American Ass Kickers
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Pfarrer lifts the curtain on the SEALs without shining a spotlight on the individual cast members
SEAL Team Six and the Death of Osama bin Laden
Hardcover. 225 pp.
November 2011. St. Martin's Press.
As President Obama entered the House of Representatives for the 2012 State of the Union Address on January 24, 2012, television cameras picked up on the President greeting Defense Secretary Leon Panetta by saying, "Good job, tonight." Americans would find out the next morning that the President had ordered U.S. Navy SEALs to parachute into Somalia and rescue two foreign aid workers that had been captured by Somali pirates in October 2011. In a daring raid, the SEALs -- including components of the secretive SEAL Team Six that killed Osama bin Laden -- rescued the hostages and killed nine pirates who had held them at gunpoint. It was another example of the amazing ability of the U.S. Navy SEALs, a Special Forces commando unit that has become the most lethal weapon in the long War on Terror launched by the United States following the September 11, 2001 attacks.
In SEAL Target Geronimo: The Inside Story of the Mission to Kill Osama bin Laden (2011, St. Martin's Press), Chuck Pfarrer attempts to give an insider's account of Operation Neptune's Spear -- the raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan by SEAL Team Six which killed Osama bin Laden on May 2, 2011. The Navy SEALs are the best of the best -- the elite commandos of the U.S. Special Forces, and one of the most secretive units in the American military. Despite the fact that the SEALs frequently participate in some of the most important, daring, and high-profile operations that the U.S. military engages in, they do anonymously and most people will never know the names of SEALs.
In SEAL Target Geronimo, Pfarrer tries to illuminate many aspects of the SEALs from recruitment to training to the battlefield. Pfarrer himself spent eight years in the SEALs, rising to the position of Assault Element Commander and possessing experience in hunting terrorists as he participated in the operation to capture Abu Abbas and the Palestinians who had hijacked the cruise ship Achille Lauro in 1985 and killed an American tourist. With his personal experiences giving insight to the unique training aspects and fighting methods of the Navy SEALs, I found that the most interesting part of SEAL Target Geronimocame before Osama bin Laden even enters the picture.
Pfarrer focuses most of the book on just one of the many units that make up the Navy SEALs -- SEAL Team Six, which is widely-regarded as the most elite unit in the U.S. Special Forces. While the unit and its operations are highly-classified, SEAL Team Six's official name is the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, and better known within the military as DEVGRU. SEAL Team Six was formed in 1980 for counter-terrorism operations in the wake of the disastrous Operation Eagle Claw, an unsucessful attempt to rescuse the 52 American hostages at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, which ended with the deaths of eight American soldiers in the Iranian desert. The requirements for selection as a Navy SEAL trainee are the most stringent in the U.S. military and the training is so punishing that some classes end with no graduates. SEAL Team Six is made up of the most elite commandos from the already-elite SEALs and they are ready to deploy anywhere in the world at a moment's notice.
SEAL Target Geronimo chronicles how SEALs are selected, trained, and deployed, and it is in this where Pfarrer shines. His knowledge of the SEALs gives tremendous insight into their activities without divulging classified secrets or endangering future operations. In a way, Pfarrer lifts the curtain on the SEALs without shining a spotlight on the individual cast members.
Pfarrer makes a few stops through the recent history of DEVGRU and mirrors those operations with the rise of Osama bin Laden as the most wanted terrorist in the world. SEAL Team Geronimo offers a mini-biography of the target of Operation Neptune's Spear from his privileged birth and adolescence in Saudi Arabia to the roots of his hatred of Israel and the United States. The stories of the SEALs and the al-Qaeda leader finally meet on May 2, 2011 as President Obama orders an invasion of one of America's supposed allies to finally bring America's most hated enemy to justice nearly ten years after 9/11.
There has been quite a bit of controversy with Pfarrer's account of the bin Laden raid in SEAL Team Geronimo. Pfarrer gives a slightly different account than the official account offered by the U.S. Government following the raid in Abbottabad. While the Defense Department said that the SEALs dropped into the yard of bin Laden's compound and entered his home from the ground floor and didn't kill bin Laden until several minutes after arriving, Pfarrer reports that the SEALs landed on the roof and shot and killed bin Laden anywhere from 30-90 seconds after arriving. There are several contradictions in Pfarrer's account of the U.S. Government's report, and that has led to some controversy about the book. Upon the release of Pfarrer's book, the Pentagon said "Those facts are incorrect" and that "it took several minutes to find and to kill bin Laden."
Of course, with such a classified mission accomplished by the most secretive of American military units, there will always be some cloudiness and discrepancies in the reporting of major operations. I doubt we'll ever know the full story of many of the missions that the Navy SEALs take part in, but it doesn't take away from the fact that the SEALs are true American heroes and American badasses.
Chuck Pfarrer's unique real-life experiences and fantastic ability to tell a story makes SEAL Team Geronimo an exciting read. Oddly enough, while Operation Neptune's Spear -- the raid to kill Osama bin Laden -- is the focus of the story, I found a different operation the most exciting part of the book. Pfarrer gives an insider account of the tense standoff in April 2009 between Somali pirates who had hijacked a U.S. commercial container ship, the Maersk Alabama, and the U.S. Navy in the Gulf of Aden. After holding the captain of the American ship hostage for several days, three Somali pirates were killed by simultaneous head shots from Navy SEAL snipers. Pfarrer's descriptive telling of that operation had me excited and hoping for more and I'd recommend the book for the story of the Maersk Alabama hijacking alone.
Chuck Pfarrer's SEAL Target Geronimo: The Inside Story of the Mission to Kill Osama bin Laden to Kill Osama bin Laden is available now from St. Martin's Press and can be found in hardcover from Amazon, or downloaded for your Kindle. Chuck Pfarrer's website is chuckpfarrer.com.
Anthony Bergen, Senior Literary Editor: Anthony Bergen is a writer and Presidential historian based in Sacramento, California. His historical work has been published by numerous outlets and historical associations including pieces for the New Hampshire Historical Society's Franklin Pierce Bicentennial, ConsiderableThoughts.com and the National Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial celebration. Anthony has also been a contributing joke-writer for several touring stand-up comedians and "The KiddChris Show" on Portland's KUFO FM.