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At 0300 hours on a cool, quiet morning, Staff Sgt. Harry Martinez and three snipers slip out of the gate of Camp Corregidor on the eastern side of Ramadi, Iraq, and begin to carefully insinuate themselves into the dark and dangerous streets. The little team is officially designated Shadow Four, and they are on the first solo mission of their deployment.
Ramadi is, as one Marine sniper observed, a gunfighter’s paradise for both insurgents and coalition war fighters, a place where killing and dying are part of the daily routine, where the sound of bullets and bombs surprise no one. When you are a sniper in Ramadi, there is no safe time or route to go to work, but three in the morning tends to be a little safer than broad daylight, when the streets are full.
Martinez and his little band of merry men are heading by an indirect route to a house on the northern side of the city, up near No Name Road and Entry Point Five. This particular little neighborhood hasn’t been hunted by the snipers for a while and the word from the S2 (intel) shop is that the local bad guys are getting confident and bold enough to operate openly in daylight. That should mean good hunting for Martinez and his team if they can get into their hide site undetected.
The distance from the compound to the hide site is a half mile or so and would be only a ten-minute stroll in any American city. Here, though, the route Shadow Four takes is indirect, in the shadows, in order to keep their movements unpredictable to the enemy. They sneak through town like deer hunters in the woods, as quietly and unobtrusively as they can. They slip into dark alleys and change course often, always checking to see if they are hunters being hunted—followed on the street, perhaps, or observed from windows or doorways.
All four men are members of the National Guard; the active-duty soldiers call them “weekend warriors,” and that is not a compliment. The part-timers are seldom admired or trusted by the regulars, who consider them ill-trained and equipped, old and out of shape. Martinez, however, is a cop and an FBI-trained SWAT sniper back home in New Jersey. He’s forty—that’s elderly in the active-duty Army—but he is not out of shape, ill trained, or ill equipped.
When Harry Martinez and his unit arrived in Iraq, his parent unit really didn’t know what to do with their snipers—a very common problem for Guard units called up for deployment—and so he and his men were told to go find something useful to occupy themselves and to stay out of the way.
Sgt. Martinez wandered over to where 2nd Battalion, 69th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division’s recon platoon was based, on the other side of Camp Corregidor, and introduced himself to Sgt. Sam “Samuel,”* one of the snipers on Two-Six-nine’s ten-man Shadow Team. Samuel quickly started bringing Martinez up to speed on local operations, on urban sniper ops, on local rules of engagement, on all the big and little topics of interest that a soldier with experience can pass along to a new arrival.
As every soldier and Marine knows, personnel and mission assignments are only done with stacks of paperwork, lots of signatures, all the right initials, proper SOPs, and all the other details carefully observed. That may be the way it is supposed to work during peacetime training, but sometimes during war, and often in places like Ramadi, things are a bit more casual. “Say, Harry,” Sgt. Samuel asked, “we’re going out on an operation tonight—would you and your guys like to go along?”
“Sure!” Martinez said immediately, not believing what he was hearing.
“Have your sniper rifles arrived yet?” Samuel asked.
“No, not yet,” Martinez answered, expecting the M24s to be a requirement for the mission.
“Well, how about your M16s? Do you have your secondary weapons? If you do, that’s good enough—you can provide us some security and learn something at the same time.”
With Martinez’s positive response, Samuel called up the section leader, Staff Sgt. James Gilliland. “Hey, Sgt. G, I have four new snipers from the Guard unit here and they’d like to go along with us tonight. They don’t have their M24s but do have their M16s. What do you think, over?”
“Sweet!” Staff Sgt. Gilliland radioed back, “Tell them to get their gear together and where to show up!”
Very suddenly, less than two days after arriving in Iraq, Martinez and his little team were very busy cleaning their weapons, collecting their gear, and getting ready for a combat operation in deepest, darkest Ramadi and marveling at the casual, confident attitude of Samuel and Gilliland. Welcome to the war, sniper-style!
The Guardsmen showed up on time, took their positions in the order of march (travel sequence), followed directions, and soaked up the lessons of the real world like four sponges. Shortly after sunrise, as if to help with the lesson plan, the insurgents showed up with a car full of bad guys and a trunk full of improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
When the shooting stopped, Martinez had killed three with his M16 and another member of his team had killed two more; the entire enemy team had been killed. The weekend warriors demonstrated that however old or badly trained or ill equipped, they showed excellent discipline under fire and could put steel on target. Although they were officially assigned to another unit, the Guardsmen happily found themselves chopped, or temporarily assigned, to Gilliland’s section, where they became Shadow Four. For the next few weeks, Martinez and company tagged along with the Two-Six-nine snipers, learning their trade and becoming journeymen combat soldiers. Then, at last, the training wheels were off and they had a mission to execute all by themselves.
