Archive for May, 2010

His name was Jack Ryan. I named him after my and his mother’s favorite Tom Clancy hero. For his mother’s safety, I will not mention his last name. There’s a story to that, but now is not the time to tell it.

He was ten years old. Ten. Still in that Nickelodeon-Disney Channel stage in life. Good grades in school, loved and respected his mother and liked playing PS2 and PC games. He was in the 4th Grade. He had his whole life ahead of him.

But all that changed on May 5th, 2010, when he was cut down by a coward’s bullet. He and his mom went to some town far away from where they lived in Southern Davao and attended a fiesta. All he was doing was crossing the street. There were three of them that got hit. A girl was killed instantly when she took a bullet to the face. A man was wounded in the leg. My son lived for almost 2 more hours before succumbing to the bullet in his chest.

I got the call May 6th around 2 a.m., and a Ranger I used to hang around with was the one who gave me the news. My ex was still in shock and couldn’t talk, so he became the bearer of bad news. The call woke me up.

We Rangers are not in the sugarcoating business. So right away, his first words were, “You’re son’s been shot.” Just like that. He repeated that, and it took about 4 or 5 times  before I finally accepted what had happened. I felt like I’d been shot in the chest while wearing a bulletproof vest. That’s how it feels. It’s pretty much the same thing when you lose a comrade-in-arms. Because they’re like brothers to you. But this was my blood.

And there was nothing I could do. I’m hundreds of miles away. All you can do is accept it, and turn to things that you CAN do something about. If not immediately, then perhaps in the future. Information is your first weapon. Always.

My first question was, “Is he dead?”

“No.” He said.

“Where was he shot?”

“In the chest. No exit wound.” He knew right away to tell me that because in combat when someone gets shot, that’s the first thing you look for once you’ve determined where the bullet-hole is. You look for the exit or entry wound.

My hand involuntarily gripped the phone so hard I thought it was going to crack. Because no exit wound means the bullet expended all of it’s energy inside my son’s body. It’s called “cavitation”. Which translates to a greater chance for internal injuries and hemorrhaging.

And with the nearest hospital about 5 or 6 hours away, instinctively, I just knew. Grown men with bodies conditioned for combat, rarely survive 4 hours on a wound like that. How would a small ten-year old’s body take it? So, like the countless times I have lost friends to death, I resigned myself to the fact: I was never going to see him again.

So on the noon of May 6th, when my phone rang, I already knew what the person on the other end of the line was going to say. And I was right.

He will never graduate from grade school, high school or college. Never know the pains and joys of growing up. Never know a woman’s touch or a woman’s love, along with the bliss and disappointments that come with it. Never experience the mistake of loving the wrong woman, or the euphoria of loving the right one. And I cannot help but think that his being over there in the first place was my fault. Because it was. I made a stupid decision. Long story.

I don’t deserve to whisper his name. I don’t even deserve to hold his coat.

He wanted to be a soldier. And as with all my sons, I discouraged him as much as I could, though subtly. If that was what he wanted, I wouldn’t stop him, or any of them. It’s just that I never wanted for my sons to ever go through what I did. To see the things I’ve seen, and do the things I’ve done. I don’t want to have any of them as my bunk mate in Hell, if there is one. But mainly because I didn’t want them to end up the same way as twenty-six of my friends did: killed in the line of duty. Seeing a flag-draped coffin is one of the saddest sights in the world. Little did I know that it wouldn’t have mattered after all.

Some say I’m taking it well. Maybe. When you lose twenty-six of your buddies you tend to accept death better than most. But it does not in any way lessen the pain. Nor the desire for vengeance.

Because inside, I’m a raging fucking storm.

And what they see is just the eye of it.

What sticks in my craw is the way his life ended. Some dimwit and a bad mix of alcohol, machismo and firearms. He didn’t even have the cajones to just shoot whoever his enemy was in the head or something. No, he had to go out in the street in a drunken rage and fire a 9mm machinepistol.

You see, this is exactly why for me, when people use the excuse, “I was drunk, I didn’t know what I was doing.”, it just doesn’t fly with me. Imagine if being drunk ever became a valid excuse for doing any goddamn thing. You’d have a lot more murderers out there walking around free, getting nothing more than a slap on the wrist. And sooner or later, one of them is gonna end up on your doorstep.

Hell, some people even make it a habit to use that excuse, lame chickenshits.

