3 Marines from Southern California among 8 service members presumed dead off San Clemente Island

Three Southern California Marines are among the eight service members presumed dead off San Clemente Island following a training accident last week.

The Marines and sailor have been missing since Thursday, July 30, when their seafaring vehicle — known as an AAV — took on water and sank during a routine training exercise near the island. The Navy-owned island is about 50 miles west of Orange County and 20 miles south of Catalina Island. It is the only ship-to-shore live-fire training range in the nation.

The AAV and 12 others had just left the island’s beaches and were heading out to the USS Somerset, an amphibious transport dock. They had spent the day training on the island.

Eight other Marines managed to jump from the sinking AAV. One Marine later died at the scene and two others were flown via helicopter to Scripps Memorial Hospital in critical condition.

Early Sunday, officials announced that after a 40-hour search and rescue effort involving multiple Navy ships, Navy and Marine Corps helicopters and U.S. Coast Guard vessels, the mission had turned to recovery.

On Sunday night, officials with command elements from the training exercise identified one Marine who was killed and seven Marines and one sailor who are now presumed dead.

Lance Cpl. Guillermo S. Perez, 20, of New Braunfels, Texas, was pronounced dead at the scene on Thursday, July 30, before being flown to Scripps Memorial Hospital in San Diego.

Presumed dead are:

Pfc. Bryan J. Baltierra, 19, of Corona; Lance Cpl. Marco A. Barranco, 21, of Montebello;  Pfc. Evan A. Bath, 19, of Oak Creek, Wis.; U.S. Navy Hospitalman Christopher Gnem, 22, of Stockton; Pfc. Jack Ryan Ostrovsky, 21, of Bend, Ore.; Cpl. Wesley A. Rodd, 23, of Harris, Texas; Lance Cpl. Chase D. Sweetwood, 19, of Portland, Ore. and Cpl. Cesar A. Villanueva, 21, of Riverside.

All of the Marines were based at Camp Pendleton and were part of the 3rd Amphibian Assault Battalion. They were infantrymen who served with Battalion Landing Team 1/4. All were attached to the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit.

Names of two injured Marines were not immediately released. Both remain hospitalized at Scripps Memorial Hospital.

A Navy ship, used for submarine rescue, is now involved in looking for the missing service members and the AAV.

 

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South Korea says troops exchange fire with North Korea along border

SEOUL, South Korea — North and South Korean troops exchanged fire along their tense border on Sunday, the South’s military said, blaming North Korean soldiers for targeting a guard post.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff in Seoul said in a statement that North Korean troops fired several bullets at a South Korean guard post inside the heavily fortified border. South Korea fired two rounds in response after issuing a warning broadcast, it said.

South Korea suffered no casualties, the military said. It’s unknown whether North Korea had any casualties. The North’s official Korean Central News Agency hasn’t reported about the incident.

It comes a day after North Korea broadcast images of leader Kim Jong Un reappearing in public after a 20-day absence amid intense speculation about his health.

KCNA said Kim attended Friday’s ceremony marking the completion of a fertilizer factory near Pyongyang along with senior officials. State TV showed Kim smiling and walking around factory facilities.

Kim earlier vanished from the public eye after presiding over a Politburo meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party on April 11 to discuss the coronavirus. Speculation about his health began swirling after he missed an April 15 event commemorating the birthday of his grandfather and state founder, Kim Il Sung, something he had never done since inheriting power upon his father Kim Jong Il’s death in late 2011.

The Koreas are split along the 248-kilometer (155-mile) -long, 4-kilometer (2.5-mile) -wide border called the Demilitarized Zone that was originally created as a buffer. But unlike its name, the DMZ is the world’s most heavily fortified border. An estimated 2 million mines are peppered inside and near the DMZ, which is also guarded by barbed wire fences, tank traps and combat troops on both sides.

In late 2018, the two Koreas began destroying some of their front-line guard posts and removing mines from the DMZ as part of steps to reduce tensions. But the efforts stalled amid a deadlock in nuclear negotiations between Kim and President Donald Trump meant to convince North Korea to give up its arsenal in exchange for lifting economic sanctions.

