As jets screamed over Naval Air Station Oceana behind his used-car lot in Virginia Beach, Richard DeBerry Jr. said he knows a member of Navy SEAL Team Six, the elite, secretive unit that killed Osama bin Laden.
That friendship still won’t get him any details of the nighttime raid on the Pakistan compound of the terrorist who eluded capture for a decade.
“We’re not even going to try to pick his brain about it — he’s not going to say a thing,” DeBerry, 33, said in an office lined with baseball caps from Navy servicemen who bought cars. “You get drunk with them and they won’t tell you a thing about what happened on their missions. They don’t even tell their wives.”
The SEAL team emerged as local heroes, if discreet ones, in Tidewater Va., where a complex of military bases sprawls from the shipyards in Norfolk to the Dam Neck compound where part of the unit is based.
The SEALs trace their roots to World War II, when they surveyed beaches and cleared obstacles for Allied amphibious landings. Today, SEALs — the name stands for Sea, Air and Land — perform commando assaults, unconventional warfare, reconnaissance and intelligence gathering.
Such special operations forces have played a key role since the beginning of the conflict against al Qaeda in Afghanistan in 2001, when they worked with the Northern Alliance against the Taliban.
“You’ve got a process of evolution since Vietnam that has not only created a more professional military but a far more professional group of intelligence operatives and special forces,” said Anthony Cordesman, a national security analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.