House. We’re trying to
make sure it’s him. So they’re like, measure him. He’s 6′ 4″, and we’re like OK. We had to lay down one
of our snipers who was 6′ 2″ next to him. So when we got to
this place we met President Obama like a
week and a half later, he says, let me
get this straight. You can destroy one of my
$200 million helicopters, but you cannot afford
a $0.99 tape measure. So it was very light. Everyone was happy. And it was like,
for a whole week, I thought we might
as a country finally agree on a bunch of stuff. So I was wrong. [LAUGHTER] SPEAKER: You guys,
I like the story you presented him with a gift. Did he have some
words about that? ROB O’NEILL: Yeah. That was really cool. He came there. Obviously, we wanted
everyone to get along and have everyone in a
room and have a great talk. And he came to present us
with a Presidential Unit Citation, which is a gift the
president obviously gives you. And what we did for him,
though he didn’t know, was one of our guys carried
a full-size American flag on the mission. And as soon as we got
back, we had it framed. And everyone– the
operators, the pilots, the air crew– we all signed
the back of it for him. And I hope no one is offended
because this story is better with profanity, but
we presented it to him. And he’s looking at it. And I could see– the president sees a lot of
stuff and knows a lot of stuff, but he kind of
got shell shocked. And he goes, wow. Mr. Vice President. Do you think I can find
a nice spot to hang that? And Vice President
Biden said, yeah, that’ll look nice in your
presidential library. And he goes, nah, it’s
going in my fucking bedroom. [LAUGHTER] Which kind
of humanizes him. It’s pretty awesome. SPEAKER: So you started
touching it on a little bit. You said the pilots, the intel
people, the SEALs themselves on the mission. A lot of times we credit
the success of this mission to the SEALs themselves. But can you give us
an idea of the scope and how many teams were involved ROB O’NEILL: I wouldn’t even– I mean, as SEALs we did go in
there, but we were the endgame. We were the final result of
years of a team planning this. It starts off with, like I
said, the human intelligence on the ground that led to– there’s a movie called
“Zero Dark Thirty” about a woman that
found bin Laden, and it was pretty much true. The only difference is it was a
group of women that found him, which I think is awesome. And they worked their butts off
to make sure they tracked him to this one house. And so this government
agency worked on him for years and years and
years, pinpointing him. It was to the point
where, the one woman that the movie’s about,
when we got done, she was 100% right about
every person in the house and where they’d be,
which is just incredible considering she can’t
even see in the house. So there’s your base team
that comes up with the ideas, and then you’ve got your
people that are selling it. So they’ve got to
sell it to government agencies and the White House. So they’re working
that, different things, up to even the head of
the CIA, Director Panetta. He was there. They had to sell him. He has to sell the White House. All that works. Then the White House needs to
go through their delegation process to include the National
Security Council, the Cabinet, the principals. They need to talk and then
come up with a why or why not. They need to wargame that, tell
the president it’s his call. And then, after
all this happens, they come and tell
us three weeks out. Hey, you’re going
to go on a mission. And here’s what you’re
going to do and whatever. And then the pilots,
they picked the four best pilots in the
world, and they had been flying for years and
years, but they had never even flown these
helicopters we brought in. So it’s crediting
these guys who fly. I don’t think I even
looked out the damn window because they’re probably 40
feet off the ground flying. I’m not a pilot, but I’m pretty
sure they’re flying this fast. I don’t know what that is. Gas pedal, that’s funny. [LAUGHTER] And then they just
dropped us off, and then we just did what– I mean, even considering
the people who invented the tactics that we used. Because we got on the ground. One helicopter crashes. They land us here,
and we’re just rolling off the communication,
the tactics that the myriad– SEALs, Green Berets,
Rangers– came up with. The team was so
big, and there’s so many things that go along with
it that they never really get the credit. I mean, even with myself, when
I get up to the top stairs and turn a corner,