The last time there was gunfire along the border was in 2017, when North Korea sprayed bullets at a soldier fleeing to South Korea.

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Irvine council picks Great Park golf course site for Orange County veterans cemetery

A 100-acre plot that had been intended for a golf course in the Orange County Great Park will become a veterans cemetery, the Irvine City Council decided late Tuesday, July 23.

The decision is intended to settle more than five years of debate over where the county will lay its military service members to rest, but a few outstanding issues could slow or derail the project.

Council members chose the golf course site in a 4-1 vote after several dozen residents, including veterans, urged them to move forward – though some speakers and Councilwoman Melissa Fox, who cast the sole no vote, favored a site on the Great Park’s northern border that was originally pitched for the cemetery in 2014.

Known as ARDA, that northern site still contains buildings, runways and contamination such as asbestos from the former El Toro Marine air base, and state estimates peg the cost of cleanup and the first phase of a cemetery at $95 million.

A formal review of the golf course site, which is south of the ARDA parcel and was also part of El Toro, hasn’t taken place but city officials project a cemetery’s initial phase could be built there for just under $59 million.

Much of Tuesday’s discussion, which included comments from several dozen residents, centered on which site would be better, cheaper or faster to build on, and there were plenty of disputes over which side’s facts were accurate.

FivePoint Holdings, which is overseeing development of much of the Great Park and the surrounding homes, has pledged $28 million – of which $18 million had been promised to build the golf course – toward the cemetery project.

Officials also expect $24.5 million from the state and a potential $10 million in federal reimbursement for the project.

The company’s offer led some speakers to accuse council members of conspiring with FivePoint to free up the ARDA site for development, an assertion Mayor Christina Shea called “ridiculous.”

To address that, Councilwoman Farrah Khan asked for a future council discussion on rezoning the ARDA property, where current rules allow 250 homes, two hotels and a retail center. That issue should come up next month.

One remaining obstacle is a state bill that designates the ARDA site for the cemetery; it will have to be amended.

And former mayor Larry Agran, who has led the charge to build on the ARDA site, could pursue a ballot measure to enforce what he says is the will of city voters. Agran backed a 2018 initiative that overturned a council-approved land swap that would have put the cemetery on a different site owned by FivePoint that is now used to grow strawberries.

Some veterans just want to see the matter settled for themselves and their fellow service members. Vietnam veteran Bill Cook urged the council before the vote: “Don’t kick the can down the road any farther.”

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22 people injured in Central California military base tent collapse

FORT HUNTER LIGGETT — Authorities say 22 people have been injured in a tent collapse at a Central California military base.

Spokeswoman Amy Phillips at Fort Hunter Liggett says the wind from the rotors of a helicopter that was landing blew over the tent about 9:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Phillips says there were 22 injuries, most of them minor. She says four people were taken to hospitals. Earlier reports said up to 30 people were injured.

Fort Hunter Liggett is in Monterey County, about 170 miles south of San Francisco. The sprawling base is the largest U.S. Army Reserve Command post.

It’s currently holding an annual training exercise for thousands of Army, Navy, Air Force, Army National Guard, Army Reserve and Canadian Armed Forces troops.

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4 Marines killed in helicopter crash near Mexican border identified

MARINE CORPS AIR STATION MIRAMAR — The identities of four Marines killed when their CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter crashed near El Centro, near the Mexican border, this week were confirmed by military officials Thursday, April 5.

The Marines are identified as pilot Capt. Samuel A. Schultz, 28, of Huntington Valley, Penn. and co-pilot First Lt. Samuel D. Phillips, 27, of Pinehurst, N.C. Two crew chiefs — Gunnery Sgt. Derik R. Holley, 33, of Dayton, Ohio and Lance Cpl. Joseph Conrad, 24, of Baton Rouge, La. — also were killed.

