MURRAY — Robert James O’Neill, a former U.S. Navy SEAL and special warfare operator, was the guest speaker Friday night during the 2019 Night Before Fancy Farm event hosted by the Murray, Calloway County and Marshall County GOP Clubs.
O’Neill’s claim to fame is to firing the shot that ended the life of Osama bin Laden during the raid on his compound on May 1, 2011. During the evening, GOP members spoke with representatives, including Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, before listening to O’Neill discuss some of his experiences and learned lessons from his time as a Navy SEAL.
Among the things O’Neill spoke about Friday night were the traits that make a good Navy SEAL and the various lessons that remained applicable to his life even after his service.
“No matter what you look like or where you are from, you can do anything you want so long as you keep a positive attitude; one foot in front of the other,” O’Neill said. “We were good as Navy SEALS for a number of reasons, but we were good because we were good to each other. We realized that people wanted to show up to work and they wanted to work and be a part of the team.”
O’Neill said he and his fellow team members on SEAL Team Six were good because they learned the difference between over-planning and being prepared.
“We were good because we learned the difference between over-planning and being prepared,” he said. “Too often people plan, and say we are going to plan and plan and nobody gets to leave until we have the perfect plan. But what we learned is the only time the perfect plan exists is in the planning room.
“When we went after Osama bin Laden, we had three weeks to prepare and we had some of the best tactical minds in the world, and we came up with the perfect plan. We rehearsed that plan over and over, day and night.”
O’Neill said that one night they were talking about the plan and someone asked what the worst thing that could happen would be. He said someone replied, “The helicopter could crash in the front yard.”
“That is exactly what happened,” O’Neill said. “We were able to take a potentially catastrophic event and turn it into something great; not because of our perfect plan that never came to fruition, but because of our preparation.”
O’Neill said another thing that made his team members good at their job was the ability to take emotion out of the decision-making process.
“Your initial reaction is the wrong reaction, and it is important to take a second to make an informed decision,” O’Neill said. “… I have to ask myself what is the problem, and what is the emotion I am bringing to the problem. That is enough time to calm down and make a good decision. I would tell my guys, even in combat, don’t react, do respond.”
O’Neill said another thing that made for a good SEAL was the determination to never quit. He spoke at length about the grueling process to become a Navy SEAL, and his time on SEAL Team Two. He then spoke about the even more gruesome ordeal to become a member of the elite Team Six.
He said the common theme present in all the members of Team Six was their determination to die rather than leave something undone.
“Eighty-five percent of the people who try out to be a Navy SEAL do not make it through,” O’Neill said. “People that get through this stuff have certain traits that are common. One trait common with Navy SEALS is a sense of humor. It gets so bad that if you can’t laugh at yourself at one point, you are going to lose your mind.
“That is good advice for life, too. Don’t be afraid to wake up with a smile on your face and put both feet on the ground.”
He talked about a particularly intense week of training known as “Hell Week” and discussed some important advice he received to help him get through the ordeal.
“An instructor gave me good advice for getting through it and it turned out to be good advice for getting through life,” he said. “He said, ‘You are about to go to war for the first time, and the enemy is all your doubts, all your fears and everyone you know back home who told you you weren’t good enough to do this. Keep your head down, keep moving forward, and no matter what, never quit and you will be fine.’”