In an article posted on Esquire magazine's website Monday, the former SEAL Team 6 member, identified only by the nickname "the Shooter," tells in chilling detail how he put three shots in bin Laden's forehead during the raid on a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in May 2011. It was just one of more than 30 kills the Shooter recorded during his dozen long-term SEAL-team deployments in a 16-year career, Esquire said.
The Shooter said he remembered when he hit the ground outside the compound thinking, "I don't care if I die right now. This is so awesome. There was concern, but no fear."
He details how they blew open gates to get inside and began making their way through the complex, encountering women who were throwing themselves in harm's way to save the al-Qaida men. Other women and children were in rooms screaming.
The Shooter tells how he and several other team members made their way up the main building's stairs and spotted bin Laden's 23-year-old son, Khalid. The point man whispered Khalid's name in Arabic and Pashto and when the younger bin Laden leaned out of a room, the point man killed him.
"That call-out was one of the best combat moves I've ever seen," the Shooter said.
The team kept moving forward until they saw a man up on the third floor, where they had been told to expect they'd find bin Laden. The point man took a shot or two.
"I don't think he hit him. He thinks he might have," the Shooter said.
The Shooter followed the point man up to the third floor where they encountered two women. The point man tackled them in the hallway.
"He thought he was going to absorb the blast of suicide vests; he was going to kill himself so I could get the shot," the Shooter said. "It was the most heroic thing I've ever seen. I rolled past him into the room, just inside the doorway.
"There was bin Laden standing there. He had his hands on a woman's shoulders, pushing her ahead, not exactly toward me but by me, in the direction of the hallway commotion. It was his youngest wife, Amal.
"He looked confused. And way taller than I was expecting. He had a cap on and didn't appear to be hit. I can't tell you 100 percent, but he was standing and moving. He was holding her in front of him. Maybe as a shield, I don't know.
"I thought in that first instant how skinny he was, how tall and how short his beard was, all at once. He was wearing one of those white hats, but he had, like, an almost shaved head. Like a crew cut. I remember all that registering.
"He's got a gun on a shelf right there, the short AK he's famous for. And he's moving forward. He's a threat. I need to get a head shot so he won't have a chance to clack himself off [blow himself up].
"In that second, I shot him, two times in the forehead. Bap! Bap! The second time as he's going down. He crumpled onto the floor in front of his bed and I hit him again, Bap! Same place. He was dead. I watched him take his last breaths, just a reflex breath.
"And I remember as I watched him breathe out the last part of air, I thought: Is this the best thing I've ever done, or the worst thing I've ever done? This is real and that's him. Holy [expletive]."
The Shooter joked to Esquire he joined the elite force and became a sniper because he had broken up with a girlfriend. He said he walked into a Navy recruiter's office at the age of 19, having recently broken up with his girlfriend, and signed up after learning about the sniper program.
"He asked me what I was going to do with my life. I told him I wanted to be a sniper. "He said, 'Hey, we have snipers.'
"I said, 'Seriously, dude. You do not have snipers in the Navy.' But he brought me into his office and it was a pretty sweet deal. I signed up on a whim."
"That's the reason al-Qaida has been decimated, because she broke my [expletive] heart," he joked.
More seriously, the Shooter said killing bin Laden was a defining moment for him.
"I'm not religious, but I always felt I was put on the Earth to do something specific. After that mission, I knew what it was," he said.
While the article lays out the Shooter's key role in taking out the world's best-known terrorist and provides stunning detail of the raid itself, its biggest revelation is its description of his trouble finding his place now that he's back in the civilian world. The SEAL code doesn't allow members to go public with their heroic exploits, taking away many lucrative opportunities, from books to video games to product endorsements, Esquire notes.
"He's taken monumental risks," the Shooter's dad told the magazine. "But he's unable to reap any reward."
Esquire said not only did the Shooter, or any of his comrades on the bin Laden raid, not get any of the $25 million reward on the al-Qaida leader's head, he has been left with no pension, no healthcare or other support for himself or his family.
There is lingering fear they could be targeted for a retaliatory attack, and they keep weapons and supplies at hand for a quick escape, Esquire said.
"Personally," his wife told Esquire, "I feel more threatened by a potential retaliatory terror attack on our community than I did eight years ago," when her husband joined SEAL Team 6.
He taught his children not to use bin Laden's name, instilling in them that it's a "curse name." Instead, they call him "Poopyface."
His marriage is strained -- he and his wife are officially separated, though they amicably share a house to save money.
"We're actually looking into changing my name," the wife said. "Changing the kids' names, taking my husband's name off the house, paying off our cars. Essentially deleting him from our lives, but for safety reasons. We still love each other."
Going into a witness-protection-like program is a possibility if his name gets out.
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