 

  • First Lt. Samuel D. Phillips, 27, of Pinehurst, N.C. (Courtesy of USMC)

    First Lt. Samuel D. Phillips, 27, of Pinehurst, N.C. (Courtesy of USMC)

  • Lance Cpl. Joseph Conrad, 24, of Baton Rouge, La. (Courtesy of USMC)

    Lance Cpl. Joseph Conrad, 24, of Baton Rouge, La. (Courtesy of USMC)

  • Capt. Samuel A. Schultz, 28, of Huntington Valley, Penn. (Courtesy of USMC)

    Capt. Samuel A. Schultz, 28, of Huntington Valley, Penn. (Courtesy of USMC)

  • Gunnery Sgt. Derik R. Holley, 33, of Dayton, Ohio. (Courtesy of USMC)

    Gunnery Sgt. Derik R. Holley, 33, of Dayton, Ohio. (Courtesy of USMC)

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The four Marines were assigned to Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron (HMH) 465, Marine Aircraft Group 16, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar.

They departed the Strategic Expeditionary Landing Field at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms on Tuesday for squadron training, which included aircraft landings in “unimproved zones” — unpaved areas — said Capt. Morgan Frazer, with the 3rd MAW. The crash occurred at 2:35 p.m. approximately 15 miles west of El Centro.

Military investigators continue to probe what led to the deadly incident.

“The loss of our Marines weighs heavy on our hearts,” said Maj. Gen. Mark Wise, commanding general of 3rd MAW. “Our priority is to provide support for our families and HMH-465 during this critical time.”

Schultz joined the Marine Corps in May 2012. His previous duty stations included Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla.; Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, Texas; and MCAS New River, N.C. He also deployed with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit.

Phillips joined in August 2013. He previously served at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Naval Air Station Corpus Christi and Marine Corps Air Station New River.

Holley, a highly decorated Marine with nearly 15 years in the Marine Corps,  joined in November 2003. His duty stations included Marine Corps Base Quantico and MCAS Miramar. Holley deployed to Iraq twice in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, to Japan as part of the Unit Deployment Program, and with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit. He was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal, Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, Air Medal-Strike/Flight, and the Navy and Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal.

Conrad joined the Marine Corps in May 2016.

“The hardest part of being a Marine is the tragic loss of life of a fellow brother-in-arms,” said Col. Craig Leflore, commanding officer of Marine Aircraft Group 16. “My deepest sympathies go out to the families and friends of Capt. Samuel Shultz, First Lt. Samuel Phillips, Gunnery Sgt. Derik Holley, and Lance Cpl. Taylor Conrad. These ‘Warhorse’ Marines brought joy and laughter to so many around them. They each served honorably, wore the uniform proudly and were a perfect example of what makes our Marine Corps great — its people. They will forever be in our hearts and minds.”

On Wednesday, President Donald Trump tweeted, “Our thoughts and prayers are with the four U.S. Marines from the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing who lost their lives in yesterday’s Southern California helicopter crash. We pray for their families, and our great @USMC.”

Our thoughts and prayers are with the four U.S. Marines from the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing who lost their lives in yesterday’s Southern California helicopter crash. We pray for their families, and our great @USMC.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 4, 2018

Trump recently visited Miramar and spoke to hundreds from the 3rd MAW, promising new aircraft and financial support.

Tuesday’s helicopter crash near the San Diego-Mexico border is the deadliest Marine Corps crash since 15 Marines and one sailor died when the C-130 in which they were flying crashed into a Mississippi bean field in July.

Capt. Sean Endecott Elliott, whose parents live in San Juan Capistrano, was the co-pilot in that crash. He was part of the Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 452, a reserve KC-130T squadron based out of Stewart Air National Guard Base in Newburgh, N.Y.

The plane flew from there to Cherry Point, N.C., where it picked up six Marines and a Navy corpsman from Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command’s elite 2nd Marine Raider Battalion. It was headed to Yuma for pre-deployment training.

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Tuesday’s crash was one of three U.S. military aircraft training accidents in three days, resulting in a total of five deaths. Also, on Tuesday, a Marine Corps AV-8B Harrier jet crashed in Djibouti in East Africa. The crash occurred during a training exercise and the pilot was able to eject.

On Wednesday, a U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds pilot died when his F-16 crashed at Nellis Air Force Base near Las Vegas, according to defense officials.

