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Obama Presents Navy SEAL Edward Byers, Jr. With Medal Of Honor

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Today, at the White House, President Obama presented Navy Senior Chief Edward Byers, Jr. with the Medal of Honor.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BARACK OBAMA: Today's ceremony is truly unique - a rare opportunity for the American people to get a glimpse of a special breed of warrior that so often serves in the shadows.

CORNISH: Byers is a number of the elite SEAL Team Six, and it's rare for an active SEAL to receive such a public honor. Here's Byers in a video released by the Navy.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SENIOR CHIEF EDWARD BYERS, JR.: To be a Navy SEAL means that you have to be incredibly resilient. You have to be hard-working. They're the toughest men on the face of this planet.

CORNISH: Byers earned the Metal of Honor for his actions in a 2012 rescue mission in Afghanistan when SEAL Team Six freed Dilip Joseph, an American doctor held hostage by the Taliban. Earlier, I spoke with Sean Naylor. He's the author of "Relentless Strike: The Secret History of Joint Special Operations Command," and I asked him about this mission.

SEAN NAYLOR: This operation happened in Laghman Province, which is east of Kabul. And the SEALs flew in several kilometers away from the compound where Dilip Joseph was being held. This was about three days after he'd been taken prisoner. The first SEAL through the door, Petty Officer First Class Nick Checque, was shot in the head and tragically killed. The next man through the door was Byers. He immediately shot one of the kidnappers, assaulted another one and then dove on Dilip Joseph to shield him from any gunfire because, of course, Byers was wearing body armor, and Joseph was not. By the end of the mission, all the kidnappers had been killed by the SEALs, and Joseph was unharmed.

CORNISH: And it's unusual for us to know kind of this level of detail of these operations. People consider SEAL Team Six to be secretive. Why do you think we're sort of hearing more about SEAL Team Six, not just about their role in killing Osama bin Laden?

NAYLOR: I think that this administration has relied probably even more than the George W. Bush administration on SEAL Team Six and its higher command, joint special operations command. And the administration has made it quite clear that it doesn't favor the deployment of large numbers of U.S. ground troops, and it would rather rely on intelligence operations and/or special operations from the military like the one that we're discussing now to solve as many of its problems as possible.

CORNISH: And for the men who are members of this team, past and present, does it feel like a culture shift for them to be more public?

NAYLOR: Yes. I think if you watch that Navy video that we just heard a clip from, you can see that Byers is quite unused to being interviewed in such a public way. I mean, these are folks whose names are normally kept from the public, whose missions are kept from the public in the vast majority of cases. So he's in a very unusual - and I suspect, for him, quite awkward - situation.

CORNISH: Awkward?

NAYLOR: Yes, definitely because he's coming from an organization whose members are supposed to completely keep out of the public eye, keep their membership in the unit a secret from virtually everybody. And here his is being presented to the nation by the president of the United States.

CORNISH: That's Sean Naylor. He's author of the book "Relentless Strike." Sean Naylor, thank you for coming in to speak with us.

NAYLOR: It's my pleasure. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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