I just did what any operator would have done. It’s not like I jump
through a skylight like I’m Charlie Sheen in
that amazing movie “Navy SEALs” from 1989. Notice those SEALs
are all handsome. Yeah. Tough crowd. So yeah. But I mean, the team is so big,
and it was so many years old that there’s so much behind
the scenes that a lot of people don’t get credit for. But just to see it all work and
come together the way it did, I’m probably talking too much,
but that was just awesome. SPEAKER: So since
leaving the SEAL teams, have you been involved in
any projects or work that takes maybe that
scope of people, too? ROB O’NEILL: Yes. One of the projects
that I have, I started a foundation to help
special operators transition from the military to
the private sector. I got out at just over 16 years. And I knew that in
order to get a pension, you need to do 20 for
retirement in the Navy. I knew I wouldn’t get it, but
I knew it was time to leave. I didn’t know what
I was going to do. But I also didn’t
realize that I had skills that we’d acquired
in the military that the private
sector really wants– team building, stress
management, problem solving, outside-the-box thinking
that you just kind of get with experience. And I found that in
the private sector, and I was able to do it. But then I would go back to my– we’ve been at war for so long
that a lot of people, men and women, don’t
want to do 20 years, and they kind of
want to get out now. So we’ve started Your Grateful
Nation that helps them do that. I know people, I’ll tell them
about it, and they’ll say, well, I don’t have any skills. I’d rather go back to war
because that makes more sense than filling out a resume. And that’s the way they think
because the government has no interest in
transitioning these people. So we work with that, and
now we give special operators individualized transitional
support starting off with, where do you want to live? What industry do
you want to be in? And then we find that
company, that city, and then we help them get a mentor, six
to nine months of training, and hopefully get them
into the private sector. The best email or
call that I get is usually from a
spouse of a veteran who says Your Grateful Nation helped
our family get a second career. So that’s very fulfilling,
and it’s good to do that. And the veterans
are special people. SPEAKER: Now, a
lot of people say that they felt this
sense of closure when the news about
bin Laden broke. Do you feel like
you were able to add to that sense of closure, coming
out as the SEAL who did it and writing the book? ROB O’NEILL: Yeah. That was part of the
reason I initially came out with this story. The book was for
different reasons, but the story was because
I donated the shirt that I wore on the mission
to the memorial in lower Manhattan, 9/11 Memorial. And part of the deal was
I donated that shirt, and then they give me a
private tour of the place without crowds there,
which was neat. But what I didn’t know is
at the end of the tour, they had a room a
little bigger than this, and there was 35 family members
of people who lost loved ones– lost a wife, a sister,
a brother, a son– in the Trade Towers. And that’s when they brought
me up, and they said, can you just tell
them what happened? That’s the first
time in public I told the story about bin Laden. And just to see the reactions. They said there will
never be closure, but this helps with the healing. There’s conspiracy
theories everywhere. Where’s the picture,
bin Laden died in 2001, all this nonsense. But they said, finally a
real face, a real name, this helps me heal. And I go down there quite
a bit, and it’s always something to go in
the 9/11 Memorial, especially in crazy
times like now, and just realize
what’s important. And then you run
into family members. I’ve never heard the same
story twice, everything from I had a woman tell me the
story about her husband. She’s on the phone. He’s in the South Tower. She said just get out. Just get out. I know the North Tower’s
hit, but just get out. And all of sudden, it goes
blank– you know, dead. And just to have
those people tell me– if it helps them
with the closure and it can help hopefully
thousands more with closure, and all I need to do is
tell a story, I’ll do it. You know, I’ve assumed risk
before, and I’ll do it again. SPEAKER: Now, you’re not the
only SEAL who’s written a book. A couple of others
have come out, and they’re on shelves now. Do you feel like some of those