I’ve been drunk. Lotsa times. But I never killed anyone while under the influence. I never even drew my weapon, not once. Not even during a fight. This is because even before I get drunk, the first and foremost thought in my mind was always: I know what I’m capable of. Everyone I ever killed was done while in a sober, calculating, if not cold-blooded state of mind. Or in the adrenaline rush of combat, face-to-face.

After the shooting, he split. And recently, his family offered my ex blood money. The amount doesn’t matter. It won’t bring him back. I advised my ex to take it. Suing them’s gonna take years to resolve. Besides, taking it improves the chances of him coming back home.

Apparently, this was not the first time he’d ever shot anyone. Just the first time someone ever got killed. It was already a routine for him. And he always came back. This was his home, his comfort zone. And like most predators, the territorial type.

They always come back. That’s the way things are over there.

Which is exactly what I’m counting on.


Letter From A Friend

Posted: May 14, 2010 in Uncategorized

Just wanted to share this letter from an uncle of a lady friend of mine. I haven’t met him, but it hit a spot in me that I thought was gone a long time ago…

To: T/Sgt Ace Castillo
10th Light Reaction (Recon) Company
1st Scout Ranger Regiment

Greetings, T/Sgt Ace Castillo

I am the brother of Jaz’s father. You don’t know me personally, and may not have heard of me, but her father speaks highly of you. I knew your Company Commander. The one you had when you were assigned in Southern Davao. (The one with the limp and the big scar on his chest.)

I have heard the news about your son. Allow me to extend my deepest, sincerest sympathies, my brother. I know how you feel. Fathers should never outlive their sons, right?

We belong to a unique breed, you and I. In no other profession is the practitioner more intimate with Death than ours. Doctors don’t even count. Their profession involves saving lives only. We on the other hand, save lives and take lives.

We’ve seen comrades die. Our brothers die. In some instances, even in our very arms, with their bodies torn and bleeding. And I know that you know that sound when a person expends that last breath before Death takes over. And we have dealt the same kind of death to our enemies. We have spilled the same blood in the same mud.

Though you are no longer in the service, you are never truly “out”. Once a soldier, always a soldier. The attitude is still there. Which is why there is no doubt in my mind that you are holding up well.

You mentioned something your sergeant once said. “We will never see heaven…” No truer words have been spoken. We will never know Heaven. And you might think that you will never see your boy again. I tell you now that you will. And I will tell you why.

Though Heaven’s inner sanctum may be forbidden to men such as us, I want you to remember this: it’s walls are lined with the souls of the warriors who have gone before us. Watching over those who are allowed to enter, much as they did in life. For even in Death, our duty is never done.

So when your time comes, as it inevitably will, you shall take your post on that wall. And you will stand watch over him. For all of eternity.

I know what is in your heart right now. I will have Jaz forward my cellphone number to you. We have friends over there who will be willing and able to “assist” you. If anything needs to be done, then it will be done in the best Ranger tradition: simple, precise, and merciless. If I am correct in reading you, you will contact me.

Forgive me for not putting my name here. You know how it goes.

Again my deepest sympathies, brother. I leave you with the legionaires’ code: Virtus et Honor. Strength and Honor.

I am a sniper…

A loner…
I am not a part of the world…
But merely observe it through my crosshair…
I live by the shadows and die by the shadows…
I am always distant from everything else…
I am fearful by strength…
Invincible by distance…
Being a sniper is the worst thing to be…

Only hell can cleanse what we do…

1993: Somewhere in Southern Mindanao, waiting for the perfect shot...

This post will come in two parts: Alpha and Omega…

Every time the subject of snipers or sniping comes up, whether its through conversations with friends, movies or whatever, it always brings back memories. None of them good.

It’s an entirely different world from close combat. What drew me to it I think,  was the notion of being able to pick off your enemy from long range while staying out of his range at the same time. It seemed safer. It seemed impersonal, because you didn’t have to come face-to-face with your target in a contest of who can bring his weapon to bear first on the enemy. I was so wrong.

When I think about those days, being a sniper for 1st Squad, 1st Platoon (Vikings), there are two instances that immediately come to mind. You always remember the first and last time. They’re the ones that stand out from the rest. The in-between ones don’t matter as much, and don’t ask me how many people I’ve put down in this fashion. One of the things Roy and I were taught in Sniper School was to never to concern yourself too much with your number of kills. Some men become obsessed with it. And it drove them mad.