The three crashes in three days mirror the surge in non-combat aircraft mishaps in the military.

Sen. John McCain addressed the trend on Twitter, Thursday:

“Praying for the family & friends of @AFThunderbirds pilot killed in F-16 crash in #Nevada. With more service members dying in routine training accidents than in combat, we must do everything to ensure our military has the training, equipment & resources it needs,” he tweeted.

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Two killed in helicopter mishap during Fort Irwin training exercise

FORT IRWIN >> An Army AH64 Apache helicopter crashed about 1 a.m. Saturday during pre-deployment training operations at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, killing two soldiers aboard, an Army spokeswoman said Saturday night.

Both soldiers were assigned to the 4th Infantry Division in Colorado. Fort Irwin is in San Bernardino County outside Barstow.

Names and service information for the deceased are being withheld pending next-of-kin notification, said Brandy Gill, a spokeswoman for Fort Carson in Colorado, where the division is based.

“It is with great sadness that we announce the death of two 4th Infantry Division soldiers at the National Training Center today,” said Maj. Gen. Randy A. George, commanding general of the 4th Infantry  Division and Fort Carson.

“Our heartfelt prayers and condolences go out to their families and friends during this difficult and painful time.  The loss of any soldier truly saddens everyone here at the Mountain Post and it is a tremendous loss to the team,” George said.

The cause of the accident was under investigation.

As soon as additional details become available, they will be provided, Gill said.

The sprawling training center at Fort Irwin hosts live-fire training scenarios for Army units from around the country.

A helicopter fires its weapons into the evening during military exercises on Wednesday, Aug. 5 2015 at the U.S. Army's National Training Center at Fort Irwin. File photo.
A helicopter fires its weapons into the evening during military exercises on Wednesday, Aug. 5 2015 at the U.S. Army’s National Training Center at Fort Irwin. File photo.

Often they stay there for weeks, using artillery and tanks brought in by rail and truck.

Many of these units come to Fort Irwin for their final training before deployment overseas.

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Federal judge issues injunction blocking ban on transgender troops

LOS ANGELES >> A federal judge in Los Angeles today issued the fourth nationwide preliminary injunction halting President Donald Trump’s attempt to ban transgender individuals from openly serving in the military while it is challenged in the courts.

Federal District Judge Jesus G. Bernal ruled the ban was discriminatory and unlawful.

The suit was filed by seven transgender individuals either serving in the armed forces or intending to enlist and the lesbian, gay, bisexual transgender and questioning civil rights organization Equality California.

California is a co-plaintiff in the case filed in the Central District of California.

Federal courts in Maryland, Washington and the District of Columbia previously issued injunctions against the ban.

“Discriminating against capable soldiers because of their gender identity does not represent the values of our great nation,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said. “We are pleased that today’s ruling proves that discrimination against transgender Americans will not be tolerated.

“The president’s disgraceful ban on transgender people serving in the military not only compromises our national security, but it marginalizes transgender Americans who are willing to sacrifice everything to keep us safe. We are proud to be part of the fight to protect the rights of this honorable group of brave people defending our country.”

In a series of tweets July 26, Trump wrote that “After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military. Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.”

Trump issued a memorandum in August, extending the policy prohibiting transgender individuals from serving openly in the military beyond Jan. 1.

Rick Zbur, Equality California’s executive director, said in September the costs to the government of transition-related care would be negligible.

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U.S. soldier La David Johnson fought to end after ambush in Niger

By LOLITA C. BALDOR

WASHINGTON — Army Sgt. La David T. Johnson died in a hail of gunfire, hit as many as 18 times as he took cover in thick brush, fighting to the end after fleeing militants who had just killed three comrades in an October ambush in Niger, The Associated Press has learned.

