Contingencies

The black helicopters are coming. Yep, you're screwed.

The latest issue of TIME has an in-depth look at Operation Neptune Spear, the mission that successfully killed Osama bin Laden.

Tomorrow it will be exactly one year since a team of 24 Navy SEALs boarded Black Hawk helicopters in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, and made the dangerous hour-and-a-half flight to bin Laden’s secret compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. They landed in the middle of the night.

But the first landing failed. Owing to a number of factors – including the extra weight of the stealth equipment onboard – the chopper crashed inside the walled-in yard of the compound, and only the maneuvers of the quick-thinking pilot saved everyone’s lives. Only the second chopper landed successfully.

I don’t know what was going through the minds of the SEALs right then, but it must have been difficult getting that kind of start to one of the most important missions of their lives. It must have been worrying to President Obama, to then-Director of the CIA Leon Panetta, and to Admiral William McRaven, who planned the mission.

But as McRaven watched the crash on a live video feed, this is what he said to Panetta, in a dead-calm voice:

“We will now be amending the mission. Director, as you can see, we have a helicopter down in the courtyard. My men are prepared for this contingency, and they will deal with it.”

One half of his entire strike force has just crashed in the middle of nowhere in Pakistan.

We will now be amending the mission.

My men are prepared for this contingency, and they will deal with it.

What presence of mind. What confidence in the skill and preparation of his team.

How many times have I been on some minor “mission” of my own, day-to-day things like giving a presentation, running a meeting, managing a project – and something went wrong? How many times have I panicked, or despaired, over circumstances far less dire than those in Abbottabad? Yet the mission can only succeed or fail, and as long as there’s still a chance of success, the mission continues. Maybe with different parameters than before, but it continues. Panic and despair are both worse than useless.

We will now be amending the mission.

I think I just found my new motto for the week.

Tell me – what are you most curious about regarding the bin Laden raid?

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2 responses to “Contingencies

  1. Wow, I needed something like this now! I’ve been feeling so under-confident for a couple of days, and reading this first thing in the morning makes me feel like I’ve been such an idiot. Thank you! 😀 I can think of nothing to say about the bin Laden raid, but the way you put it is excellent!!

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