Tier 1 operators– so SEALs, Rangers, Delta– are feeling a growing
sense of responsibility to write these
memoirs, to educate the public a little bit? ROB O’NEILL: I think people are. A lot of the operators are,
and I think that’s important. As long as it’s done the right
way, as long as it’s approved. My book was the first one
with the bin Laden raid in it that was approved by
the Pentagon, approved by the Department of
Defense, and it was given to the agencies involved. So here’s a story
that they approved. As long as you’re not
putting anyone in danger, giving up tactics, I think it’s
important for history’s sake. I mean, when George Washington
crossed the Delaware to fight the Hessians on Christmas Eve or
Christmas Day whichever it was, he had a biographer with him. We wouldn’t know the
story if he didn’t. It’s important to
know what people did. And I hope everyone else that
was a part of the mission, they at least tell their
story or come out with it. Because there’s going to
be 23 different stories on the ground alone, and
just to know what people did. I mentioned earlier
that we didn’t know the other
helicopter had crashed. And we somehow got
into the thing. And I was in bin Laden’s
house, and I’m in a room and I’m watching my guys work. I was fortunate the normal
plan didn’t work because I just got a front-row seat
to watch this really cool mission happen. And as I’m in there, one
of the guys whispered– we don’t talk a lot– he said,
something something helicopter crashed. And I started thinking
about the other helicopters we might have in the area,
and I’m thinking maybe we just lost 30 guys. And I said, well, what
helicopter crashed? And he said, bro, our helicopter
crashed in the front yard. You walked right past it. And I’m like, OK. OK. Good. And as we’re having
this conversation, one of our snipers who was doing
like a lap around the place to make sure no one escaped– he’s securing the perimeter. As we’re doing that,
he came to the spot where the tail was hanging over. We eventually saw the pictures
because when we blew it up, it fell, and that’s how they
got part of the helicopter. So he was getting to that part. And he came over the radio and
said everybody, be on alert. They are definitely
ready for us. They’ve got a training mockup
of our super-secret helicopter in the front yard. And there was a pause. And the boss said,
well no, jackass. That’s ours. We crashed. And you hear the
sniper go, yeah, that makes a lot more sense
than the shit I was just saying. There are stories out there
of stuff that people did and how they were
thinking, being so focused on this mission. These are great stories
from great people. It’s a funny story. SPEAKER: I think that story
brings us to another point. It seems like
SEALs and operators have to have a really
good sense of humor just to weather how hard
the lifestyle is and the combat mission. ROB O’NEILL: Yes. SPEAKER: There are a couple
of funny stories in the book. There’s a doorbell story. Are there any other
stories that you thought were really funny that
didn’t make it in the book? ROB O’NEILL: Yeah. A lot of special operators
do have a good sense of humor because sometimes the
training and the missions get so hard that you’ll
lose your mind if you can’t laugh at yourself. Like, what horrible
decision got me here? So SEALs are pretty funny. It always comes to mind. We were talking
over lunch about how walking into a
spider web at night is the best kung fu
instructor on the planet. But every time someone
does that or falls in a hole, someone
from the back you just here, yeah,
elite Navy SEALs, they should make a
movie about this. I don’t know if it’s
in the book and I don’t think it does it
justice, but the first time we realized SEALs were funny was
the very first day of training. We all knew that we were
getting into SEAL training, but we didn’t know what it was. So they sat us down, about
this many people, sailors that wanted to be SEALs. We didn’t know what
the course was, so a SEAL came in to
tell us what to expect. So we’re sitting there,
and he came walking in. I think it was the first
SEAL I’d ever seen. And he came walking in– camouflage pants, blouse, and
the boots, tight blue T-shirt, tattoos down to his knuckles. And we’re looking
at him like you’re looking at me, except we were
terrified, and he knew that. So we didn’t know how serious
he was, and he waited there in silence. And he finally said,
looking good today, gents. Not you, me. I know what you’re thinking. I look a little tired. It’s because I am. I was up all night. I had to get my
