Virginia Beach, Va. - The former Navy SEAL who says he shot Al Quaeda leader Osama bin Laden is scheduled to return to Virginia Beach Monday to speak at Regent University.
His talk at the university's Executive Leadership Series was long planned, but no one outside the military knew until this week he was the SEAL Team Six member who shot bin Laden in the head. Robert J. O'Neill, a popular motivational speaker, had planned to reveal his identity on a national television network sometime after the Regent speech, but his name was leaked early.
O'Neill's decision to reveal his name and his role in the raid, along with his teammate's unauthorized tell-all book on the event, have revealed a split in the SEAL community. Many current SEALs say members present and past should never reveal details of what they've done and not use their special-warfare affiliation for personal gain. But SEALs who have left the service say they still have to earn a living, and the skills and experience they gained in the military often boost their employment options. Several former SEALs have launched businesses and parlayed their credentials into successful second careers.
"You have in the community a side that says, 'Look, shut up, don't say anything about anything," said Del. Scott Taylor, a Virginia Beach Republican and former SEAL. "Then you have another side that says it's alright, but there is a line. The line, of course, is classified information."
Taylor campaigned on his SEAL background and the honor is prominent on his biography. It's just a part of who he is, the delegate said. The line, he said, becomes fuzzier when former operators use their SEAL skills and experiences in ways that might reveal tactics and secrets. He said decisions by Team Six member Matt Bissonette, who wrote an unauthorized book about the bin Laden raid, and O'Neill's decision to claim credit for dispatching the terrorist leader have not played well in the SEAL community.
"The camp that says, 'Shut up,' is probably the majority right now," he said.
Taylor said SEALs are getting mixed messages about the freedom to tell the stories of the harrowing missions they've endured.
RADM Brian L. Losey last week penned a stinging open letter to SEALs urging them to stick to their core values of secrecy and humility, and eschew "public notoriety and financial gain." He said those who ignore the directives are not "teammates in good standing."
But Taylor said he and other SEALs were stunned at how much access The White House and top military leaders afforded Hollywood producers who filmed "Zero Dark Thirty," a movie that dramatized the bin Laden raid. Taylor and others said that movie revealed equipment and secrets that were previously unknown outside the SEAL community.
"That sends a signal to your subordinates that it is OK," Taylor said. "Leadership matters, and that should never happen."
A spokeswoman for Regent University said as of Thursday night, O'Neill was still scheduled as the featured speaker Monday. Normally, she said, the event draws noteworthy speakers that welcome media coverage. However O'Neill recently told the university he wants reporters excluded from the afternoon session.