Bravery is not the absence of fear, said the ex-Navy SEAL who killed Osama bin Laden.
“It’s the ability to recognize fear, push it aside and do it anyway,” Robert O’Neill told the crowd gathered Wednesday at Acadian Ambulance’s annual awards luncheon at the Cajundome. “Actively participate in saving your own life, and don’t just sit there dying of shame while you wait to be rescued.”
It was one of several terse lessons O’Neill offered from his experience in more than 400 combat missions, including the May 2011 raid of bin Laden’s compound where O’Neill is credited with firing the shot that killed the terrorist leader.
O’Neill, the featured speaker at Wednesday’s event, steered clear of the details of the bin Laden mission, but there was no lack of exciting tales: rescuing sailors seized by Somali pirates, hour-long gunfights on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan, searching out terrorist strongholds.
“Our missions were pretty unique. Basically, someone from intelligence would find out about a house full of terrorists,” he said. “They would come to us, tell us where it was. We would wait for the sun to go down, we would go to that house and we would break into it and we would kill them.”
The ones who weren’t killed were captured, O’Neill said, and they in turn might lead his team to the next assignment.
“Based on what they told us and what they had, we would find a new house full of targets for the next night,” O’Neill said.
He said the lessons he learned on those perilous missions are universal, guidance even for professions in which people are not shooting at you:
“No one has ever accomplished anything positive by panicking.”
“Stress is a choice. Stress is in your mind.”
“We learned how to take emotion out of the decision-making process.”
“We know that complacency kills. You know what causes complacency is success. Too much success and people have a tendency to say, ‘Well, this is the way we’ve always done it.’ You can’t do that. You have to stay fluid, see what your opponent is doing.”
Two Acadian employees were honored at Wednesday’s luncheon, Abby Etheridge as EMT of the Year and Oliver Quinn as Paramedic of the Year.
They were chosen from a group of 18 finalist nominated by Acadian employees.
Etheridge works in the central Louisiana region, covering Rapides, Avoyelles, Evangeline, Allen, Beauregard and Vernon parishes.
Quinn, a flight paramedic working out of Lafayette, said a major turning point came in his life when he was 15 and witnessed his parents resuscitate a 2-year-old boy who fell into a pond at their home in Carencro and nearly drowned.
“That kind of thrust me down this path,” he said.
Quinn said he enrolled in first-responder and EMT training program at Lafayette High School and joined Acadian Ambulance in 2009 after he graduated.