wife out of jail. She was arrested
for shoplifting. Earlier that afternoon, we
were leaving the mall together. She had her arm around me. Security thought she was trying
to steal an anatomy chart. [LAUGHTER] So that’s the first
thing a SEAL ever said. And we’re like, what is
this complete psychopath talking about? But he was early and
bored, and he was actually using our fear for his benefit. Anyway, that’s a story. I don’t know if you can
tell that one in the book because it’s more visual. SPEAKER: Yeah. I think it’s in the book. ROB O’NEILL: Oh. Sorry for ruining the book. SPEAKER: Not to ruin
the book anymore, but I really liked
the doorbell story. Can you tell that one? ROB O’NEILL: Yes. Again, I’m a big believer that
failure is a learning tool. People fail every
single day a lot. And as long as you acknowledge
it and own it, look yourself in the mirror, why
did I fail, what can I learn to teach my team, you
can get something out of it. One thing we learned– and
there is a lesson to this. We actually applied it. But we learned along the way
that it’s better to, instead of landing in a helicopter
right next to the target and waking everyone
up, you should land far away where they
can’t hear you and walk in. Instead of putting a bomb on
the door, you pick the lock. And then you go inside. It’s a lot quieter. There’s a lot less
collateral damage. Innocent people don’t get hurt. So we were in Iraq
in about 2007, and we’re walking up to a house. But as we’re walking
up– and I was in front, I was the point man– I could see people
moving in the house. Through the windows, you
can sort of hear them. So they know
something’s outside. Now, we’re going after
a high-value individual, so we’re not going to leave. Now, we do need to
escalate the force. Now, we probably need to
put a bomb on the door because there are bad
guys in there, whatever. So I had to call up
a breacher to get it. A breacher is a
methods-of-entry guy. He will put a bomb on the door,
put a saw through the wall, break the window, whatever. He’s going to get you in
to where you’re going. So he came up and
he wanted to put a– There’s a bomb we use called C6. It’s a seven-foot charge. You’ve probably
heard of C4 before. This is C6. It’s bigger. And C6, it actually looks like
a Fruit Roll-Up, same color, and it’s about that big. And all you do is walk up to
the door, and it’s sticky. You stick it on, and
you roll it down. It should be capped in. You walk to a safe distance,
and you hit the magic button. Big loud boom. The door opens. It’s crazy. Now, he’s going to do that
with both sets of hands. So he slings his weapon. So he needs security. That’s going to be me. So I’m walking up to
the door, and the door would open like this. So we know the hinges are here. He’s going to put the
bomb on the hinge side, so that will push them off. And I’m just going to hold
right here to protect him. As we’re doing this, my boss– I’ve been working with for 13
years, one of the best SEALs, never screwed anything up– he’s watching, and he wants
to come up to observe. Not to micromanage, he just
wants to see what’s going on. And that’s when he put his
elbow right on the doorbell. So it’s kind of like bing. And you could see it
was thinking about it, like he doesn’t want
to move his elbow because the inevitable bong. Now, the breacher
had the bomb out, and he’s like right about here. And he can’t yell at him
because that’s his boss. So he just goes [BREATHING]
Then you see his wheel spinning. And he’s fiscally conservative. He doesn’t want to waste
of taxpayers’ money. So he starts reeling it back up. And he puts in his pocket. Now, I’m right here watching
this whole thing go down. I don’t want to be here anymore. Because what the bad
guys do is they’ll start shooting right
through the door. And unlike Hollywood,
bullets go through stuff, and I don’t want to be
a part of that equation. So I’m contemplating how to
get us both out of this spot. Time’s kind of moving slowly. The door opens. It’s the goddamn terrorists
we’re looking for. So he and I share
like an awkward– Oh, and I start thinking, oh. So I grab him. We cuffed him. And I had a knee in
the small of his back. And I looked at my
boss, and go shit, let’s just do that every night. So the moral of that, what we
learned from that failure– because we’ve been working
in Afghanistan for so long– there are not doorbells
on houses in Afghanistan. There are in Iraq. Stay off the wall. SPEAKER: Good lesson,
