When I was 18, I (along with every other 18 year old American male) had to register for the US Army. It was a formality of sorts…No one really gets drafted anymore, and I was pretty sure that I would be of no use to the Army…that is unless they needed help with iTunes or picking uniform colors. But it was the law and I registered even though the thought of going to war scared the shit out of me. It doesn’t matter how much I love this country, I would not be a good soldier….
This installment of Undercover Interview is with a Marine sniper who not only went to combat, but offered up his services a second time in Iraq after he had left the Marines because he “wanted to fucking kill people.” I don’t judge, I just ask the questions…..and the answers are insane. Enjoy.
Undercover Interview- I Was a Sniper
So what was your job?
Scout Sniper, team leader.
Whats that exactly?
Its basically battalion reconnaissance….I guess you don’t know what that means?
I have no idea what that means.
OK. In layman’s terms we go out in support of companies in two or four man teams to do missions for that company, whether its sniper missions or observation missions or sometimes they’ll drop us out ahead of time to scout the area before they come in and do a raid.
How long did it take you to become a sniper?
To be a school-trained sniper it took about 2 years.
Was it something you wanted to do when you first joined the Marines?
No. I didn’t know about snipers at all. I was actually a machine gunner first, and one day I was out sitting on my pack like a drone like everyone else just doing what everyone else does, and I saw a group of four guys walk right up to the colonel and were basically bullshitting with him. They had kick-ass gear, and they were wearing Gilly suits which are the bush looking suits that you wear to hide. They carried themselves differently, and I was like “Fuckin’ A…who are those guys?” They were like rock stars.
So what does it take to become a sniper?
First you have to try out for the In-Doc (indoctrination) which was two weeks long. I did mine in Japan when I was deployed there. The first week is basically hell where they basically thrash the shit out of you non-stop. You’ve got to run around with a pack full of sand everywhere you go. They break you down physically while giving you classes on ballistics, on stocking, on different traits you need to have as a sniper, and then they test you on that to see how much knowledge you retain under no sleep, and exhaustion. The second week you apply those skills in the field where they give you mock sniper missions with the actual snipers who are currently in the platoon. They run them like they’re the enemy, and you have to observe them while they’re looking for you. That’s basically training for the real thing, and they see how well you do.
Was it hard to become a sniper?
You have to be in good shape even to try out to be a sniper. There might be 60 people who try out, and probably 30 quit within the first 24 hours.
Got any crazy stories?
One thing is SERE school. It stands for Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape. You can go through SERE once you get into the scout sniper platoon. You don’t have to be a sniper yet, but its part of the training you should go to if you’re a sniper. SERE training consists of torturing you…they torture you through different methods, they starve you, and they lock you in a little cement box. You actually have to sign a waiver at the beginning of the course saying that you won’t hold them responsible for any physical damage done to yourself. Like my partner got his nose broken….they lock you in a footlocker for four hours, and then they pull you out and you can’t stand up because your legs are numb. You want to kill yourself by the time you get out of that fucking thing. They come by and beat on the locker with a bat every couple minutes to make sure that you’re not falling asleep, and just to stress you out.
Whats the purpose of it?
The purpose is to stress you out. They hit you and they make you do push-ups. The worst thing that I ever experienced in SERE school was the waterboard. Only 5-10% of SERE school students did it…they called it the water torture device. That’s where they strap you down on a declined board and they pour water in your mouth.
To simulate that you’re drowning?
Yeah. They drown you. They DO drown you. I thought, “they’re not going to kill me…this is training, right?” I was fighting and choking and swallowing water for a minute or two, and then I acted like I passed out to get them to stop pouring water. In the meantime they’re asking me questions like “Where did you helicopter land?” “How many are in your group?” “Where were you going?” “What are you doing in our country?”..its all simulated like you’re in another country. I’m thinking that they’re going to stop doing this, but they don’t. They just keep pouring the water. I couldn’t hold my breath any longer and I started inhaling water. I freaked out….I’ve never freaked out worse in my life. I ripped a leather strap off the board, and then pulled the cloth off my face, turned my head to grasp some air, and then five guys jumped on me. They kept holding me down pouring water in my mouth. I was choking, and I though I was dying….I FELT like I was dying. At that point I would have probably told them where my mother lived. It sucked so bad (laughs).
Was that the worst part of training?
The worst part for me was when I was doing this training mission in Arizona in these rocky hills in Yuma, and I almost got shot by a Cobra helicopter. It was nighttime, and a training mission mind you. I had an infrared strobe that I was trying to signal the helicopter with, but instead they shot at a target that was behind me. Huge frickin’ 40 millimeter bullets just zipped past me at chest level just an arms length away. I could feel the concussion of the guns going off. I dropped to the ground and crawled out of there. I had to run back to the point where I was supposed to get picked up to take me out of there. I only had 30 minutes to cover a mile of rocky hills, so I was basically sprinting on rocks, falling every three steps. I had bloody knees and hands from falling. It was just a fucking nightmare mission.
