10 Questions for Former Navy Seal Howard Wasdin

Former Navy Seal Howard Wasdin explains how the elite Team 6 squad prepares for a mission like Abbottabad

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St. Martin's Press

The Navy Seal, aboard an H-3 helicopter in 1990, readies for an assault on an enemy ship

What would have been the training for the team that went into Abbottabad?

I'm gonna put 50 lb. [23 kg] of equipment on you, give you two weapons and a sidearm, and we're going to go up and down stairs all day long, clearing rooms. Some of them will be barricaded, some of them will have little kids in them, some of them will have people with machine guns, and we're going to do this all damn day, every day, until I come over and wake you up in the middle of the night and say, "Let's go!"

The operation was capture or kill. How do you know when to shoot?

It's based on what the person is doing when we show up. In a capture mission, you're putting yourself at more risk. You make that decision in a split second. Does he have a gun? Is he being compliant? The more you do it, the more adept you get at it.

So why did the team make the choice to kill Osama bin Laden?

The guys in the room made that decision. If you want to be in a position to make those types of decisions, go join the team. Otherwise, just say thank you.

You're engaged in stressful missions almost constantly as part of Seal Team 6. Do you need a particular attitude in order to succeed?

I can take just about anyone and make them physically strong. A lot of people showed up at [training] who were much more physically capable than I was, athletes in phenomenal shape, and they were the first to quit. Mental toughness is a must to even make it through training, much less through combat.

What's the most mentally challenging part?

Getting ready, gearing up and then having to stage down. That's the most stressful part.

The mission in Pakistan was planned for months. Why did they wait so long to act?

You're waiting for the intelligence to come in. And when it does come in, how credible is it? I pay these guys to give me intelligence; is this one just stringing me along? Is he a moron, or is he setting me up for an ambush? You've got to evaluate the intelligence.

You returned from the battle of Mogadishu with three bullets in your leg, forcing your retirement and leaving you with chronic pain. What prompted you to write your memoir, SEAL Team 6?

I returned with PTSD, and I didn't even know I had it. I thought it was weakness. But my wife always told me this would be great therapy for me, and I kept saying, "Come on, quit saying that I need therapy." But she was so right. After I finished this book, I felt so much better.

Was releasing your book now just really great timing?

I kinda feel guilty because these guys go out and do a kick-ass op. They deserve all the credit, and just because my book was coming out, I get the publicity.

Did you need special clearance to divulge these details?

We had to go through this thing with a fine-toothed comb. We had to research and make sure everything we talked about had already been printed and [written about] in different articles. I don't want to do anything that's not right by our code of conduct or that's going to hurt any of the special operations guys.

Do you still maintain the skills you learned in the Seals?

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