everybody out there. ROB O’NEILL: Don’t
ring the doorbells. That happened. SPEAKER: There have
been a lot of films, books about high-profile
missions you’ve been on, obviously the raid on bin Laden,
the rescue of Captain Richard Phillips, and Lone
Survivor Marcus Luttrell. ROB O’NEILL: Yes. SPEAKER: As as someone
who was there in person, what was your favorite book
or movie of those events? ROB O’NEILL: Both
“Lone Survivor,” my favorite book and movie. The movie is really good. I tell people, if
you want to know what a fight in the
mountains of Afghanistan looks like, “Lone Survivor.” All good movies. I think they did a good job. Like I said, “Zero Dark
Thirty” did an excellent job showing the analysts
behind everything and how their passion found him. “American Sniper”
did a really good job showing some of the
post-traumatic effects of the families,
excellent job with that. Didn’t like the fake
baby in that one. Did you see the fake baby? Do you remember that? SPEAKER: Yeah. I think I do. ROB O’NEILL: Yeah. Google– Google? Get it. Google fake baby
“Lone Survivor.” You’ll see that. “Lone Survivor,” excellent,
like I just mentioned. And then what was the other one? SPEAKER: You’re not
a Tom Hanks fan. ROB O’NEILL: No. “Captain Phillips,” awesome. No, that was a good
movie because they made SEALs look good. SPEAKER: OK. ROB O’NEILL: No, they did. You’ll notice,
when the guys took the shots, the first thing,
they did took the shots, and they pulled their
bipods up and left. They didn’t say anything. There was no Hollywood lines. Because when that
was over, I remember talking to the snipers–
this was before bin Laden– so I was like, you realize
this is the– you just did like the single greatest
thing in the history of the SEAL teams. And the sniper looked at me
and said, cool, can we go home? That’s just the way he acted. And it’s funny, too. They asked me how
accurate that movie is. And I said, depends
on who’s asking. Like, in a forum
here, 70% accurate. Happy hour, if a lady
asked me, 100% accurate. I took all three shots. SPEAKER: 150% yeah. ROB O’NEILL:
Completely accurate. SPEAKER: So in a
few minutes, we’re going to go to Q&A
in the audience. So if anyone wants to
step up to the mics, if you have any
questions, feel free. While we’re waiting
for that, Rob, could you tell us about the
creative process for the book? Was that a new hurdle for
you writing in that form, trying to recall all these
missions for so many years? ROB O’NEILL: Yeah. It was new, but I’d
been keeping a journal since training just because it
seemed like the thing to do. Even though there
wasn’t a lot going on, I always thought maybe if
there’s a good story here, I could possibly tell it. So I was able to go through
a lot of my old stuff and recall a lot of stuff. And I actually talked to
some of my guys before it. And then just to sit down and go
through and kind of break it– I initially wanted 11 chapters. It came out to like 26
or something like that. But just interesting stories,
different parts of life. The creative process
was good because it seemed pretty normal. I had some help
writing it, obviously, and then some great editors. So they could dot the i’s
and all the good stuff. It was fun. SPEAKER: Great. So I think we’ll
go to the audience for our first question. Hi. ROB O’NEILL: Hello. AUDIENCE: So you talked a little
bit about transitioning people to the private sector. I’m wondering what
parts of life as a SEAL, like management things– I mean, obviously
not the big stuff– but what small elements of
management or team building do you think really,
really translate, and anyone can take away
when they’re building a team? ROB O’NEILL: Probably
just accountability. We were big into saying
you take care of your gear, your gear takes care of you. So the whole thing is like,
when you’re done with something, clean it now and do everything
like you’d do anything. And then keep an inventory
of what you’ve got, and then also know where your
friend’s stuff is in case they’re not around. Because we would
keep our stuff in– everybody had
these huge lockers. And we would keep our
lockers in certain bags. And the bags are
full of gear designed for a certain environment. So you have these different
bags for like a water jump, land jump, high-altitude diving,
desert, jungle, all that stuff. And what’s in it? And you just want to
keep care of your stuff because you’re going to need
a lot of different stuff in the jungle than you will on
a night jump into Afghanistan or whatever. So just the accountability