Besides, even if I did know, I wouldn’t tell you. What for? It’s not important.

It’s okay to count how many during an operation. It’s part of our After-action reports and debriefing, anyway. But once the op is done, what happens in the field stays in the field and you move on. Unfortunately, that is not always the case.

Sometimes, when you try to move on… they follow you.

Time: Unknown
Place: Southern Mindanao

The MILF just broke the ceasefire. Again. Why they even bother with a ceasefire is beyond me, when they can’t even rein in their own people. The critical times are always near the end of Ramadan and during the Christmas season, for some reason.

BIAF troops manning a checkpoint. They wear the same black fatigues as we did. Note the green patch on the right arm. MILF patch (white kris sword on green field).

Roy and I had finished our sniper training in July, but this was the very first time we were going to be deployed as a sniper team, and we were eager to put our new skills to use.

As a sniper team, we would be moving together at all times. Not hard, because we did that anyway even as infantrymen. He was the designated sniper, and I was his spotter. Depending on the mission requirement, I could also be a secondary sniper or provide overwatch (security) for the sniper.

Today, both of us were needed on the firing line.

Sniper School trainess on field exercise.

As the ceasefire collapsed, they sent a battalion (according to Army Intelligence, such as it were) of their BIAF (Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces) fighters into the region. When they say a battalion, that can be anywhere between 500 to about 1,000 troops. And what did we have in this area to counter that large a force? An understrength company of Scout Rangers, a company of regular Army soldiers and about 2 Special Forces 12-man “A-Teams”. And an 8-man Marine Force Recon team with their own two snipers. That’s less than 250 men.

This was a joint operation between regular Army units and SOCOM (Special Operations Command), which meant us, the Special Forces A-Teams, and the team from Marine Force Recon.

So, here were Roy and I, on the side of a hill where we found a nice little spot overlooking the valley. “Prime real estate”, I call it. We had a commanding view of the valley below. This was our sniper’s hide, where we could observe everything but not be seen.

We then proceeded with the time-honored ritual of gearing up. We took out our ghillie suits. These are not bought or issued. You made your own from netting or twine and strips of canvas or burlap, then colored it with spray paint. I added strips from a mop on mine, as well. Good for breaking up that pattern that sets you apart from everything else that’s natural in the surroundings.

Once we were ready, I took out the range finder, pointed it a tree which would serve as our reference point down in the valley. I picked the biggest one then pointed it out to Roy. 425 meters.

This was the fastest route for them, and would take them on a direct path towards  a line of populated areas. That’s at least four towns and villages. Our task was stop them from getting to any of these. Evacuation was already under way, but we had no way of knowing the status. And we’re talking about a total population of about 3,000 or so civilians with nowhere to run. It wouldn’t matter to us anyway. We just had to stop them here.

Looks can be deceiving. Beautiful but insurgent-controlled territory in Southern Mindanao.

Our objective: slow the enemy advance. Buy time. At least for a day or two, until reinforcements arrived. And they won’t be coming in by plane. There’s no airstrip here. Not by helicopter. There weren’t enough in this region to transport a whole battalion. It was going to be by 6X6 trucks, and the nearest Army base (67th Infantry Battalion) was about 100 kilometers away. Okay. It’s not like we can say no, right? Right.

We were however, promised air support in the form of two Huey UH-1 helicopter gunships. But we always tend to take things like that with a grain of salt. The only real support you can rely on is one promised by a fellow Ranger. Everyone else, as far as we were concerned, was lying through their teeth.

I was using an M21. It’s an old M14 but with a new match grade barrel for precision shooting and equipped with a 10x magnification Leupold scope. When you put a scope on an M14, it’s no longer an M14. It’s now an M21. Roy had a Remington M700 bolt-action rifle. Different rifles, same caliber. The 7.62x51mm NATO round.

I remember we started our wait around 0600H (6a.m.) and it was around 1000H (10a.m.)or thereabouts when we started seeing some activity. Roy saw them first.

“I see movement, 11 o’clock.”, he said.

My heart raced. Like I said, we were eager. No fuck-ups allowed. It’s strange when you think about it. Not wanting to fuck up killing another human being. Because that’s exactly what this was gonna be. The selection of some random person, then taking that person’s life. This was not self-defense. Like our instructors told us in the beginning: we live in that gray area between justifiable homicide and cold-blooded murder. It’s the hunting of other men.

