Shooter: The Autobiography of the Top-Ranked Marine Sniper

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9780312939175: Shooter: The Autobiography of the Top-Ranked Marine Sniper

Marine Sniper Sgt. Jack Coughlin carried his specially designed bolt action rifle―and its nearly magical scope―into a landscape of sandstorms, firefights, and chaos during Operation Iraqi Freedom. As marines charged through the desert and leapfrogged through bizarre, treacherous urban battlefields, Coughlin and his sniper teammate did their job and did it well: One by one, they spotted their targets―up to a half a mile away. And one by one their targets died. Coughlin has more than 60 confirmed kills.

In this extraordinary account from battlefield Iraq, Coughlin tells the story of his own unique war, from stealthy, slowly-unfolding long range kills to unplanned firefights―and how one sniper team adapted and thrived in a battle zone unlike any they faced before...

With vivid portraits of Coughlin's fellow marines and the battles they fought from Al Kut to Baghdad center, SHOOTER takes readers to the frontlines of the war in Iraq and gives a brutally honest account of a man trained to hunt humans, who had the courage to do his deadly job―and live with it once the shooting stopped.

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About the Author:

Gunnery Sgt. Jack Coughlin was the Marine Corps' highest ranked sniper in the Iraq War. He served with the the Third Battalion, Fourth Marines during the drive to Baghdad and has operated on a wide range of assignments in hot spots around the world. He is co-author of the Kyle Swanson Sniper Novels.

Captain Casey S. Kuhlman left the Marines after the Iraq War. He studied at Vanderbilt University Law School, and is now a lawyer and social entrepeneur working in Somaliland.

Donald A. Davis is the author of Lightning Strike: The Secret Mission to Kill Admiral Yamamoto and Avenge Pearl Harbor, and numerous other books, including several New York Times bestsellers. He lives outside Boulder, Colorado.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One
Touch of an Angel

At another time, on another battlefield, my radio call sign had been “Gabriel,“ because the archangel and I have a lot in common. Legend says Gabriel’s trumpet will sound the last judgment. I do the same sort of thing with my rifle.

In 1993, I was the sergeant in charge of a Marine sniper section with Task Force Somalia, and on the evening of January 6, General Jack Klimp barked, “Gabriel, the 10th Mountain CP [command post] says they are under attack. Grab a couple of your boys and go check it out.” I took a three-vehicle convoy bristling with machine guns through the north gate of the Mogadishu stadium, turned right for about thirty yards, then hung a sharp left on the 21 October Road, the main drag through the tattered capital of the famine-gripped country. Resting between my knees was a M82A1A Special Application Scoped Rifle (SASR), a .50 caliber beast of a weapon that weighs more than twenty-eight pounds and fires an armor-piercing incendiary tracer bullet that can punch a big hole through a sheet of steel, and an even bigger hole through flimsy flesh.

Dusk had not yet settled over the city, so the temperature still simmered in the nineties, and children who resembled the walking dead begged for food as we passed. Some three hundred thousand people had already starved to death in Somalia, and many more would die as long as the feuding warlords chose to violently expand their fiefdoms rather than feed and protect their people. When I saw flies crawl on the face of a dead child, it was easy to hate the vicious fighters who were causing such slaughter.

We called the ragtag militia “Skinnies” and “Sammies.” It is natural for a Marine to denigrate the enemy, because it helps dehumanize them. The Germans were “Krauts” in the big wars, the North Koreans and Chinese were “gooks” in Korea, and in Vietnam the enemy was “Charlie.” We had to call them something and didn’t want to think of them as real people, for that might make us hesitate for a fatal moment. The old saying “Know your enemy” does not apply in such cases, for some things are better left unknown.

I had alerted my boys to be ready for a fight because once out of the stadium we never knew if someone would shoot at us. There were always snaps of random gunfire sparking around Mogadishu, but the entire route to the command post of the Army’s 10th Mountain Division, about a hundred yards off the 21 October, was quiet. The gates of the walled compound swung open as we approached, and we were welcomed by a colonel who apparently had been expecting the whole damned Marine Corps to come charging over the hill. Instead, they got me and about ten other guys.

The 10th Mountain, a strong division with thousands of combat troops, was spread out all over and beyond Mogadishu and had left only a few security troops to protect their headquarters, in the heart of a city that seethed with unrest. Nevertheless, other than some chipped plaster on the outside walls, I saw no sign that any dangerous firefight had taken place.

The colonel didn’t know he was dealing with a Marine sergeant, since we never wore rank insignia in combat situations, so he treated me as an equal. He escorted me up to the third floor of the command post building, and I put up a hand to shield my eyes from the glaring sunlight. Only six hundred yards away were three long warehouses that our intelligence sources said were packed to the rafters with weapons of the warlords. As long as the guns stayed inside, there was no problem, but if the militiamen decided to come out and play, they would be more than this group of cooks, bakers, and candlestick makers could handle.