of your gear and knowing where your people are. And then the two beer
limit was really good. AUDIENCE: Do you have
any tips for civilians for building up that mental
dexterity that you talk about? You know, that
focus, that ability to push out that negativity
and really focus on the goal? ROB O’NEILL: Yeah. I mean, the biggest
one is the realization that you’re probably
not going to succeed on the first attempt. One of my legitimate answers
to that, too, it’s funny– I don’t keep them mean
to keep making jokes– but I would say
stay off Facebook because that’s where
the negativity is. That just struck me as funny
that comes to mind here again. Seriously, like I
mentioned earlier, failure is a learning tool. You’re not going to
make it every time. You know, chances
are what you were planning didn’t happen anyway. I didn’t mention all this stuff
before, but just keep at it. And if you want to be good at
anything, do it 1,000 times. Like people will say, how
do I get better pull-ups? Oh, simple. Do more pull-ups. You’ll be good. SPEAKER: So Rob, you actually
have an interesting story on repetition and
learning things. Can you tell us about your
dad and the free throws story? ROB O’NEILL: Yes. We, my father and I,
played basketball everyday. He played in college. I played in college. And one of our rules
is when my season would end with whatever,
junior high or high school, our season would start. And we’d play two to
three hours a day. But one of our rules is, no
matter, as soon as we finish, we don’t get to
leave until one of us makes 20 free throws in a row. So it would start with a make,
and then one guy rebounds. You start with a make, and
then you shoot until you miss. Then you switch. And so it was a 20 to
leave the gym every day, but then it was 20
to get a steak dinner at the Derby in Butte, Montana. But once you got the steak,
then it moved up by 25. So it’s 20 to leave the
gym, then 25 for a steak. Then it’s 20 and
30, then 35, 40. And we got to a point
where my father, I think he made
92 in a row, which was the family record for
a week because I made 105. [LAUGHTER] But again, that’s just
the way we learned. That’s how we learned
how to shoot free throws, how to shoot weapons,
just repetition, repetition. Do it again. Training, communication,
repetition. I hope I answered your question. AUDIENCE: You did. Thank you. ROB O’NEILL: You’re welcome. SPEAKER: Next question
on the right here. AUDIENCE: Hi. This is something I’ve
been really curious about. I mean, with you and
the other SEALs that have put out books and movies,
you become famous after that. And from the
American perspective, you’re a well-known hero,
but from the opposition’s perspective, you’re also a
well-known person who probably they have vowed revenge against
after the various operations they you were involved in. ROB O’NEILL: Right. AUDIENCE: So how do
you deal with that? ROB O’NEILL: No, that’s fair. That’s a good question, too. That’s a tough one because
the realization is there. This mission was so high
profile that the details got out in small circles right
after the mission. We flew out right after it
was over back to Virginia. And by the time we got
back, everybody on both– we have SEAL teams in
Virginia and California– every SEAL knew what
happened and knew the names. And then it spread up to DC. I got a call from a friend
who worked in the White House. They knew my name
and all this stuff. There’s a lot of different
reasons why you say anything. The book has nothing
to do with this. I believe it was better
to know the threat’s real than to stick my head in the
sand and pretend it’s not. Because it got out, I was
aware right off the bat that something bad could happen. I took a lot of security
precautions, with my family, with my kids, and
stuff like that. And it’s tough. It’s hard. It’s still hard on them. My kids don’t have the
same life they used to. They have more guns and
dogs, which is cool. But yes, it’s a tough one. But again, coming out with
a story on television, I will assume the
risk if I can, if I need to to help with
the healing process because it is such a big thing. I’ve dealt with them before. I know what it’s like. It wasn’t a one-day decision,
and it’s a tough one. AUDIENCE: Thank you. ROB O’NEILL: Thank you. SPEAKER: Left side here. AUDIENCE: First of
all, thank you again for coming and making the time. ROB O’NEILL: Certainly. Thanks for having me. AUDIENCE: I had a
question for you. It’s seen that online there
