Monday, January 25, 2010


The armored vehicle sways and rocks over the uneven ground, pockmarked from years of war. You look around the personnel carrier, seeing men that you met less than a year ago, but are now like brothers to you. It seems weird that it has only been that long; it feels like years. You hear the company commander calling over the radio: “ETA: 5 Minutes”, it feels like just another drill in your subconscious, but you know that it isn’t, you are actually getting into the action now. You hope that you will get blood on your hands. That is of course figurative, the only blood that you will actually see is the Pink Mist when you fire a 7.62mm round into an enemy from over 300 yards away. That is at least what you hope for. It’s a sick thing; that you really WANT to see that fabled Pink Mist that they all talk about back at base. After months of training, it’s all you hope for when you finally get out in the field. But at the same time, you are nervous. One mistake, one little mishap, can ruin the whole mission. It also gets you killed, but that’s not the big deal, you are expendable. And these insurgents are smart; they have been fighting for so many more years than you, possibly before you were even born. You fear this, but they fear you more. You are part of the most powerful fighting force in the world. And you are the tip of the spear, the front of the assault; you do the job that makes the whole rest of the operation possible. This is because you are a United States Marine Scout/Sniper; you are the USMC’s best of the best. And if you f*** up, you’re dead.

And you also have to remember that many of the men you know are also depending on you to break up the mob. Otherwise it overwhelms, and destroys. One of the only things that insurgents have ever been shown to fear is a sniper, and for good reason. Kill one, scare a thousand. That’s what they tell you. Time to find out. Your objective today: cover a infantry team searching for explosive ordinance on a roadside in a hot (active) area. You hope to get a kill, but it’s supposed to be a rather quiet mission. Intelligence said that the group of insurgents that were in this area a few days ago moved south, and we’re coming from the north, so we will probably stay behind them. Intel says that there is a vantage point, or crows nest, on the fourth story of a building at the end of the major street, so you will have a good view all down the street, and on adjacent rooftops, which is where the danger comes from. The personnel carrier drops you off about 100 yards from the building that you are setting up in. you have about 120 pounds of gear between you and your spotter, including your M40A3 standard issue 7.62 rifle, you have your Barrett M82A3 Light Fifty, ammunition for each. Your spotter has his M16A4 rifle fitted with a sniper scope for him to provide support if needed, spotting scope, and ammunition. This is a lot to carry, but load bearing equipment wasn’t invented for nothing. During training you have to go for jogs in the sweltering hot desert with all this gear to get in shape, so you don’t even notice this short walk.

Setting up is a breeze, in training it was rehearsed so many times that you and your spotter are able to do it in about 1 minute. You get behind the M40A3, looking down the 10x power scope. Your spotter gives you general windage and elevation adjustments; he’ll give you single ones for each shot, but these are for any general area in front of you. You twist the externally adjustable turrets on your rifle scope; feeling the grit beneath your fingers. You look through it, you can see the operatives on the ground grouping together and walking a grip search pattern down the road. It seems painfully slow to watch, but you know that you are a vital part of the operation and that if you don’t pay attention, it could mean someone, or yourself, dead. After scanning the street for what seems like hours, but is really only about 20 minutes, you see something abnormally shiny and silver in the sand right by a church. The suns angle made it shine so you could see it. You radio in, you can see the ground crews come together and form a perimeter with remarkable precision in about 30 seconds. That’s the beauty of months of training, everyone works together. As you’re thinking this, you see a vehicle with a weapon mounted on it come out of a side street. Where did he come from?!

Your spotter radios in "We have a visual on a possible hostile vehicle, two men, belt fed machine gun. Permission to engage the target?" The company commander radios back: “Affirmative”. That’s the order you have been waiting for so long. Your spotter calls out the range and windspeed, you make the adjustments. The vehicle is a pickup truck with a belt fed .50 caliber machine gun mounted above the cab, so one man drives, the other stands in the bed of the truck and mans the gun. It’s always safer to take out the enemy with a weapon first, even if it is two harder shots rather than one hard one and one easy one. The vehicle is moving towards you sat a slow 30mph, so it shouldn’t be too hard anyway. You position the crosshairs on the machine gunner’s chest, and wait for your spotter to call it. You take 3 deep breaths and then hold it, that’s the way you were trained to do it. The only thing you are thinking about is the one shot. One shot, one kill. Everything else goes away. You then hear the command “fire, fire, fire”. On the third one, you shoot. The recoil hits your shoulder, and you hear the shot echo around the whole area. Your spotter calls “hit”. And looking again down the scope, you see the Pink Mist that you have waited for so long. In rapid succession you rack the bolt, aim, and fire another round downrange. “Hit”.

All of a sudden, the heat hits you again, you can hear the shouts from soldiers on the ground again. Everything seems to go away when you are making the shot but it comes back instantly. You can see the seat of the truck plastered with red, but its not like you see in movies. They desensitize you to it as much as they can, but when you think about it, you realize that you just took someone else's life. Another human being. You feel it. But you don’t spend time dwelling on it now, you have work to do. Watching the troops on the ground check out the suspected ordinance, you see them pull a small piece of sheet metal out of the ground. Nothing dangerous, and they go back to the search pattern, with you covering the streets to the south, looking to see if any more insurgents will appear. There were about 5 more insurgents on foot throughout the day, and they were hard to hit, as they would run very quickly across the main road between side streets. One stops in the middle to fire a couple shots randomly, and as you put the crosshairs on his chest, he looks right at you. you can can see all his facial features from this short range, and it is a chilling feeling, even in the heat of the day. Then you hear “fire, fire, fire.” And the recoil hits your shoulder, you see the Pink Mist come out of his back, as he falls he has the most horrible look on his face, it’s almost like pleading. The look is haunting, you will take it with you forever.

The patrol has checked out the whole street, they pack up and you cover them. There haven’t been any insurgents for the past hour or so, and no more appear while you are waiting. The ground troops are packed up and move out, you and your spotter pack up in silence and head to the extraction point. The same personnel carrier picks you up as you were in earlier, you barely have time to pull yourself into the back and the drivers take off. They want to get back to base and have dinner. They didn’t kill anyone today, and you had quite possibly saved some of their lives with early interdiction. It feels good, but at the same time, you remember the one mans face before you fired, and the look on his face as he hit the ground in a crumpled heap. It feels like you have blood on your hands, and it doesn’t want to wash off. The one man’s look haunts you. Even dinner and conversation doesn’t cheer you up much. It feels like you are in a dream, a dream that you can’t wake up from. You seem to wake up long enough to hear intelligence radio your company commander, and apparently there is a street 4 klicks to the west of your position earlier in the day that had suspected live ordinance, so the same team was supposed to check it out at sunrise the next day. Time to get 6 hours of rack, and tomorrow it’s the same thing. Ooh-rah.