I turned to my 11 o’clock, with binoculars at first. There they were. Two at first. Then four, then six. A scout party no doubt, tasked to go ahead of the main body to check out the terrain for enemy troops (us) and ambushes.

We knew that there was a platoon of soldiers positioned on the hillside  directly opposite us. That hill merged with another hill to its left in what is known as a “saddle” (because the formation resembles a horse saddle). The other platoon was about 200 meters below that saddle, right under where Roy and I were, inside the treeline at the bottom of their hill. So that’s one platoon on high ground and another on low ground, hiding in the underbrush and behind trees. They allowed the scouting party to pass without incident. They would be dealt with shortly.

After they passed our hill, the advance elements of the main body started appearing, maybe 100 meters behind them.

I started counting, got to about 80, lost count, then decided “a shitload of bad guys” was as good as any description can get. There was a lot of them. I’d say about 250 more or less. They had divided their force into maybe 2 or 3 groups and this one was walking right into our kill zone.

We were no more than 80 Rangers, Special Forces and Army soldiers in this sector. We were outnumbered 3-to-1. At least. Outnumbered and outgunned. Just as God intended, if He’s up there watching.

I took out my canteen and started pouring water on the ground right under my where the end of my rifle barrel would be. When you fire a high-powered rifle like the M14, it kicks up a cloud of dust and debris that can be visible to anyone with a pair of binoculars. Or  an enemy sniper. It’ll be one of the first things anyone will look for. Dampening the ground with water eliminates this.

Remington M700

I placed my backpack on the ground in front of me and placed my rifle on top of it, using it as my firing platform. My M21, unlike Roy’s M700, did not come equipped with a bipod. I realized that I needed some more elevation so I could aim it properly at the enemy position, but I didn’t have anything to raise it with. I turned to Roy and asked him if he had anything I could use.

He started rummaging through  his pack, withdrew a black, box-like object and threw it my way. As I picked it up, I realized it was a book. Hmmm. I never saw him reading anything other than magazines at the barracks.

When I turned it over to look at the title, it startled me to see in gold letters the words “Holy Bible”. Old Testament. I gave him a look. And he returned it with that “What did I do now?” look of his own.

“Hey.”, he said. “Make do with what you have, eh? Besides, my bitch ex sent me that. I don’t mind.”

Now, I’m no believer. Still ain’t. But there’s just something wrong with this, I thought. During times of intense pressure, I never called on the Big G. They say He helps those who help themselves, so what’s the fuckin’ point? Instead, I turned inwards, to find what’s called that “intestinal fortitude”, the sixth tenet in the Ranger Creed (“Readily will I display the intestinal fortitude required to fight on to the Ranger objective and complete the mission, though I be the lone survivor.”) and that allowed me to carry on, no matter how distatsteful or dangerous the task. Always.

But Roy was right. Make do with what you have.

I shook my head. But inside, it appealed to my sense of irony. I was gonna use a Bible to elevate my rifle so I could kill people more efficiently. And it just had to be the Old Testament version. I loved it. Don’t judge me. Whatever helps do the job, I will use.

Apparently, Roy was using the Bible as a buffer for his backpack. Additional protection against bullets in case he got shot in the back. It was about 3 inches thick, and could probably stop an M-16 round.

We didn’t wear body armor like some soldiers did. Not out of misguided machismo, but if you’ve ever worn body armor in the jungle heat you would understand. 30 pounds of Kevlar armor along with front-and-back steel panels? In this humidity? You’ll die of heatstroke before you even get to the battle.

So I placed the bible on top of my pack, and braced my rifle on top of it. I planted my cheek on the warm wooden stock, lining my eye up to the scope at the prescribed distance of 3 inches. I looked through it at the enemy troops 400+ meters away, to check if I had a good sight picture. Perfect. I sweeped left and right to see if I had a good visual within my 45-degree “kill zone”. I did. Perfect. Now, all we had to do was wait for the proverbial “merde” (shit) to hit the “ventilateur” (fan).

I hate waiting, although I could take it. As I lay there on the ground, I could feel the tension building. It’s like electricity flowing through your veins along with the adrenaline rush. Your senses are super-heightened. I could smell the aroma of earth and grass rising from the ground, entering my nostrils. The oily scent of the camouflage paint I had smeared all over mt face, neck, and hands. And the humidity. Even in December it was still humid in these parts. Absolutely merciless. It made your head float, and you could see the hot air shimmering when you looked through the scope.