were a few other Navy SEALs that were somewhat critical
of you coming out as the individual operator
who killed Osama bin Laden. So I was wondering if
that kind of attitude is widespread amongst the
SEALs, and if you thought– ROB O’NEILL: It differs. SEALs, they’re an odd group. Love them. Some of my best times of my
life were in the SEAL teams. What you’ll notice
about a lot of people in that, especially get to
the command where I was, the Tier 1 team, everyone
there is such an alpha that they’re so used to being
the person that doesn’t fail. The way that I put
it with them is, if you took 10 of
those guys and you put a dump truck full of cash
in each one of their driveways, five of them would be pissed
because their drive was blocked. They’re going to be
mad about something. If they’re upset with
me and they served, I respect their opinion. It’s fine. I try to avoid negativity. I don’t have time for it. I don’t think trashing each
other is going to help anybody. If they weren’t there,
I don’t really care. Whatever. Get on with yourself. But no, I listen to it. I try to avoid some
of the chat rooms. A lot of them are negative. A lot of them are positive. I talked to a little
more than half of the guys that
were on the mission. They’ve come around. Time heals everything. I’ve never come out and
said, look at me, look at me, look what I did. It’s like, look, I was
part of a great team, got there because
of great people, and great women
showed us where to go. I happened to turn
to the right corner. And here’s my life story. And I’m just
telling a biography. I mean, none of it’s easy, but
that’s why they have scotch. [LAUGHTER] AUDIENCE: Thank you. ROB O’NEILL: Sure. SPEAKER: OK. Next question. AUDIENCE: Part of being
in the military means that you get orders and you kind
of just have to follow them. How do you reconcile
this with the kind of you having your own
opinions or not being kind of in agreement with them? How has that impacted you? ROB O’NEILL: Now, that’s
a good question, too. I think what I’ve
noticed the most is– I worked for President
Clinton, President Bush, and President Obama– and regardless of
your political views or who’s in charge, if you
find yourself in a situation where you are dealing
with a defined enemy and we’re trying
to kill each other, it no longer becomes
about the politics or even the war effort itself
or the battle space. It becomes about fighting in
that house with my teammates next to me. So it’s kind of easy
to do it that way. If there’s a threat,
I’m going to do what I can to
eliminate the threat, and I’m going to try
to save my teammates. And then the military
is really good about, even in the public
eye, when you’re still serving, in uniform,
you’re not allowed to express your political views
if you want to on the side. So they try to keep it that way. I agreed with a lot of
the stuff that we did. And I think that came because
we had trained for so long to fight before we fight
that it was kind of like, I just want to get in the fight. I want to fight. I want a war because
I want to fight. Now, it’s like with
the Korea thing, it’s like everybody
take a wrap off. Let’s not go nuking each
other just because that’s the word of the day. Those are big explosions. I hope I answered your question. AUDIENCE: Yeah. ROB O’NEILL: OK, Cool. SPEAKER: I think,
Rob, that brings up another interesting point, the
presence of like social media in today’s military. It’s kind of expected that your
service men and women aren’t going to go on and post their
opinions politically, right? ROB O’NEILL: Mm hmm. SPEAKER: Have you ever seen
issues with certain troops being too active? ROB O’NEILL: Yeah. There has been. People have been
reprimanded and kicked out for a lot of social media stuff. Even SEALs get in
trouble for writing books as they’re still in the
military, trying to get their– and again, the
social media stuff, it makes the world smaller. But yeah, people do get
in trouble for that. It’s a fine line because
yes, they’re soldiers, but they’re people. It’s not like a video game
where all of a sudden you have these cool guys
that are doing this. They came from somewhere. They have their views. They grew up in a certain
place, went to a certain school, and now they’re here. And they will have
their beliefs. So they do get in trouble
for a lot of it, too. And that’s a tough one. SPEAKER: So on behalf of Google,
thanks, Rob, for coming out. ROB O’NEILL: Thanks, Josh. [APPLAUSE]

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