Seal Team Six is best known for its very successful mission to get Osama Bin Laden. But it did something equally impressive a little over a year ago in a very different effort. In this case it was to simply to save an American who had been kidnapped by Somali bandits. I saw this story on CBS 60 Minutes last night and felt that is was a story I would like to recount here.
Jessica Buchanan was an American aid worker who was working with a group that was training kids in how to recognize and avoid land mines. While on one of their missions, she and a Danish coworker were kidnapped by Somalis. In the beginning Jessica thought that she was going to be raped and killed, that this was how her life was going to end. The kidnappers were heavily armed and high on a local plant called kot, which is a natural stimulant and acts like amphetamines. Among them were child soldiers, no more than eleven and twelve years old. She asked them at first if they were going to kill them and was told no, that they wanted only money.
For months she and her coworker were held by these kidnappers out in the open desert. The had little to eat, slept in the open, even in the rain. The kidnappers treated them like animals. Their original asking price was $45 million.
The kidnappers were using Jessica’s and her coworker’s cell phones to try to call their relatives to demand money for their return. The thing is that those numbers had been blocked by her aid organization to prevent such an event and all the calls were received and monitored by her aid group’s offices in Nairobi, Kenya. On one occasion the Nairobi offices heard her say that she was very sick, that she thought she had a serious kidney, or urinary tract infection and she was fearful that she might die. That is when Seal Team 6 began to prepare for a rescue mission.
On the night of January 25, 2011, Jessica had been praying that they might be rescued when, all of a sudden gunfire erupted all around the camp and she hid under her blanket. Then, she felt hands grabbing at her. She pulled the blanket closer. Then she heard her name spoken with an American accent. It was surreal, she could not wrap her mind around that at that moment. But it was true. Americans, Seal Team 6 Americans, were saying to her, “Jessica. We’re U.S. military and were here to take you home. You’re safe.”
In her stunned mind all she could say was, “You’re Americans? How did you get here? I’m still alive.” She said that one of them picked her up and ran with her for several minutes. “They knew I was sick and had medicine and water.” They told her again that they had come to take her home. They told her to lay down. They formed a protective circle around her. One covered her with his own body until helicopters arrived. She realized after she had gotten home and thought about the events of that night, that those guys were going to take a bullet for her if necessary.
On the 60 Minutes program she remarked about how gentle and kind these men in their black masks and camouflage had treated her. They gave her an American flag and she says, “I started to cry. I’ve never been so proud to be an American.”
The Seals put her and her Danish coworker on one of the helicopters to be taken back to safety and hospital care. They stayed behind for another helicopter. As Jessica reported, the Seals appeared and then were gone. It was a quick, silent and successful rescue work they did that night. It cost those Somali bandits dearly. The seals left nine of them dead in that foul desert camp where they had held Jessica Buchanan and her coworker for those several long and terrifying months.
When it all began, Jessica remembered thinking to herself, “I’m only 32 years old. I haven’t had children yet. Is this going to be how I’m going to die?” Thanks to the courage, dedication and the very professional sills of Seal Team 6, she did not die there. After her rescue, she flown to a base in Italy where she was met by her husband. They flew home to Portland, Oregon together and, in the time since their return, have had a baby boy. On her return she told her dad, “Daddy, I’m so sorry you had to go through this, but we made it.”
When her coworker was asked how he felt after the rescue he said, “The luckiest thing that has ever happened to me in my life was to be kidnapped with an American.” That says it all.
We thank the American military and especially Seal Team 6 for their skill, their commitment to duty, honor, and country. There is no other force like this on earth. We are glad to know that you are on our side. That’s for sure.