As before, they prepared by studying maps, talking to the Intel section, and reading reports from previous patrols. They selected a hide site in advance, planned the route, and executed the infiltration in the early hours when Ramadi was under curfew and asleep.
Shadow Four approaches their objective about 0400, an hour after leaving the gate. The door to the building is chained shut; they cut the chain, slip inside, and lock it again with a lock of their own. Other snipers have used this place before, but not recently. After a careful check of the building for booby traps or waiting enemies, they set up their weapons, spotting scopes, radios, and packs as daylight comes to Iraq and the city begins to wake up. Their observation post (OP) is now ready. Martinez checks in with his unit’s tactical operations center (TOC) and reports that they are in position and beginning to execute their sniper mission.
Around daybreak, Martinez, who had been on the gun for a while, trades off with his spotter, Spc. Jarrod York. Before going off for a nap, Martinez says, “Listen, York, about seven or eight, they are going to come out and hit this place with an IED, so be extra alert!”
York tucks himself behind the M24 and begins to scan the streets and rooftops of the gritty neighborhood through a small hole in the wall, virtually invisible from the road below. Around 0700, just as the city is coming to life, York notices a man ride into his sector on a bicycle. Many men ride bicycles in Iraq, and many men carry backpacks, but this man seems nervous and uncertain, and that gets the sniper’s attention. York watches as the man looks around, apparently scouting the location. You can’t shoot a guy for looking at the side of the road, but you can keep an eye on him.
Beside the road is a pile of dirt about five feet high, and the man on the bike seems to take particular interest in this dirt. He rides off, turns around, comes back, and gets off his bike. Jarrod watches him extract from his backpack a mortar round fused and prepared as a remote-controlled bomb, an IED. The man begins burying the device in the dirt. You can shoot a man for planting an IED, and that is exactly what York intends to do. But rather than make a snap shot, he wants to make sure the insurgent won’t escape. York calls to Rick Taylor, another sniper nearby, “Taylor, get in here! There’s a guy planting an IED in the road—let’s do a volley fire on him!”
By the time the two make their plan, the man has finished placing the IED and is getting back on his bike. York fires, hitting the man in the chest. The man falls to the road, his legs still around the bike, and is still.
Martinez runs up the steps and uses the spotting scope to study the man on the ground. Not much blood is visible; he appears to be dead. There is a quick discussion of what to do next—pull out or stick around? Martinez decides to stick around, use the man on the bike as bait, and see if there is anything else to catch.
Snipers are among the most patient war fighters on the battlefield, and Shadow Four waits quietly in its hide to see if any of the insurgent’s buddies will come along to check up on him. It takes an hour for somebody to get the word back to Bad Guy Headquarters, but at last two vehicles arrive—the local insurgent’s casualty evacuation team, ready to recover their comrade and to get the IED back, too, if they can.
The first vehicle is a taxi. It makes a careful approach from the south, slowing as it passes the fallen man, then makes a quick U-turn. “That taxi is coming back!” Taylor yells.
At the same time, another vehicle approaches the fallen man, but Sgt. Martinez’s attention is fixed on the taxi and he doesn’t even hear Taylor’s report. A man gets out and tries to pick up the fallen insurgent, who is still somehow alive. He and the man from the taxi have a quick conversation, and the man points to the south, apparently the direction from which he thought he was shot. Martinez now recognizes that both are part of the IED emplacement team, and they are attempting to evacuate their casualty and locate the American sniper team. The second vehicle pulls up from the opposite direction and stops alongside the first car. The vehicles mask the fallen man, protecting both insurgents from direct fire.
“Engage!” Martinez commands. “Select targets and engage!”
Martinez grabs his secondary weapon, an M16A4, and runs to a window. As the shooting starts, the insurgents in the cars fire their weapons from inside the vehicles. Not knowing where the fire is coming from, they cut loose in all directions, a final and futile gesture. The second vehicle zooms off, leaving its passenger—the man who had gotten out to collect the casualty—stranded in the street. Martinez selects this man standing in the road and methodically pumps bullets into him. The wounded insurgent is hit in the leg but manages to hobble to the far side of the road. He takes cover behind a wall but pops up his head every few seconds to look around.
Rick Taylor and Joey Bennett, the fourth sniper, use their M16s to put suppressive fire on the surviving vehicle, and it spins out of control before rolling right toward the front of the building where Shadow Four is hiding.
Martinez realizes that the excitement and adrenalin of the moment are overcoming him. Trained for such situations at the FBI sniper academy, he takes a few seconds to breathe deeply and get his heart rate under control. Then he yells to his spotter, “York, that guy is going to pop up again—when he does, we’re going to shoot him!” Seconds later, the head pops up again. Martinez has the red dot of his sight on the spot, where he expects him to appear, and the man unknowingly places his head in perfect alignment with the weapon. Martinez and York fire simultaneously, and the man’s head snaps back as he squeals and drops out of sight.
