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Former Navy SEALs React To Bin Laden Operation

Former Navy SEALs React To Bin Laden Operation

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Atlanta Journal Constitution via YellowBrix

May 03, 2011

ATLANTA – Former Navy SEALs in the metro area could puff their chests out a little bit Monday as a rare public spotlight shone on the elite, but secretive, unit.

“I’ve had a SEAL team T-shirt in my closet for five years, and I have never worn it. I put it on this morning," said Rusty Redding, a Vietnam-era SEAL who lives in north Atlanta.

SEAL Team 6 was unit credited with killing Osama bin Laden in a firefight early Monday outside of Abbottabad, Pakistan, ending nearly a decade-long manhunt for the al-Qaida chieftain. Several retired SEALs said they were not shocked the team got the assignment, although some were surprised that fact became public.

“We’re extremely proud that it was the SEALs who got to pull off that op," said Fred Fritsh, a chiropractor in Woodstock who spent 24 years as a SEAL and whose son is a SEAL. “All the SEAL teams and a lot of the special forces teams have been carrying out missions similar to that. They just aren’t that high visibility, but they are in harm’s way.”

“I was surprised to hear the news mention it was SEAL Team 6,” said Dante Stephensen, owner of Dante’s Down the Hatch restaurant. “We don’t normally talk about things like this.”

Stephensen was selected to serve on one of the original SEALs teams in 1962. Their existence was so closely guarded that most Americans never heard of the unit until a Reader’s Digest story on their intense training techniques appeared several years later, he said.

Even today SEALs are better known for their tough training than for the work they do. Brad McLeod, an environmental consultant in Sandy Springs, served in the Navy from 1982 until 1987 and went through the training twice after bombing a math test his first time.

The second time he passed the exam and served all but a year of his naval career in the SEALs.

“It was just something I really wanted to do,” he said. “It’s something I live with today and take a lot of pride in.”

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Former Georgia Public Safety Commissioner Robert Hightower was a Navy frogman — the precursor to the SEALs — in the 1950s. He said he is glad the public knows who brought bin Laden down.

“I think it’s good for them. Sometimes you know too little about them," he said.

McLeod went to bed early Sunday night, missing the news and President Obama’s speech. When he woke up his iPhone was buzzing with texts and e-mails from service buddies.

“I hadn’t had a cup of coffee yet and saw a text message that said, ‘They finally got him,’" he said. “I thought, what did that mean?”

McLeod caught up quickly and praised the president for using the SEALS instead of an unmanned drone to get bin Laden.

“It was courageous to use the most surgical kind of removement. I applaud his decision,” he said. “These guys have been practicing this type of mission. That’s what they do every day, practice for these types of missions.”

Several former SEALs pointed out that the training was important to the success of the mission, which reportedly took about 40 minutes.

“The fact that it went so smoothly is a testament to the training that we go through,” Stephensen said.

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