Where were you a sniper?
I was a sniper in Iraq. I graduated from sniper school in (Location Withheld), and I spent about 2 and a half years in the unit in California, and then I got out of the Marines to go to school. While in school I found out that the unit I had just left went to Iraq, so I was fucking pissed off…I had heard of buddies getting killed. One of my best friends got his hand blown off, and I was just fucking pissed. I didn’t spend years of hell training to be a sniper, and then not get to do shit. I talked to a couple Marine buddies of mine. They found a unit that needed sniper team leaders, and they let me go over to Iraq with the unit, but not necessarily under a contract. Just sort of like a handshake with the colonel.
So you weren’t asked to go to Iraq, you offered up your services?
They asked me to go as a platoon sergeant and I declined because that wasn’t what I did. I was a sniper.
Did you going to Iraq have anything to do with patriotism?
I’d like to say patriotism, but no…I just wanted to fucking kill people.
You just wanted to kill people?
Did the other snipers feel the same way?
Are you trained to want to kill people?
Yes. The whole goal of a sniper is to kill people. The big thing in the community, and especially if you talk to a sniper who has been in combat is to ask “How many kills do you have?”. That’s the first questions a sniper asks another sniper that’s been in combat. If you answer zero, you feel ashamed.
So you’ll get no respect if you have zero kills?
Not no respect, but you’re not a real sniper. I don’t want to take away from snipers who don’t get kills because that might depend on where they go, but for the most part if you’re a sniper and you have the chance, you want to have kills.
It almost sounds like you treat it like a video game.
So is killing someone a big deal?
No. Its like shooting a paper target.
So how many kills do you have then?
I have two for sure, and a lot of possible kills. A lot of times where I’d shoot at moving vehicles that were going by, or people getting into vehicles, or see someone in a window, and not be able to go and check to see if that person was dead or not. It would be night, and I would bet that I killed that person, but I can’t say for sure. Who knows…I may have shot him in the shoulder, he might have crawled away and his buddies got him. Could have been more….
Tell me about your first kill.
It was after the terrorists in the region took over the city that we were outside of, and they killed a bunch of the police officers and a bunch of innocent bystanders. They killed a bunch of people and took over the police stations, took over a city of 200,000 people. The Marines came to take the city over to give it back to the Iraqi government. My job was to assist with that. So they dropped us in….
What do you mean “dropped in”?
We rode in on a big 5 ton truck with the infantry Marines that were going to go plus me, my sniper team, and another sniper team. This was along the Euphrates River. My team was going to set up south of the bridge, the other team was going to set up north of the bridge. We were supposed to look across the city while the infantry guys set up to block the bridge off. After they blocked the bridge off the tanks and all that shit were gonna come and sweep through the city, and we were going to be there in case any terrorists tried to flee the city. But they were expecting us when this happened, so just as my team was getting in position the infantry Marines had moved up to the bridge before we gave them the green light to go and from that side of the river we started to get fire from everywhere. They were dropping mortars on us, we could see machine gun tracers flying down and just tagging the hummer. The Marines are screaming into the mic “Snipers take the shot!” I was crawling up on this rooftop when the shit started kicking off, so I saw a couple people. I was able to view into the city, and I was able to see people moving around. About 500 yards away I saw this guy dressed in all black come out into the middle of the street with an RPG.
A fucking rocket launcher. He was about ready to fire at us. As soon as I saw him run out I was like “oh fuck yeah…here’s my kill…this is going to be my first kill”. Before I took the shot I had to take all the composure I had to remain calm and take the shot. I centered my cross hairs on this dudes chest, and pulled the trigger, and the fucking guy dropped on his back. Honestly, I was elated. I was happy…REALLY happy.
So does your conscience ever kick in like “he’s got kids of a wife?”
Everyone’s got to die sometime, you know? If he shot that rocket across that river and shot one of my friends that had a wife and kids, that’s what matters to me. Not this guy. I don’t know this guy. He was trying to kill us. I never shot anyone who was not trying to kill us. I could have, and some snipers did.
Were there any lives that you saved….people that you had in your cross hairs but didn’t shoot?
