In Jalalabad, Afghanistan, we had boarded our two MH-60 Black Hawks and set off for the short ride to Abbottabad. I looked to my left. Jeff, with whom I had gone through BUD/S, nodded a familiar nod. It was part “here we go again”, part “this might be the last time we see each other.” I scanned the rest of SEAL Team 6, and tried to repress a sigh as I locked eyes with the last-minute addition to our team, Joe Biden. None of us were happy about this. From a mission standpoint, it was a potential disaster, but the social aspect I would come to learn would rival hell week. We weren’t expecting him, but he showed up 5 minutes before we left and pulled rank on everybody.
“I’m the Vice Commander-in-Chief, guys. You can call me VC. Just kidding! That sounds like I’m Viet Cong, and I ain’t no gook, man!” he had shouted jubilantly upon his arrival.
On the Black Hawk, Biden interpreted our eye contact as my wanting to hear him talk, which he did. During my training I carried a 160-pound man on my back for 3 miles with a collapsed lung, but what my special operations training hadn’t taught me is that when you make eye contact with Joe Biden, you have about .2 seconds to look the other way before you are locked in a one-way conversation about everything in his field of vision.
“These helmets are pretty, rad, man. I can’t wait to get this son of a bitch. You got some Mexican in your blood, son? You look kinda like Carlos, my lawn guy. Are we in Pakistan, yet? This isn’t my first time in this shithole, guys. Get this: Not one 7-11 in the whole damn place. Ironic, right? The food here can give you the squirts if your bellies aren’t used to it, but we’re not here to dine. We’re here to shine.” I figured he rehearsed that one for weeks.
He had tried to pal around with us back in Virginia Beach while we did two weeks of practice raids on a full-size mock-up of Bin Laden’s compound. He kept telling us that he played football in high school and how he had wanted to enlist and go to Vietnam, but his asthma kept him out. “Damn 1-Y Army classification,” he would say no less than a dozen times during the mission. “I’m not going to let that stop me this time. I’m the VP. That doesn’t mean vagina pounder, boys, that means Vice President of the United Fucking States. Let’s get these gooks.”
No one had the time, effort, or desire to tell him he was using the wrong ethnic slur. Perhaps if he hadn’t had six draft deferments during the Vietnam War he would have gotten it right. I think Tim Yakuza, our Japanese-American medic, had to stitch his own tongue from biting it so hard.
It seemed like an eternity before we approached the compound, and Biden just...Would. Not. Stop.
We got it, and we knew. I quickly did the math and calculated that he was in high school in the 60s and that there was no way that the slang meaning for “taint” had entered our lexicon. It also occurred to me that the plagiarism charge levied against him that resulted in his dropping out of the 1988 presidential campaign probably wasn’t due to his being a conscious liar--he just wanted to fit in.
Biden’s mouth fountain once again started spouting. “Lotta pressure. Lotta pressure. Speakin’ of which, I’m getting a charley horse in my left calf.” As if he needed to talk even louder, he barked to the pilot.
“Hey, son, touch down for a sec so I can stretch this puppy out.” The response came back as politely but firmly as it could. “Sir, this mission is timed perfectly. We have 30 minutes of fuel to get in and out.”
“Don’t worry, son. You’re not going to get in trouble when ol’ Joe’s got your back. Tell HQ you’re just Biden your time. Get it?”
“Yes, sir. I got it.”
“My order or the joke.”
“Oldie but goodie. Just like me,” Biden smugly announced, nudging the unamused SEAL next to him while unneccessarily pulling on his night vision goggles.
As the Black Hawk touched down for the Vice President’s unplanned calf muscle relief, he jumped out and put his hands on the side of the stealth war machine and stretched his leg for what seemed like an eternity. I realized that with all of his gear on no one would know that the 65 year old was with SEAL Team 6, until I saw the moon’s reflection off his black wingtip dress shoes. I suspected he had his suit on underneath everything. As he climbed back into the chopper, I answered his newest request with some bad news: we didn’t have any Riptide Rush-flavored Gatorade. Clearly disappointed in our limited liquid options, he promised to introduce me to Michael Jordan after we killed Bin Laden. I thought, If we could just keep the Vice President still and quiet for 25 minutes, we might have a chance kill to public enemy No. 1 of the United States of America. Airborne again, we had about 15 seconds of quiet until Uncle Joe’s oral cannon fired more stray missiles.
“You guys got any REO Speedwagon you can crank to fire us up? Or whatever you young guys listen to is fine by me . You dudes like Kanye West? That’s the guy that said George W. hates black people, you know. Hell, I love black people. I’m not racist. Not possible - I’m a Democrat. But hey, I don’t see any black guys on your team. Probably cuz they’re not good swimmers, right?”
The synchronization of SEAL Team 6’s head shaking could have qualified us for the London Olympics. I was beginning to see the purpose of our being waterboarded during our training. No one in the world is trained better than a Navy SEAL to tune out distractions, but when the distraction is your Vice President’s incessant rambling interspersed with racial slurs, it challenges your focus.
