Special Ops Missions, Sacrifices Leading Up to Bin Laden Raid Contributed to Success

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Wives of warriors killed since the 9/11 terrorist attacks reflect on bin Laden death and the subsequent spotlight on Special Operations forces.

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Special Ops Survivors works to empower surviving families of Special Operations personnel who have died since Sept. 11, 2001, to have a future that their fallen heroes would have wanted for them.

Wendy Allison doesn’t know the details of how her husband was killed and she will likely never know. One thing she does know is the knowledge and experience gained from dangerous Special Operations missions and training exercises—that have taken so many lives—helped contribute to the successful mission to locate and kill Osama bin Laden.

Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, 336 Special Operations personnel have died in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, according to the United States Special Operations Command.

This underscores the impressive fact that there were no injuries or casualties among the Special Operations unit conducting the stealth raid that took out bin Laden—and sheds light on the dangerous work done by these elite (and often highly secretive) units.

“I am so proud of my husband and our military,” says Wendy.

Wendy’s husband, Air Force Capt. Derek Argel (assigned to the 23rd Special Tactics Squadron), was killed in 2005 when an Iraqi Air Force aircraft crashed during a training mission. Three other U.S. troops and an Iraqi pilot were also killed in the Memorial Day crash.

“Part of me wonders,” says Wendy. “If 9/11 didn’t happen, would Derek not have been killed four years later? Would my husband still be alive if it had not been for bin Laden?”

While recalling the thoughts that raced through her mind when she heard the news of bin Laden’s demise, she is quick to add that as a military spouse these are the realities and the risks.

“I know Derek would be proud that our guys got him, that they persevered after so many years,” says Wendy, adding that their 6-year-old son (who was only 10 months old when his father died in Iraq) “knows we got the bad guy.”

Bin Laden’s death is a victory for the U.S. military and Special Operations forces in particular, but it doesn’t make Wendy’s loss any easier. She also knows that this doesn’t mean an end to the war on terrorism.

Mary Ellen Bancroft shares this view. Her husband, Matthew Bancroft, was part of the initial deployment after the 9/11 attacks. A C130 pilot, he was flying in support of a Special Operations mission in Pakistan in 2002 when he was killed along with six others—the first Marine casualties and the first female casualty, in the war on terror.

“Prior to 9/11, Matt would talk about bin Laden and how he was a danger to the United States,” says Mary Ellen. “Am I relieved that he [bin Laden] is gone? Yes. But, get the others as well.”
Mary Ellen recalls the morning of 9/11 when her husband gave her a call from Camp Pendleton and told her to turn on the news, saying “you are not going to believe this.”

She had a similar reaction when she heard the news that bin Laden was finally found and killed.

“I think I was in shock, saying to myself ‘really, wow they killed him, finally.’ I was relieved but didn’t feel joy,” Mary Ellen says.

She struggles with the celebrating. “The fact that this evil man who did so much harm is dead now is a good thing. But, it doesn’t bring my husband back.”

What she can find peace with is that the mission to find and kill bin Laden resulted in no casualties.

“What a triumph,” Mary Ellen says. “If they had lost one person it would have taken away from the triumph. All of them walked in together and walked out together. It is the icing on the cake.”

She is quick to add, however, that the country should not become complacent because of this victory. “It’s not over. There are still guys out there who are risking their lives and who may not make it back,” Mary Ellen adds.

During a recent visit to Ft. Campbell in Kentucky, President Barak Obama praised the Special Operations team on its successful mission.

"They trained for years. They're battle-hardened. They practiced tirelessly for this mission. When I gave the order, they were ready," the president said. "In recent days, the whole world has learned just how ready they were."

No one knows this more than their spouses. Because of the secretive nature of Special Operations, these spouses face unique challenges and experiences. Special Operations personnel are often called up without any notice, and rarely know where they are headed or how long they will be gone. Their deployments last longer, and their time off is much shorter. When they die in the line of duty, the details are usually not released and their spouses and families are left with unanswered questions. Even if they do receive some details, they are often not supposed to talk about it. As a result, their heroism often goes uncelebrated in the public eye.

“As a Special Ops wife you never get detailed information and you don’t even know where your husband is most of the time,” Wendy says, adding that she is very surprised by the amount of detailed information that is being shared with the public. This is counter to the culture herself and so many other Special Operations spouses live with. She does not believe it is safe nor correct to point out specific individuals—or even just the Navy SEALs, which are getting most of the media mentions.

“There is so much that goes behind these missions,” Wendy says. “There is a lot going on behind the scenes. Every second has to be plotted out. It is a team effort and everyone should be congratulated.”

She is thankful Special Operations forces, and the military in general, is getting the attention they deserve but rarely receive.

“They shouldn’t forget the people that have lost their lives and those who are still serving our country. Remember the sacrifice that our service members and their families are going through,” Wendy says.

Special Operations personnel are referred to as the “quiet professionals” – and this is a culture that extends to their families, making support groups so important to surviving spouses.

“The active duty military family community is a close one, but once you are no long a part of that community—as in the case of a survivor—things change,” says Elizabeth Brown, executive director of the Special Ops Survivors (and wife to an active duty Special Forces soldier).

“That's why our organization is so important to our survivors,” says Elizabeth. “It gives these spouses the opportunity to connect with others who have something in common.”

Special Ops Survivors works to empower surviving families of Special Operations personnel who have died since Sept. 11, 2001, to have a future that their fallen heroes would have wanted for them. The nonprofit organization provides surviving spouses with peer-based emotional support, financial assistance and life-skills resources.

For more stories from surviving spouses, to make a donation, or show your support to surviving families visit http://www.specialopssurvivors.org.


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Hannah Gregory

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