Yes. A couple times. There were certain areas where we would watch and there was a high probability that they set IED’s along this strip of road, and we would be watching a certain area. If a car stopped in that area, we could fire on it upon discretion of the team leader. There was this car that stopped, and this guy got out and went beside his car. My partner wanted to shoot the guy, and I was like “hold on, hold on”. This guy looks legit…because everyone out there looks the same. They (the terrorists) don’t wear uniforms or anything like that. I had a feeling, and I didn’t want to shoot this guy for no fucking reason. Turns out that the guy had got a flat tire. Once we got the spotting scope out we were able to look in detail. The guy just happened to get a flat tire right where he shouldn’t have. If we wanted to, we could have shot him, and no one would have asked a question. No one would have said anything to us. It would have been like “you shot someone…ok. Turns out he wasn’t a bad guy. Oh well.’
So lets say you did shoot him, and you found out later he was just changing his tire. How would you feel after that?
I’d feel bad, but I wouldn’t dwell on it.
How far away can you shoot somebody right between the eyes?
Between the eyes…it depends on a lot of things. The hardest thing about being a sniper is not how steady you can hold a rifle with the cross hairs on the target, its taking all the elements into perspective. You have to judge the speed of the wind, you have to judge the temperature, the angle.
Whats the farthest you can shoot?
In school we learned to get headshots at 1000 yards. Not between the eyes, just a headshot.
What was the worst thing you saw when you were in Iraq?
The state of the country.
What about something more specific like someone getting their head blown off?
Hmm…most of the people that got their head blown off were bad people, so I didn’t give a fuck about them. The shitty thing is when we lay out a city block because there’s a weapons cache somewhere, and all the people in the surrounding blocks have fucking bricks thrown through their living room. That sucks.
Has technology changed war? I imagine that 40 years ago no one was on twitter saying “I just got my first kill.”
I was the only one in my platoon with an iPod. I started taking my iPod out on missions because as a sniper you go 50%. One sniper is always on, and the other sniper can sleep, jerk off, or do whatever the fuck he wants to do. I would just fucking rock out with my iPod. This one time I was out on a mission with my four-man team, and it was my time to sleep. I was laying down in my sleeping bag in this little fucking beat up house that we were occupying and just loving life. I was listening to Wilco, and all of a sudden I just fucking wake up to this explosion that rocks the house. Apparently a fucking bomb went off down the roadway and my partner didn’t see it. I was fucking pissed.
Tell me about the second guy you killed.
I saw him standing by this building, and I didn’t see a weapon on him, he just looked shady. I just had my scope looking at him. I was just praying that he would fuck up so I could shoot him. You know?…just give me a reason. He runs across the street, and as he does I see he that he had a fucking AK in his hand. I was like “fuck no…this guy is going to die”. He runs behind this building, and I’m thinking that he’s going to come back around this building. So I put my cross hairs on the edge of the building where he ran behind, and I just sat there and waited, and waited, and waited. 5 or 10 minutes went by as I stared through the scope at this one spot on this one building waiting for this guy to come around. I knew this guy was going to come around, I just didn’t know when. It felt like an eternity. All of a sudden I look and see him pop his head out to look down the river. I’m like “the next time this guy fucking pops his head out I’m going to fucking blast him.” He walks around the corner really quick and starts scaling the building, and I just put my cross hairs right in front of him, pulled the trigger and fucking splattered that dude against the wall.
Was it a good feeling?
It was a great feeling. The best part of it was that I was laughing as he was peeking around the corner because I was like “ this fucking guy doesn’t think I see him. This guy thinks no one sees him.” I’m like “I see you motherfucker, and I’m going to shoot your ass.” I was like “Come out, come out. Its done for you.”
I guess that you now know how precious life can be, that it can be gone at any second. Since you’ve come back, do you have a different outlook on life?
I don’t know how to say this, but I feel more of a “mans man” now, and part of that comes from my father and my grandfather both served in the Marines, and both killed people. Before I went to Iraq my dad wouldn’t tell me stories about how he fucking killed people in Vietnam. Now I can trade stories with my dad about how we killed people.
Is your dad proud of you now that you’ve got two kills?
Do you still have that sniper instinct when you’re back here walking on the street?
Do you think looking through the scope, like “I could kill that guy”?
Yeah. I’ll be looking out my 5-story window downtown, and I’m like “I could probably shoot that guy in his left ear.”
You were telling me about those desensitizing videos before.
Yeah…part of the training to be a sniper is to desensitize you to death. Before a lot of our classes they’d play a couple of gruesome murder videos of people getting their fucking heads cut off, or being gutted alive. Fucked to death with a knife. It made Faces of Death look like Sponge Bob.
Did it work?
A little bit I guess. I guess you get so use to blood and pain that it almost seems normal. It almost seems normal so you think if you were going to center your cross hairs on somebody and split ‘em open it wouldn’t be that big of a deal because you’ve seen it a hundred times in these videos. It makes it seem likes its not a big deal.
If you had the opportunity to go back to Iraq today with guaranteed kills…
Guaranteed kills? Sign me the fuck up! I’m gone!