I wondered if the Green Berets would have just shot him and called it a training accident. But I kept those thoughts to myself, although undoubtedly the collective consciousness of 23 SEALS in the 2 Black Hawks was holding the same thought bubble. Besides, Obama would probably give us a secret medal. Scott, the 24th SEAL, was furious when he got bumped for Biden, but I wished I had gotten his short straw.
Nevertheless, 15 minutes later we were closing in on Abbottabad, and a calm had settled over the team--a strange calm. Uncle Joe had fallen asleep. I’m not a religious man, but this time I prayed to the intelligent designer to keep the veep asleep. As soon as my prayer entered the ether, though, the hair-plugged talk-dragon awoke.
“Delaware are we?” were the first lame words out of his barely rested yap. “Shit, this is it!” he squealed, like a kid looking out of a station wagon that's closing in on Disneyland. “I gotta sit up front. This is a big fucking deal.”
What transpired next, we would learn later, would cause the President to pound a bottle of Scotch in the Oval Office with John McCain. Wanting to sit up front, Uncle Joe got up and attempted to make his way up to the pilot’s seat, made more difficult by his holding up a hand to receive high fives, none of which were given. It was surreal to witness 11 SEALs trying to simultaneously be respectful while telling the Vice President to sit the fuck down. Undaunted, he did make it to the front, but either old age, his recurring charley horse, or the lack of traction on his wing tips caused him to slip and fall helmet first into the joystick. Mike, our pilot from the Army’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, was among the best in the world, but he, like us, wasn’t Bidenproof.
That’s when I felt the chopper swing 90 degrees and we all knew something wasn’t right. Sure enough, we starting to go down. I thought this would stop the noise of the tell-tale mouth, but instead it was his cue to start shouting hail mary’s. Any SEAL on that Black Hawk who was Catholic ceased to be Catholic in that moment.
It was low enough to the ground for a controlled crash, which apparently was not enough to dissuade the old man. Hoping he had sustained a minor head injury, I forced myself to care.
“Are you okay, sir!” I shouted, realizing that shouting something makes it sound like you care, regardless. Biden’s tone turned serious. “Sorry about that, man. We can take that out of my budget. I get what Cheney got, so thank you Dickie on that one.” His eyes lit up. “Hey, we’re still gonna make this happen!” Then a look of concern swept over him.
“Wait up a sec. My dingdong popped out of my undies.”
After the Vice President’s member positioning adjustment, I pulled him off the downed Black Hawk and tried to pawn him off on James, the youngest member of SEAL Team 6, hoping to keep the VP on the sidelines.
“You can stay here, sir. We’ll be right back with the Joker." Upon hearing Bin Laden's code name, Biden seemed confused. “The Joker?”
“Yes, sir," I educated. "The target’s code name.” Wow. They didn’t tell the Vice President of the United States the code name. I guess I was surprised but not surprised. Believe me: Dick Cheney would have known the code names of bin Laden’s wives.
“The Joker?” Biden scoffed. “That’s gonna piss people off because that one actor that died who played the Joker-- he did a real nice job and got an Oscar. I’m tellin ya, man. Don’t do it. It won’t sit well.”
Before I could respond, the VP barked an order. “Listen up, SEAL Team 6. Name change from the Vice Commander in Chief. The target is no longer the Joker. New name ‘Geronimo’.” He flashed his pearly nuclear-whites at me. “See, son. That can’t offend anybody.”
Troy was the point man. I was right behind, tasked with making sure Biden got home safely but also got to be part of the action. Never has expertise and ignorance held hands so tightly.
We had cleared the first level and started up the staircase. Khalid, one of bin Laden’s sons, popped his head around a corner, and BOP BOP. Troy put two rounds in his chest. With the hallway cleared, Troy and I made our way to where Khalid’s body lay, accompanied by the click clack of Biden’s wingtips on the cement floor. I ensured the kill with a double tap to Khalid's head, and put my hand up to signal Biden to stop, which he promptly high-fived.
“Stay here, sir,” I order-implored. For once he listened, and gave me a thumbs up, then proceeded to lay down his weapon down and put his hands against the wall to stretch his calf. I saw James coming up the stairs and signaled him to watch the VP. If Special Ops had a hand signal for “You gotta be fucking kidding me, dude” he would have used it, I’m sure, but that day the middle finger had to suffice. I indulged myself in a grin as Troy and I turned the corner. Two steps into the next hallway - BOP BOP BOP BOP BOP behind me. Five rounds. Not a SEAL.
Adrenaline on overload, I spun around to check back on the Vice President, assuming the worst for him and James, only to find Uncle Joe standing over Khalid, having added five rounds of his own. Biden slapped James on the back and then winked at me.
“Let’s get some more of these towelheads, y’all,” he vice-commanded.
This would be no easy day.