Walk into the EKIA (Enemy Killed In Action) exhibition and you see is a row of VR (virtual reality) headsets hung on a grey textured wall. You step towards the wall and place one of the VR headsets over your eyes.
You find yourself facing the same wall but now it’s nighttime and the wall is colored like aged and cracked stucco. If you raise your hand you see your hand recreated in virtual reality, and when you reach out and touch the wall it feels real. Looking up you can just make out the top of the wall more than six feet above your head. Beyond the wall is a dark moonless sky. You look around and suddenly see that the wall encircles you and you realize you’ve been transported across the world and back in time to May 2nd 2011 and you’re standing in bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
As you take in your surroundings a voice - that of US Navy SEAL - tells you about what was going through his mind en route to the target. His story wraps up as his helo approaches the target area.
Suddenly you experience the deafening roar of two helicopters rapidly descending on the compound. You can’t see them but you’re blasted with rotor wash like they’re right overhead. As your eyes adjust you see one of the helos through the vortex of dust and dirt. It’s dangerously close to the main building. Moving erratically, engines screaming, it’s having difficulty staying airborne. It lurches, careens towards you, passing over your head. There’s a crash as the tail impacts with the top of the wall. You stand and watch as the mission teeters on disaster right in front of you eyes.
Miraculously, the pilot gracefully lowers the nose and the helo comes to a rest face down in the dirt. A group of well-equipped Navy SEAL’s immediately leap from the helo and take up defensive positions. Wearing night vision goggles they appear like otherworldly warriors, but as soon as your vision switches to night sight and you can listen in on their comm’s they become human again: these are our troops - the best in the world - here to do a very specific job.
If you’re expecting an eruption of gunfire, you’re surprised that it doesn’t happen. These are not the SEAL’s of movies, video games and books. These are the real SEAL’s doing their job as only they know how. Everything they do, every move they make, has been rehearsed and choreographed a thousand times. This is a high stakes mission but for the SEAL’s it’s just business as usual. Without being told, every man on the team knows exactly what to do and when to do it. The carefully conceived mission plan died with the helicopter, so now they improvise without missing a beat.
As you see a second stealth helo disappears from view as it lands outside of the compound, the first SEAL team moves cautiously towards a door in the wall - a door that leads to an inner courtyard and - if the intel is correct - bin laden’s residence. All this firepower around you and yet not a single shot has been fired. It’s testament to the skill and precision of the SEAL team that none of the dozen or so children in the compound will be physically harmed. The clock is on but nobody is in a hurry.
The SEAL team methodically breach the door and push on through leaving you alone beside the wreck of the stealth helicopter. You hear dogs barking in the distance, confused voices carried on the breeze as neighbors realize something is going down, someone with a bullhorn warns people in Arabic and English to stay back. You see infrared beams from the SEAL’s automatic rifles cris-crossing over the surface of the villa. A burst of gunfire from an AK-47 is cut short by the SEAL’s returning fire with suppressed weapons.
Just as things are about to heat up, the experience is over and you find yourself safely back in the exhibition space.