By Peter Galuszka
Stealthy, deadly and glamorous, Navy SEALs are what the Army Green Berets used to be back in the Vietnam era. In the case of the Navy commandos, Virginia is a big factor in basing and training, or at least it seems to be, if you should even allow yourself to read about it.
Thus is part of the controversy of two recent books that purport to tell one of the most important killings in recent history – that of terrorist Osama bin Laden who was machine gunned by SEALS at his secluded hideaway in Abbotabad, Pakistan in May 2011. The triggermen were members of the famed SEAL Team Six, based at Dam Neck in Virginia Beach.
The more recent of the two is “No Easy Day” by a former SEAL who goes by a pseudonym Mark Owen, lives in Virginia Beach and actually participated in the bin Laden raid. The other is “Seal Target Geronimo,” by Chuck Pharrer, a writer who had been a SEAL some years ago and uses his covert contacts for his book.
The Pentagon is none too happy about either book because its officials claim both were published without Navy permission and go too far in revealing secrets. The brass is especially pissed at the Owen book and has threatened legal action which its publisher is resisting. It gets even weirder than that. Navy personnel wonder if they should be seen reading the Owen book on base if it contains confidential material. Navy exchanges refuse to sell it, although it is freely available online or in any bookstore.
Another curiosity is what role Virginia really played in training for the raid. SEALs, as any watcher of the Discovery channel knows, undergo their basic training in the frigid waters at San Diego but later can be based in Little Creek or Dam Neck, Va. The latter is home to SEAL Team Six which has an anti-terrorism role and in the past decade has gotten a lot more publicity than other special ops forces such as the Army’s Delta Force or Green Berets, both based at Ft. Bragg, N.C.
It’s been generally known that Seal Team Six has trained at Camp A.P. Hill near Fredericksburg and in swamplands of northeastern North Carolina as well as Ft. Bragg.
The Pfarrer book has some unconfirmed detail that places training for the bin Laden mission at what seems to be Ft. Pickett, an Army National Guard base about 40 miles south of Richmond that is used by all the armed forces, the State Police, Secret Service, FBI and even the Canadians. Pharrer calls this base “Tall Pines” and describes it as, “. . . a sprawling, secret Army training facility tucked in Camp Pickett, which was itself put off into a far corner of a national forest in an eastern state. Lots of spooky things happened in Pickett, and the SEAL teams have trained in there for years. Far from the prying eyes of the public, surrounded by tens of thousands of acres of woodlands, dozens of target mockups dot Tall Pines’’ rolling hills. Some nights, strange, silent lights are seen over the forest and UFO calls are made to the sheriff. Camp Pickett is SEAL Six’s playground.”
The author also claims that a nearly exact mockup of bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan was built and used for training at Ft. Pickett.
After the book came out, , the Chamber of Commerce in the little town of Blackstone next to Ft. Pickett started posting the distinction on its Website for advertising and economic development purposes.
The Owen book, however, makes no mention of Ft. Pickett. According to it, the training for the raid took place at a North Carolina base that sounds very much like Ft. Bragg. Close quarters combat shooting practice actually took place at a NASA facility on the Mississippi coast.
There are other discrepancies between the two books. Pfarrer says that the SEALs used two ultra-secret stealth helicopters in the raid and one of them crashed during the attack. Owen said the Army did ferry the SEALs in but makes no mention of anything stealthy. Most media accounts note a crash did occur.
We may never know for sure, but if you are in the Navy, not to worry. The Office of the Under Secretary of Defense says the Owen book is okay to read. Just don’t talk about it.