FILE - This file photo provided by the U.S. Army Special Operations Command shows Sgt. La David Johnson, who was killed in an Oct. 4 ambush in Niger. Johnson, who was killed in an ambush in Niger with three comrades and his body recovered days later, wasn’t captured alive by the enemy or executed at close range, The Associated Press has learned, based on the conclusion of a military investigation. The report has determined that he was killed by enemy rifle and machine gun fire as he fled the attack by an offshoot of the Islamic State group. (U.S. Army Special Operations Command via AP, File)
This file photo provided by the U.S. Army Special Operations Command shows Sgt. La David Johnson, who was killed in an Oct. 4 ambush in Niger. Johnson, who was killed in an ambush in Niger with three comrades and his body recovered days later, wasn’t captured alive by the enemy or executed at close range, The Associated Press has learned, based on the conclusion of a military investigation. The report has determined that he was killed by enemy rifle and machine gun fire as he fled the attack by an offshoot of the Islamic State group. (U.S. Army Special Operations Command via AP, File)

A military investigation has concluded that Johnson wasn’t captured alive or killed at close range, dispelling a swirl of rumors about how he died.

The report has determined that Johnson, 25, of Miami Gardens, Florida, was killed by enemy rifle and machine gun fire from members of an Islamic State offshoot, according to U.S. officials familiar with the findings. The Oct. 4 ambush took place about 120 miles  north of Niamey, the African nation’s capital. Johnson’s body was recovered two days later.

U.S. officials familiar with the findings spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity to describe details of an investigation that has not been finalized or publicly released.

A 12-member Army special forces unit was accompanying 30 Nigerien forces when they were attacked in a densely wooded area by as many as 50 militants traveling by vehicle and carrying small arms and rocket-propelled grenade launchers.

Johnson was struck as many as 18 times from a distance by a volley of machine gun rounds, according to the U.S. officials, who said he was firing back as he and two Nigerien soldiers tried to escape.

All told, four U.S. soldiers and four Nigerien troops were killed in the ambush. Two U.S. and eight Nigerien troops were wounded.

The bodies of three U.S. Green Berets were located on the day of the attack, but not Johnson’s remains. The gap in time led to questions about whether Johnson was killed in the assault and not found, or if he was taken away by the enemy.

According to the officials, a medical examination concluded that Johnson was hit by fire from M-4 rifles — probably stolen by the insurgents — and Soviet-made heavy machine guns. It is believed he died in the attack.

The officials said Johnson was found under thick scrub brush where he tried to take cover. There were no indications he was shot at close range, or had been bound or taken prisoner, as several media reports have suggested.

A U.S. Africa Command began its investigation with a team headed by Army Maj. Gen. Roger Cloutier, the command’s chief of staff. The team visited locations in Niger to collect evidence and information about the attack, and will soon submit a draft of Cloutier’s report to Marine Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, head of Africa Command. Waldhauser could ask for additional information. The final report is expected to be released next month.

The officials familiar with the report’s conclusions said that during the attack, Johnson and two Nigerien soldiers tried to get to a vehicle to escape, but were unable to do so, became separated from the others and were shot as they were running for safety.

The report concluded that Johnson, who was athletic and a runner, was in the lead and got the farthest away, seeking cover in the brush. Officials said there were a number of enemy shells around Johnson, and evidence that he appeared to fight to the end. His boots and other equipment were later stolen, but he was still wearing his uniform.

As news of the ambush came out, the U.S. military sent in rescue teams to search for Johnson, not making his status public in the hope he might have gotten away and was still alive and hiding. The Pentagon only acknowledged that he was missing after his body was located two days later by local forces.

The Pentagon has declined to release details about the exact mission of the commando team. U.S. officials have previously said that the joint U.S.-Niger patrol had been asked to assist a second American commando team hunting for a senior Islamic State member, who also had former ties to al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb. The team had been asked to go to a location where the insurgent had last been seen, and collect intelligence.

After completing that mission, the troops stopped in a village for a short time to get food and water, then left. The U.S. military believes someone in the village may have tipped off attackers to the presence of U.S. commandoes and Nigerien forces in the area, setting in motion the ambush.

U.S. special operations forces have been routinely working with Niger’s forces, helping them to improve their abilities to fight extremists in the region. That effort has increased in recent years, the Pentagon said.

The three other Americans killed were Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black, 35, of Puyallup, Washington; Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson, 39, of Springboro, Ohio; and Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright, 29, of Lyons, Georgia. Black and Wright were Army Special Forces. Johnson and Johnson were not commandos.