Then we heard the deep “chak-chak-chak” chattering of an M60 machinegun down in the valley. Looks like the enemy scouts ran into an ambush. We were supposed to wait for the main body to get down into the valley before we attacked, but the scouts must have gotten too close for comfort to one of the Army positions and the soldiers were forced to open fire.

Like Murphy’s Law stated: no plan ever survives enemy contact. Shit happens.

We could hear the firefight increasing in intensity as they exchanged small-arms and machinegun fire. I swung my rifle back over to where the main enemy force was.

I saw two platoon-size groups of about 25-30 men each break off and deploy themselves in a protective perimeter near the bottom of the saddle in anticipation of an attack. And they did it quickly, too. Veterans.

I felt someone crawl up next to me. It was the sarge. He was also sniper-qualified, but being a squad leader, he couldn’t be both. He had on his own ghillie and a pair of binoculars.

“Goddamn it. It’s started too early. Sonuvabitch.”, he cursed.

I didn’t reply, but kept my eye on my scope. I could see one enemy platoon was setting up a machinegun. That’s when I saw something unexpected. A woman.

They didn’t usually deploy women along with their troops. The MILF had a Women’s Auxilliary Brigade, but they were usually delegated to “home defense”, staying just within their own towns or villages or whatever to defend their homes against military incursions. But never out here in the field. It was common to see female fighters in the NPA, where they were just as fierce as the men, and were given the nom de guerre “Amazons”. In the MILF, women pretty much retained their domestic role. At most, they served as medics.

But this was no medic. I followed her through the scope, and I could see she had an LBV (Load Bearing Vest) on, complete with magazine pouches. No rifle, but there was a pistol strapped to her left-side chest holster. And she was carrying two belts of ammunition for the machinegun the men were setting up. Definitely a combatant.

For the life of me, I will never understand one thing: how come most of them had to be attractive? She was wearing the traditional shawl to cover her head, but even at this distance, I could tell. And young. No more than 24, this one I think. Damn. Then I got a flashback of last week’s raid. The one where Alex got killed, and sarge had dispatched that female sentry. Fuckin’ A.

I scanned along the horizon where most of them were assembled, looking for an HVT (High Value Target). A commander, radioman, or an individual with an RPG or rocket-propelled grenade launcher was what I was hoping to find and make my first “victim”. Sarge too, was scanning with his binocs.

“Castillo, I’ll spot for you. What’s your reference point?” I guided him to the tree I had selected. It was just in between the two hills, almost at the point where they merged. Downslope was all open ground.

“Okay. From that tree, move left about thirty meters.” he said.

“Got it.” I replied.

“Now drop about 60 meters.” I did not like where this was going…

“I’m there, sarge.” And I did not like what I saw. It made my stomach drop.

“Do you see the girl?” My scope was right on the same girl I had spotted earlier.

“Yeah, I got her.” No way. No fuckin’ way was he going to ask me to…

“Wait for her to make her way back to the others up the hill. She has to cross that wide open space. Once she gets to the middle, take her down.”

Shit. His utter ruthlessness was something I always respected but dreaded at the same time. He’s a great mentor, but a very brutal one. He makes you learn things the hard way. Like when he made me waste that kid on New Year’s Day. My first kill. And now this.

I made one attempt. I had to. Without taking my eye off her, I asked him, “Sarge, do you really want me to do this?” He looked right back at me with those stone-cold eyes.

“When she gets to the middle, shoot her. I’m not asking for a kill. But I want her to lose the ability to get back up on her own. Understood? Try not to paralyze her or make it impossible for her to have children. There’s a reason for this. Do it.” Then he just returned to looking through the binoculars as if nothing happened.

Okay. Do it. I put my eye to the scope once more. At 400 meters, the sight picture is crystal clear. You recognize facial features. If I were to see her somewhere else some day, even in a crowd, I would be 100% positive it’s her. I had this thing about faces. I never forget. That’s how clear it was. You can read the print off someone’s shirt even at this range.

She was crouched next to the machinegunner by now, having handed the ammo belts to the assistant gunner. She was talking to them animatedly. This must be her first time in combat. She had that nervous-but-excited aura about her. The longer I looked at her, the more I realized that she was younger than I first figured her to be. She couldn’t have been older than I was, and I was 22 at the time. Goddamn it.

