Saturday, June 04, 2005

Meeting A Hero

Sipping on a Samuel Adams at the local emporium yesterday when a friend came in—he’s a retired E-8 from Special Forces that I've known for at least ten years. We’ve exchanged a lot of stories over the years, ranging from his early days in Special Forces to his experiences in the Baltic States during more recent post-Cold War development and a lot of stuff in between.

He was accompanied by a young man in desert BDUs, a member of the 10th infantry division, currently stationed near Mosul in Iraq. Travis is the son of the Green Beret and proof that the apple of patriotism doesn’t fall very far from the tree. He had just been picked up at the Colorado Springs airport direct from Baghdad for a three week R&R. When that time is up he'll return to the war for another three months to complete a one-year tour and then return to Ft. Lewis WA. That is, of course, if his unit isn’t extended in-country to compensate for shortfalls in recruiting. He doesn’t know if he’s going to re-enlist, but it’s probable. He would like to shift to a different specialty, however.

Travis is a sniper. The real deal, a direct descendent in the MOS heritage from Carlos Hathcock. Quiet, soft-spoken, somewhat stunned to be back in the world, he doesn’t tell stories but only responds to questions and then in fairly brief statements. He enjoyed his first alcoholic beverage in four months--a Samuel Adams. Needless to say, he couldn't buy a drink in this bar that is frequented by a lot of veterans from a lot of wars. He only had two beers.

He's got the skills. I asked him about his equipment. He carries the M24, a Remington bolt-action in 7.62mm (.308 cal.) and says it's good out to 1000 yards and he's comfortable to 600 yards within a 3" circle. Sniper Rifles
I asked him about the Barrett BMG (.50 cal). Barrett Rifles He says the sniper squad Lt keeps that for his personal use. Surprised me when he said the big gun is accurate only to 3 minutes of angle--meaning the standard is within 3" of point of aim at 100 yards. So, it can reach out to 2500 yards but is only guaranteed to put the shot within a 75" circle at that range. He says it isn't much good for people, but does a nice job on vehicles with an API/HE projectile. He prefers his Remington.

The bar-tender had trouble relating to 1000 yards, so he pointed to a building down the block and asked "how far"--I said 400 yards, drawing on my hunting experience. Travis looked and said 650. I'll defer to his practiced eye. It might account for a missed deer last year.

The hardest part of his job, he says, is finding suitable observation posts. Best are roofs of buildings, but the occupied ones aren't cooperative so he spends a lot of time in bombed out structures. No vegetation or natural concealment around so ghilly suit operation is out of the question. Every household is allowed to retain one AK-47, and he said you will find it readily to hand in every family. They don’t like to disturb the locals unnecessarily and there’s no assurance that an apparently cooperative household won’t tip off the targets rendering their time on station useless. There’s no telling how many more AKs are under the floorboards or buried in the yard.

We’re making slow, but steady progress in the war. One of his brightest days was when he had the opportunity to distribute stuffed animal toys to Iraqi school children. One of the worst was during a high-speed highway run in his squad’s Strykers when he was injured as the trailing vehicle ran into the back of his Stryker during an emergency stop. No Purple Heart, no enemy action. We laughed that he might not yet be qualified to run for President in the future.

On return to the US, he had to go through a customs inspection--handled by the Navy. He said they confiscate everything, much like TSA at your local airport--lighters, nail files, etc. Ditto for Cuban cigars which are readily available in Iraq, but not importable back to the US. I’m not sure whether they suspect terrorist activity from allowing a warrior to sneak a few “puros de Habana” into the country or if it might lead to Clintonian presidential activities. It seems a bit incongruous that the conscientious customs bureaucrat would take away the nail clippers, while leaving the M-16s, full magazines, flares, Randall knives and other accoutrements of war, but rules are rules. I suggested that the customs drill might be to stem a flow of AK-47s into the US. We debated whether it might not be beneficial to remove some of them from the war zone.

Travis wouldn’t be interviewed by any reporters. His story won’t make the Associated Press wires or Wolf Blitzer’s spot on CNN. He’s just a young man, serving his country, doing a very difficult job that many people might not understand. He’s one of hundreds of thousands of young Americans who probably won’t have the benefit of being immortalized by Tom Brokaw as a “greatest generation,” but we can hope he won’t see the deterioration of American support that characterized his father’s return from service. He’s one of many who make me proud of America. I wish him good luck and Godspeed.

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