By now the second car has managed to get under cover only a few feet from the room where the snipers are shooting. A solid concrete wall and metal gate protect the vehicle and its occupants from Shadow Four’s rifles. Now the insurgents are almost on top of the team and can, if they decide to, breach the wall protecting Shadow. Bennett calls, “Harry, can I throw the hand grenades?”
“Throw them! Throw them, damn it!” Martinez yells.
Bennett quickly lobs two M67 frags (fragmentation grenades) over the wall, one landing on the far side of the street and the other on the median, but both close to the vehicle, which is now just inches from the front gate of the hide site and still protected by its cover. Martinez sees the passenger dismount about the time Bennett’s second grenade lands on the street. The insurgents below still don’t know who is shooting at them or from where. They are shocked and confused. As the second grenade detonates, the man in the street is hit by its fragments and the snipers hear him scream, as Martinez later describes it, like a little girl.
Martinez, realizing that the surviving insurgents are still a threat and anticipating an attack by the pair, takes one of his own grenades, pulls the pin, and throws it high in the air, hoping to have it land just beyond the wall where the pair has taken cover. Instead, it lands on the wrong side of the wall and explodes, adding a bit more adrenaline and excitement to the moment.
“We’re in heavy contact!” Martinez reports by radio to his TOC. He makes a quick spot report while the other snipers continue to deliver accurate, disciplined fire on the enemy, now only twenty meters away. Then he runs down to the ground floor and gives the team’s security element (other soldiers, not snipers, who are along to guard the team) a quick briefing while the other three keep shooting.
“There are still two insurgents out there on the other side of the wall,” Martinez tells the security team leader, a sergeant.
“Okay, we’re going to go out there and kill them!” the sergeant answers.
“All right,” Martinez says. “We will support you from the roof while you make your approach.” The sergeant and one of his riflemen move to the gate. The rifleman makes several deliberate shots through an opening between the gate and the courtyard wall, then hoses the vehicle and finally sends another M67 over the wall. The grenade kills the remaining two members of the IED team.
With the fight apparently over, it is time to leave. Martinez expects the quick reaction force (QRF) and their Bradleys to roll up any moment, ready to give the snipers and security team a ride home in armored comfort. They all pick up their gear and move downstairs to the courtyard, anxious to catch the bus back to camp.
The team pops smoke to cover their withdrawal and Martinez opens the gate to the street, leading the way out. But the quick reaction force has not reacted yet—there are no Bradleys in sight! Another sniper team has been overwatching them and their leader calls up, “Get back in the house! There are still guys on the street trying to kill you!” The teams move back inside the house, take up fighting positions, and wait.
After thirty tense minutes, the Bradleys and the QRF can be heard rolling into the area, but the commander of the QRF doesn’t want to bring his vehicles into the immediate battle area and they stop about two hundred meters away. The snipers and security team will have to make a run for them.
Again Martinez opens the gate and leads the way into the street. Not far away, between them and the Bradleys, is the man who placed the IED. Martinez approaches the body, moving quickly but alert for hostile action. It comes from an unexpected place—the man on the bike, who had placed the IED, sits up as the sergeant approaches.
He reaches under his shirt for something, looks Martinez in the eye, and calls out, “Mister!”
Thinking that he is about to trigger the IED or pull out a weapon, Martinez pumps several quick shots into his chest from a range of three feet. The man on the bike falls back to the street as Martinez runs past.
As Shadow Four scrambles toward safety, it is their turn to be engaged. Heavy machine-gun fire from an unseen insurgent weapon begins to pepper the street. Two of the security team find a target, part of the IED emplacement team providing support, and they pause long enough to engage the enemy with their weapons and quickly win their part of the fight. The Bradleys open up with their machine guns in response while the Americans dash across the street and up the open ramps of the armored vehicles to safety.
This is one sniper mission by one team in one place at one time. A very few rounds of ammunition have been expended, one insurgent IED emplacement team has been slain, one message has been delivered to the enemy in Ramadi. It is a little victory that will never be reported on CNN or in The New York Times, by warriors who are almost invisible and almost anonymous even within their battalion and brigade. But little missions like Shadow Four’s are, with variations, being repeated all over what war fighters today call their battle space, and the cumulative effect is profound.
Sniper operations, weapons, and missions have become a critical part of modern combat. The chapters that follow are a report on current doctrine, training, weapons, and execution of real-world sniper missions, often in the voice of real-world snipers. At a time when a very tiny percentage of military personnel ever actually see an enemy combatant, the snipers whose voices are presented in this book have (with one exception) methodically slain dozens of enemy personnel. Their weapons and tactics are not new, but they are perhaps the most feared and respected by enemy soldiers.
Copyright © 2008 by Hans Halberstadt. All rights reserved.