“Take it easy, Corporal. Breathe.” Sarge said in a low tone. The sarge had sensed the moral tension I was feeling right now. Oh, yeah. I forgot to tell you. Roy and I both got promoted after Operation: Red Bull. The lieutenant made us choose between a promotion or a medal. Screw the medal. I was a Corporal now, and Roy was made a PFC (Private 1st Class).

That’s when the girl got up and started walking back. I followed her through the scope, then placed the crosshair a few inches ahead of her. I was aiming for her right hip, just below the waistline of her pants.

When you’re shooting  moving targets, you don’t aim AT them, but ahead of them, otherwise you’re gonna miss. You let them walk into your bullet. The technique is called “leading the target”.

I took a deep breath and held it. Then I slowly exhaled through my teeth. This helped lower my heart rate. Good thing she wasn’t walking too fast. I still had a good lead on her. She was nearing the halfway point. Time for one more deep breath.

Slowly, I disassociated myself from what I was about to do. I was taught to put the situation into some other context. So I imagined her as one of those moving targets on the shooting range that we used to practice with. To me, she was becoming just another silhouette. I was in the zone now. My finger was resting on the trigger, and I slowly added pressure to it, taking up the slack until it would go no further. All that was left would be that last gentle caress. “Like you’re playing with your girl’s nipple.” That was the graphic way instructors described it. She was there. I fired.

My instructor told me that the first sniper shot I would have to fire at another human being would be the loudest I have ever heard in my life. He was right. The crack sounded even much louder than when I was in training. And this was the same rifle I used back then.

My rifle jerked back as if it was alive and went deep into my shoulder pocket, and I lost her in the scope. I tried reacquiring as fast as I could, but the crosshair was jumping all over the place it seemed. Then I heard Sarge’s voice.

“Hit. Nice shooting, Castillo.”

Fuck. Somehow, a part of me hoped I’d missed and she was able to run away. But when I finally found her in my scope again, I saw her down on the ground. When I had fired, her back was to me. Now she was lying face-up.

The 7.62mm hollow-point boattail round was shaped like a boat, thus the name. And just like a boat moving through still water, it leaves a wake behind it as it passes through. A wake of devastation. It’s not the bullet’s entry into flesh that does the damage. What does it is the “wake” itself as the bullet passes through. A shockwave that leaves massive tissue and bone damage. At 2,800 feet per second. It must have spun her around like a top.

She lay there for maybe a good 6 or 7 seconds. She had no idea what had just happened to her. One moment she was walking back to where she had started, and the next she was looking up at the cloudless sky. I could imagine her being in a dream-like state at this point, asking herself, “Where am I? Why am I down on the ground?” I know this now, because a few years later something similar happened to me.

The first human instinct is to get up. I saw her finally raise her head, looking left and right down at her feet. She was disoriented still. Slowly, she tried raising herself on one elbow. It caused her body to bend at the waist as she tried raising herself off the ground.

That’s when the pain hit her. Her face said it all. Her eyes grew wide and her face became an ugly mask of agony as the pain from her hip went shooting up into her brain, almost overloading it with pain messages. I could almost hear her screams from my perch. I could clearly see the extent of her wound, but she couldn’t. The bullet had carved out a large chunk of flesh and for sure shattered her hipbone as well. I could see the piece of fist-sized meat it had taken out almost right by her head. If she turned to the left and looked up she would see it. Mercifully she didn’t. I felt nauseous, like I wanted to puke.

Sarge’s voice broke through my thoughts.

“Are you alright, Castillo?” He asked.


But hey, I’m a pro. I keep shit like that to myself. Besides, there’s no point in voicing it out.

“Good.” He said. “Now, use her as bait. They’ll come for her. Doesn’t matter whether you kill them or not. Just take down as many as you can.”

Then the ruthless logic of it all came to me. That’s why he singled her out. He was exploiting a weakness that almost all men had. I would do anything for any of my squadmates. If any of them got hit, for sure I would run into gunfire to get them back to safety. And they would do the same for me. But within reason. Sometimes, you have to understand that going back out into the open to get your buddy might be counter-productive and you’ll just end up with two downed men instead of one. But what if it were a woman? One of the reasons why they don’t allow women in combat.

It’s not a question of capability. It’s because men can’t make the same kind of calculated, cold-blooded decisions if there’s a woman involved. It’s genetically wired into most of us. You must protect your women. Men will do almost anything to get a woman out of harm’s way. Our enemies were no different. Roy and I were about to put that to the test. It didn’t take long.

