Members of the elite Navy SEALs team that carried out a painstakingly crafted assault that led to the death of Osama bin Laden won't be greeted with fanfare when they return home to Virginia Beach.
Don't be mistaken: their friends, neighbors and families would be proud of the men - if they knew who they were. The specialized SEALs operate in such secret that even their wives won't know whether they played a role in the mission that ended a decade-long search for the mastermind of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
Despite their feat, you won't hear much about it around town, said Mary Ellen Baldwin, executive director of the Navy League of Hampton Roads.
"There won't be anything publicly done for a major welcoming of them because of the fact of the confidentiality," Ms. Baldwin said. "There won't be any bravado going on. It's very low-key. It really is. It's just the nature of what they've signed up to do."
Stationed at the Naval Air Station Oceana in the heart of Virginia Beach, the team reportedly spent months practicing the operation, which involved landing inside the compound in Pakistan where bin Laden had been living and engaging in a firefight that ended in death for the al Qaeda leader.
With worldwide attention focused on the mission, the SEALs - and particularly the highly trained, highly skilled Team 6 that executed the operation - are getting an unusual dose of attention. That's because it's rare that anyone hears of the work they do every day, Ms. Baldwin said.
"They do this 24-seven all year long and they're unsung heroes," she said.
Described as an elite within an elite, members of SEAL Team 6 are ordinary residents who go grocery-shopping and coach their kids' sports teams in between carrying out life-endangering assignments required by the job, Virginia Beach residents say. Along with their families, they're so ingrained in the day-to-day life of the community that many civilians don't understand they are frequently in harm's way, said Delegate Barry D. Knight, Virginia Beach Republican.
Mr. Knight said he has many friends who are current or former SEALs. He'll probably get together with some of them later in the week. But he knows that with a SEAL, there's a line that can't be crossed.
"They know that I know, and I know that I know, and they just have another beer and smile at me," he said.
To the question of whether he knows any of the SEALs who landed in bin Laden's compound, he had one answer: "I better not say anything about that."
Virginia Beach resident Rufus Jones has a son-in-law who retired from the SEALs about four years ago. The community has tremendous respect for the special operations forces, he said, even though there's never much talk about what they do and the members do their best to blend into the community.
"They're almost like plain Jane," Mr. Jones said. "When you look at them, they're not all he-man looking."
Virginia Secretary of Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security Terrie Suit knows what it's like for SEAL wives, since her husband was a SEAL for 21 years. Spouses are not briefed on missions, and SEAL members are not allowed to discuss a mission with their partner until it has been declassified, she said.
Having served as a delegate from Virginia Beach prior to her appointment by Gov. Robert F. McDonnell, Ms. Suit has been around the SEALs and their families for years. She calls them silent professionals.
"You won't hear a lot of bragging or celebration because that's not how this group operates," Ms. Suit said. "It's not a community that brags."
State Sen. Jeffrey L. McWaters, Virginia Beach Republican, had similar things to say.
"Few of us realize that the heroes, who were raiding a compound in Pakistan early Sunday morning, could have passed you in the grocery store just a few weeks ago," he said.
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