Johnson’s combat death led to a political squabble between President Donald Trump and a Democratic congresswoman from Florida after Trump told Johnson’s pregnant widow in a phone call that her husband “knew what he signed up for.” Rep. Frederica Wilson was riding with Johnson’s family to meet the body and heard the call on speakerphone. The spat grew to include Trump’s chief of staff, who called Wilson an “empty barrel” making noise.

 

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The man who shot Osama bin Laden tells his story to a packed house at Nixon Library

YORBA LINDA — A thousand people at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum thundered with applause when Robert O’Neill, the retired Navy SEAL who shot Osama bin Laden, took the stage to share his story Wednesday, July 26.

O’Neill’s talk, woven through with a sense of humor that surprised and delighted the audience, focused less on his encounter with bin Laden on May 2, 2011, in Abbottabad, Pakistan, and more on life lessons from his journey. One of the mentions he made of the incident was simple: “Bin Laden got what he deserved.”

The audience was packed into the library’s East Room, spilling over into the Fred Malek Theater, where a simulcast from the other room was shown.

Seventeen years before his shots pierced bin Laden’s skull, O’Neill was home in Butte, Montana, facing a different struggle: heartbreak. He’d just been dumped by a girl, and he wanted to get out of town. Inspired by his friends in the Marine Corps, he stopped by a recruitment office. As luck would have it, he said, the Marine recruiter wasn’t in the office – but the Navy’s was.

  • Robert O’Neill, the former member of the U.S. Navy’s Team 6 who is credited with shooting Osama bin Laden to death, laughs as he tells the audience he didn’t know how to swim at the time he signed up for the Navy at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda on Wednesday, July 26, 2017. (Photo by Matt Masin, Orange County Register, SCNG)

    Robert O’Neill, the former member of the U.S. Navy’s Team 6 who is credited with shooting Osama bin Laden to death, laughs as he tells the audience he didn’t know how to swim at the time he signed up for the Navy at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda on Wednesday, July 26, 2017. (Photo by Matt Masin, Orange County Register, SCNG)

  • Robert O’Neill, the former member of the U.S. Navy’s SEAL Team 6 who is credited with shooting Osama bin Laden to death, speaks at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda on Wednesday, July 26, 2017. (Photo by Matt Masin, Orange County Register, SCNG)

    Robert O’Neill, the former member of the U.S. Navy’s SEAL Team 6 who is credited with shooting Osama bin Laden to death, speaks at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda on Wednesday, July 26, 2017. (Photo by Matt Masin, Orange County Register, SCNG)

  • Robert O’Neill, the former member of the U.S. Navy’s SEAL Team 6 who is credited with shooting Osama bin Laden to death, tells stories of capturing enemies at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda on Wednesday, July 26, 2017. (Photo by Matt Masin, Orange County Register, SCNG)

    Robert O’Neill, the former member of the U.S. Navy’s SEAL Team 6 who is credited with shooting Osama bin Laden to death, tells stories of capturing enemies at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda on Wednesday, July 26, 2017. (Photo by Matt Masin, Orange County Register, SCNG)

  • People gather to photograph Robert O’Neill’s uniform at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda on Wednesday, July 26, 2017. (Photo by Matt Masin, Orange County Register, SCNG)

    People gather to photograph Robert O’Neill’s uniform at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda on Wednesday, July 26, 2017. (Photo by Matt Masin, Orange County Register, SCNG)

  • A crowd listens as Robert O’Neill, the former member of the U.S. Navy’s SEAL Team 6 who is credited with shooting Osama bin Laden to death, speaks at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda on Wednesday, July 26, 2017. (Photo by Matt Masin, Orange County Register, SCNG)

    A crowd listens as Robert O’Neill, the former member of the U.S. Navy’s SEAL Team 6 who is credited with shooting Osama bin Laden to death, speaks at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda on Wednesday, July 26, 2017. (Photo by Matt Masin, Orange County Register, SCNG)

  • Robert O’Neill, the former member of the U.S. Navy’s SEAL Team 6 who is credited with shooting Osama bin Laden to death, recounts his early days in the Navy at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda on Wednesday, July 26, 2017. (Photo by Matt Masin, Orange County Register, SCNG)