Two of the men from the perimeter position were already running towards her. I knew Roy would be taking the one on the right, so I aimed for the one on the left. I heard his rifle crack but I was focused on my target.

I waited for him to get to her. As he bent down to try to drag her to safety, I placed my crosshair on the guy’s right leg and fired. The impact kicked him off his feet as if someone had pulled the rug from under him, and he dropped right next to her.

You’re wondering why I didn’t kill him? Well, I figured since our mission was to slow them down, it could be accomplished better if they had a lot of casualties to worry about.

When you’re moving large groups of men like this, they can only move as fast as their slowest elements. So nobody gets left behind. A lot of wounded guys would get that kind of result. Besides, I didn’t want to kill unless it was absolutely necessary. I’ll save the killshot for some HVT instead. So I started looking for one.

The first to catch my attention was a guy with binoculars standing behind a tree. There were others around him, but they were all crouching. He had a checkered scarf wrapped aroung his neck, a shemagh. I could see his lips moving. Was he giving instructions to a radioman? If so, the radioman was smarter than he was, keeping out of sight. He made a slight turn to his left and ended up looking directly at me. This kind of thing can be disconcerting when it happens, and for sure the hair on the back of my neck stood up. When it does happen, you don’t want to make any sudden movements because he might detect you. So I froze. My crosshair though was planted right on his sternum.

My rilfe was zeroed for 500 meters. Which means the bullet will hit the exact spot where I put the crosshair at 500m. Any less than 500 and the bullet will hit slightly above the cross. The range on this tango was about 410. My bullet would most likely hit him in the neck.

It’s not all just about shooting targets when it comes to sniping. It’s also about how you shoot. We were psychological weapons. Force multipliers. And part of what you do as a sniper is make the thought of fighting a dreadful prospect. You do that by showing them something horrific.

This one I was focused on smelled officer to me. Fearless. Stupid. I raised my aiming point to his neck, right about where his Adam’s Apple would be. He was still looking in my direction. He wasn’t a person. Just a thing that needed to be taken out. Breathe. Hold. Then a final thought: Eat this. I fired.

The bullet probably hit him head-on on the jaw or maybe that point between the nose and upper lip. Because his face just disappeared in an explosion of blood, gore, brains and maybe teeth. The men around him had a front row view of their commander’s head being vaporized and no doubt received a good splashing as well, adding to the psychological trauma. His body did not drop to the ground right away. It just stood there, swaying for about a second or two before finally keeling over on its side. My first confirmed kill.

“Sonofabitch! Now that is shooting, boy. ” It was Sarge. He had seen me make that last shot. I’d forgotten that he was right beside me, engrossed as I was in what I was doing. Somehow, that made me self-conscious. Weird.

“From that last guy you shot, move right 20 and down about 30. Machinegunner.”

“Got him, Sarge.” The gunner was firing his M60 machinegun with an assistant gunner right next to him, ready to feed the next belt.

It was easier now. They were nothing. Like roaches.  Acquire. Fire. I shot him deliberately in the neck so he wouldn’t die instantly. Second confirmed kill. I wasn’t being intentionally cruel. And I wasn’t doing it out of hate or anything like that. It was just psychological warfare. His buddy tried to take over, but I shot him in the right side of his torso. Then I fired another round at the machinegun’s breech, disabling it permanently.

I swept over to where the girl was. I’d almost forgotten about her. There were two fresh bodies a few feet away from her. Roy was a busy bee. She was slowly bleeding to death, I could tell. She wasn’t screaming anymore.

Just as I was thinking that she had had enough and it was time for us to let someone actually get to her, a single shot rang out from the hill opposite ours.

Through the scope I saw her take the round in the chest, and her body jerked as if she’d been kicked. She convulsed for about two seconds, then became still. One of the Marine snipers couldn’t take it anymore and decided to end it mercifully. I felt sorry for the guy, but strangely, I felt nothing for the girl. It was like she had never even existed, as if what had happened was something from a movie. Unreal.

That day ended with two confirmed kills and two possibles for me and about four for Roy with one possible. I missed only twice. The rest of my shots were for wounding only. Yeah, we slowed them down for a day, alright.

And for all that, they gave each of us the Distinguished Conduct Star. As if we were doing this shit for pieces of tin.

I won’t tell you how many times I fired. That would tell you exactly how many of the enemy I shot that day. I’ll only go as far as saying it was in the double digits.

The exact number is between the devil and me.