Marine Sniper does his job in Ramadi

Antonio Castaneda:

He was 5 when he first fired an M-16, his father holding him to brace against the recoil. At 17 he enlisted in the Marine Corps, spurred by the memory of Sept. 11.

Now, 21-year-old Galen Wilson has 20 confirmed kills in four months in Iraq – and another 40 shots that probably killed insurgents. One afternoon the lance corporal downed a man hauling a grenade launcher 5½ football fields away.

Wilson is the designated marksman in a company of Marines based in downtown Ramadi, watching over what Marines call the most dangerous neighborhood in the most dangerous city in the world.

Here, Sunni Arab insurgents are intent on toppling the local government protected by Marines.

Wilson, 5-foot-6 with a soft face, is married and has two children and speaks in a deep, steady monotone.

After two tours in Iraq, his commanders in the 3rd Battalion, 8th Regiment call him a particularly mature Marine, always collected and given to an occasional wry grin.

His composure is regularly tested. Swaths of central and southern Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad, are dominated by insurgents who regularly attack the provincial government headquarters that Marines protect.

During a large-scale attack on Easter Sunday, Wilson says, he spotted six gunmen on a rooftop about 400 yards away. In about 8 seconds he squeezed off five rounds – hitting five gunmen in the head. The sixth man dived off a 3-story building just as Wilson got him in his sights, and counts as a probable death.

“You could tell he didn't know where it was coming from. He just wanted to get away,” Wilson said. Later that day, he said, he killed another insurgent.

Wilson says his skill helps save American troops and Iraqi civilians.

“It doesn't bother me. Obviously, me being a devout Catholic, it's a conflict of interest. Then again, God supported David when he killed Goliath,” Wilson said. “I believe God supports what we do and I've never killed anyone who wasn't carrying a weapon.”

...

Guns have long been part of Wilson's life. His father was a sniper in the Navy SEALS. He remembers first firing a sniper rifle at age 6. By the time he enlisted he had already fired a .50-caliber machine gun.

“My father owned a weapons dealership, so I've been around exotic firearms all my life,” said Wilson, who remembers practicing on pine cones and cans. “My dad would help me hold (an M-16), with the butt on his shoulder, and walk me through the steps of shooting.”

Technically, Wilson is not a sniper – he's an infantryman who also patrols through the span of destroyed buildings that make up downtown Ramadi. But as his unit's designated marksman, he has a sniper rifle. In the heat of day or after midnight, he spends hours on rooftop posts, peering out onto rows of abandoned houses from behind piles of sandbags and bulletproof glass cracked by gunfire.

Sometimes individual gunmen attack, other times dozens. Once Wilson shot an insurgent who was “turkey peeking” – Marine slang for stealing glances at U.S. positions from behind a corner. Later, the distance was measured at 514 meters – 557 yards.

...

There is more. Canstaneda has done a good job of reporting on the some of the interesting troops fighting the enemy in Ramadi. Many of the stories are about Marines like Wilson who are taking on the enemy from prepared postions rather than on a more typical patrol used earlier in the war.

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