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It might be the most infamous, and delicious, terrorist compound of the holiday season.
An Army military intelligence officer stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C., revealed on Twitter a series of pictures of “Gingerbottabad” this afternoon, his gingerbread version of Osama bin Laden’s hideout.
Steve — who asked that his full name not be used, “so I don’t limit my career options” — turned four pounds of dough into a scale model of the compound that sheltered bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan, until SEAL Team 6 came for him on May 2, 2011.
“Some people on Twitter said that’s the most delicious sand table ever, and essentially that’s what it is,” said Steve, reached at home on holiday leave.
It took Steve several days to convert his tasty vision into a rudimentary rendering in cookies and icing. He used 63 pieces of gingerbread, two sandwich bags of icing, two candy canes and a few Legos, he said.
He added toy Army men and a model UH-60 for the SEAL team’s crashed Blackhawk, made dirt from crumbled graham crackers and created a courtyard from dyed-green coconut shreds.
“To the east of the main house there’s a garden where I understand [bin Laden] would walk,” Steve said of his coconut patch. “I’m probably going to break up the UH-60 model a little bit for the crash.”
Gingerbottabad is the realization of two national security nerds’ silly, brilliant dream born, where else, on Twitter. Steve, known as @CombatCavScout on Twitter, said last year he trash-talked a gingerbread forward operating base built by his online pal @DoHoBob for a Christmas party. From there, a friendly competition was born — to be judged by a friend, @AnniesPerson.
The competitors abandoned early plans to focus on Benghazi, Libya, where the U.S. diplomatic mission was attacked on Sept. 11, 2012. They’re an irreverent bunch, but turning the site of four American deaths into an edible playhouse still seemed wrong to them.
“That would probably not have had as positive of a response,” said @DoHoBob, a former defense contractor in Houston who asked only to be identified by her first name, Laura.
This is the first baking experience for Steve, a husband and father.
Goaded by his wife (@OutNmbrdByBoys) and aided by his mom’s baking expertise, Steve painstakingly combed the web for open source imagery and diagrams of the Abottabad compound, as well as everything he could find on gingerbread house recipes.
“It almost felt like an operation,” he said. “The research took a few days, I hemmed and hawed for a day or two over the scale and process. The baking took place in one day and all the assembly took place last night.”
He admits to cutting some corners, making the walls a uniform height when bin Laden’s walls were 7 feet here and 18 feet there, he said. He would have had to special-order a scale model chopper so he used a smaller one that was easy to get.
The assembly gave him insights on the compound and the raid, he said.
“You look at where the chopper crashed, where they went on foot, how they landed on the roof, and it’s all really interesting,” he said.
Since posting preliminary pictures Monday night, the cookie compound photos have gotten re-tweets from some of Steve’s national security journalism heroes, CNN’s Jake Tapper, the Guardian’s Spencer Ackerman, blogger Andrew Exum, and Foreign Policy’s Dan Lamothe among them.
“I did not expect it to blow up like this, and I’m pretty amazed its gotten all the attention,” he said. “I just watched my Twitter notifications going and going and going all night.”
Now the doughball’s in @DoHoBob’s court, and Steve is anxiously awaiting the big reveal.
“I fully expect hers to look ten times better than mine,” Steve said. “I just got a jump start.”
Laura told Army Times her construction and engineering experience during the Iraq war give her an edge over Steve. For example, her structures will be made out of perfectly square graham crackers, fixed in place with peanut butter, which she finds more structurally sound than icing.
“Coming from an engineering and structure perspective, graham crackers are already square shaped, and the UBL compound — I pulled up the blueprints — has a pretty straightforward block building,” she said.
Laura acknowledged their early smack talking and hyper-competitiveness quickly turned to mutual respect and collaboration, not to mention the thrilling amount of attention they’ve gotten on Twitter.
His final product, she said, is “incredible,” and it has forced her to hustle. But she still predicts she will take Steve’s cake.
“My structure will be cleaner, and I have experience with this, despite his smack talking,” she said. “I’m a veteran with gingerbread and he’s a newbie. His wife had to teach him how to bake.”