    Robert O’Neill, the former member of the U.S. Navy’s SEAL Team 6 who is credited with shooting Osama bin Laden to death, recounts his early days in the Navy at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda on Wednesday, July 26, 2017. (Photo by Matt Masin, Orange County Register, SCNG)

  • Robert O’Neill’s uniform on display at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda on Wednesday, July 26, 2017. (Photo by Matt Masin, Orange County Register, SCNG)

    Robert O’Neill’s uniform on display at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda on Wednesday, July 26, 2017. (Photo by Matt Masin, Orange County Register, SCNG)

  • Robert O’Neill’s uniform on display at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda on Wednesday, July 26, 2017. (Photo by Matt Masin, Orange County Register, SCNG)

    Robert O’Neill’s uniform on display at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda on Wednesday, July 26, 2017. (Photo by Matt Masin, Orange County Register, SCNG)

  • Orange County Supervisor Todd Spitzer asks a question to Robert O’Neill, the former member of the U.S. Navy’s SEAL Team 6, who is credited with shooting Osama bin Laden to death, speaks at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda on Wednesday, July 26, 2017. (Photo by Matt Masin, Orange County Register, SCNG)

    Orange County Supervisor Todd Spitzer asks a question to Robert O’Neill, the former member of the U.S. Navy’s SEAL Team 6, who is credited with shooting Osama bin Laden to death, speaks at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda on Wednesday, July 26, 2017. (Photo by Matt Masin, Orange County Register, SCNG)

  • Robert O’Neill, the former member of the U.S. Navy SEAL Team 6 who is credited with shooting Osama bin Laden to death, tells a story about his early days in the Navy at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda on Wednesday, July 26, 2017. (Photo by Matt Masin, Orange County Register, SCNG)

    Robert O’Neill, the former member of the U.S. Navy SEAL Team 6 who is credited with shooting Osama bin Laden to death, tells a story about his early days in the Navy at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda on Wednesday, July 26, 2017. (Photo by Matt Masin, Orange County Register, SCNG)

  • Robert O’Neill, the former member of the U.S. Navy’s SEAL Team 6 who is credited with shooting Osama bin Laden to death, is introduced at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda on Wednesday, July 26, 2017. (Photo by Matt Masin, Orange County Register, SCNG)

    Robert O’Neill, the former member of the U.S. Navy’s SEAL Team 6 who is credited with shooting Osama bin Laden to death, is introduced at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda on Wednesday, July 26, 2017. (Photo by Matt Masin, Orange County Register, SCNG)

  • People listen as Robert O’Neill, the former member of Navy SEAL Team 6 who is credited with shooting Osama bin Laden to death, speaks at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda on Wednesday, July 26, 2017. (Photo by Matt Masin, Orange County Register, SCNG)

    People listen as Robert O’Neill, the former member of Navy SEAL Team 6 who is credited with shooting Osama bin Laden to death, speaks at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda on Wednesday, July 26, 2017. (Photo by Matt Masin, Orange County Register, SCNG)

  • Robert O’Neill, the former member of the Navy SEAL Team 6 who is credited with shooting Osama bin Laden to death, speaks at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda on Wednesday, July 26, 2017. (Photo by Matt Masin, Orange County Register, SCNG)

    Robert O’Neill, the former member of the Navy SEAL Team 6 who is credited with shooting Osama bin Laden to death, speaks at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda on Wednesday, July 26, 2017. (Photo by Matt Masin, Orange County Register, SCNG)

  • Robert O’Neill, the former member of the U.S. Navy SEAL Team 6 who is credited with shooting Osama bin Laden to death, tells the audience about SEAL training at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda on Wednesday, July 26, 2017. (Photo by Matt Masin, Orange County Register, SCNG)

    Robert O’Neill, the former member of the U.S. Navy SEAL Team 6 who is credited with shooting Osama bin Laden to death, tells the audience about SEAL training at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda on Wednesday, July 26, 2017. (Photo by Matt Masin, Orange County Register, SCNG)

  • Robert O’Neill, the former member of the U.S. Navy SEAL Team 6 who is credited with shooting Osama bin Laden to death, talks about joining the service for a girl at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda on Wednesday, July 26, 2017. (Photo by Matt Masin, Orange County Register, SCNG)

    Robert O’Neill, the former member of the U.S. Navy SEAL Team 6 who is credited with shooting Osama bin Laden to death, talks about joining the service for a girl at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda on Wednesday, July 26, 2017. (Photo by Matt Masin, Orange County Register, SCNG)

  • Robert O’Neill, the former member of the U.S. Navy SEAL Team 6 who is credited with shooting Osama bin Laden to death, recounts a mission capturing an enemy at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda on Wednesday, July 26, 2017. (Photo by Matt Masin, Orange County Register, SCNG)

    Robert O’Neill, the former member of the U.S. Navy SEAL Team 6 who is credited with shooting Osama bin Laden to death, recounts a mission capturing an enemy at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda on Wednesday, July 26, 2017. (Photo by Matt Masin, Orange County Register, SCNG)

  • Robert O’Neill, the former member of Navy SEAL Team 6 who is credited with shooting Osama bin Laden to death, speaks at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda on Wednesday, July 26, 2017. (Photo by Matt Masin, Orange County Register, SCNG)

    Robert O’Neill, the former member of Navy SEAL Team 6 who is credited with shooting Osama bin Laden to death, speaks at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda on Wednesday, July 26, 2017. (Photo by Matt Masin, Orange County Register, SCNG)

  • Navy SEAL Robert J. O’Neill will speak at the Nixon Presidential Library & Museum where his uniform is on display. (Courtesy of the Nixon Library)

    Navy SEAL Robert J. O’Neill will speak at the Nixon Presidential Library & Museum where his uniform is on display. (Courtesy of the Nixon Library)

  • Navy SEAL Robert J. O’Neill’s combat equipment is on public display for the first time at the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda on Monday, July 3, 2017. O’Neill was the Navy Special Warfare Operator who took down terrorist Osama bin Laden during a daring raid in 2011.(Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Navy SEAL Robert J. O’Neill’s combat equipment is on public display for the first time at the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda on Monday, July 3, 2017. O’Neill was the Navy Special Warfare Operator who took down terrorist Osama bin Laden during a daring raid in 2011.(Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

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Facing hellish training that he called “a beat-down for eight months,” O’Neill, 41, said he quickly learned to have a sense of humor in the face of hardship with SEAL Team 6.

“Don’t be afraid to enjoy yourself. Every single day, smile,” O’Neill said. “Think about this: none of us are getting out of this alive. I don’t believe in statistics, but I happen to be sure 10 out of 10 people die.”

After becoming a Navy SEAL, O’Neill rose to senior chief petty officer and was deployed on more than 400 missions, including two that were made into movies: the 2009 rescue of Capt. Richard Phillips (2013’s “Captain Phillips”) and the 2005 mission to save Marcus Luttrell, a fellow SEAL (“Lone Survivor”).

When his team was given the bin Laden mission, O’Neill said he was sure he wouldn’t be coming back. Before leaving, he left behind a tear-stained letter for his seven-year-old daughter – addressed to her 20 years later, apologizing for missing her wedding.

But O’Neill made it back. Since then, he’s been giving hundreds of speeches around the country and abroad, more recently promoting his newly released memoir “The Operator.” Like his talks, the book goes through O’Neill’s life and shows how his experiences can reveal lessons for others.

The gear O’Neill wore the night he hunted down bin Laden – boots, helmet, bullet-proof vest, all in desert-camouflage – is on public display at the library until the end of July.

Ron Clark, 65 of Diamond Bar, said he was drawn to the talk by two things: memories of 9/11 and the excitement of the day bin Laden was brought to justice.

“It was very inspiring,” Clark said. “I feel a lot of pride to know we have people like that, trained so expertly to do things most of us would never know how to do.”

Read more about The man who shot Osama bin Laden tells his story to a packed house at Nixon Library This post was shared via Orange County Register’s RSS Feed. Santa Ana Shredding Service

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