A lot of people were hurrying around those warehouses, busy movement with nothing getting done, for they were not taking things in and out. Every so often, they would steal a glance over at us. Although there had been no more than the occasional harassing shot so far, I believed that these guys were doing more than just passing through the area and that the situation had the potential to worsen. I told the colonel I’d be right back, and my Marines and I sped back to the stadium, racing to beat the approaching darkness.

General Klimp, the commander of the Marines in Task Force Mogadishu, had been receiving similar reports from other intelligence sources, and by the time I got back to the stadium headquarters, his staff was already laying plans for how to deal with the situation brewing around the warehouses.

Ever since arriving at the stadium on the last day of 1992, American forces had been out patrolling the dangerous streets and taking guns away from thugs. The orders were to let them surrender, but dealing with these maniacs one by one was a slow business. Klimp figured that if they were converging on the warehouses, we could bag a bunch at one time, so he gave orders to surround the buildings, not let anyone in or out, and blare a Psy Ops message over loudspeakers throughout the night telling the militias not to fight and to surrender at dawn. With any luck, they would disobey.

Klimp then told me to establish an overwatch position, and I once more hustled my boys back through the streets and back into the 10th Mountain compound. By the time night fell, I was on the roof with three other snipers, a couple of guys with M-60 machine guns, and a forward air controller, known as the FAC, to coordinate helicopter gunship backup when the ground troops moved in at dawn.

I found a spot between an air-conditioner duct and the three-foot-high parapet that surrounded the roof and squeezed into a tight sitting position, my boots and butt making a solid three-point stance, elbows on knees and eye to the 10-power Unertl telescope on the big SASR rifle, which rested on a pad across the parapet. I had a marvelous field of view, and the powerful scope brought everything into such sharp relief that I felt I could reach out and physically touch the men moving around the warehouses. Measuring with our laser range finders, we jotted out green range cards to show the exact distance between us and every building, window, and pile of junk behind which an enemy might hide.

As night finally came about 7:30 p.m., a snipers’ nest manned by some of the best marksmen in the Marines had been created above a potential battlefield. I checked my weapon one more time--one big .50 caliber round in the chamber and five more in my clip--then slipped on my night vision goggles. If something happened, I had no intention of letting it devolve into a fair fight.
Few things in nature are as punishing as an African storm that tries to convert the parched land into a swamp in only a few hours. The scalding heat of the day vanishes in an instant, it is difficult even to breathe because so much water is falling, and the rain chills the bones and rapidly lowers the body temperature. Just such a storm swept in from the Indian Ocean about an hour after nightfall. Our carefully prepared snipers’ “hide” began to feel more like an icy swimming pool, and we took turns going inside to get a cup of hot coffee and stay dry for a few minutes. One of my boys tore the canvas top from a Humvee and ripped it into crude shelters, but there was no real escape from the pounding rain. We were miserable.

Worse, the sheets of rain degraded our night vision goggles and left us blind to what was going on around the warehouses, although we could hear people shouting and motors turning over. The Skinnies were making mischief.

Dawn, the demanded time for surrender, approached. Our missile-carrying Cobra helicopters were inbound, guided by the FAC, who was working the radios beside me. We had not slept at all, and as the rain tapered off, we threw aside the canvas covers and stood to our guns, while our goggles showed blurred images of an incredible scene. A bunch of gunmen were in positions of cover, and the Skinnies had rolled out a couple of T-52 tanks and a big radar-guided antiaircraft weapon, a ZSU-23/4, which had four 23 mm cannons and is known as a “Zeus.” If the choppers arrived on schedule, that thing could blow them out of the sky. “Abort! Abort!” the FAC screamed into his radio handset.

We had wanted a fight, and it looked like we would get one, but we still gave them a final chance to surrender. As the loudspeakers shouted the warning, I heard General Klimp speaking calmly into my headset. “Gabriel, can you take out that Zeus without hurting anybody else?”

“Yes,“ I replied, forgetting to add “sir.” I was curt because I was busy, firmly locked into a rigid sitting-Indian position with my body square behind the rifle, and with my scope sighted on the ammunition feed tray of the ZSU. If ordered, I would disable the big gun. The Cobras had come to a halt and were hovering just behind our building, their rotor blades thudding like a mad drummer. The Zeus gunner heard them, too, and began cranking his weapon up to aim directly over our rooftop position in order to catch the arriving choppers when they popped into view.

As usual, just before combat, life slowed down for me. It is as if a viewer is fast-forwarding a movie and then suddenly clicks to slow motion. My eyesight sharpens; I can hear the slightest sound but can tune it out if it is not important. Even my sense of smell is heightened. I believe that a really good sniper not only has muscle memory developed by years of constant practice but also has some special unknown gene in his body chemistry, because I was operating more on instinct than on training.

I looked carefully past the feed tray and examined the magnified image of the gunner seated between the two pairs of mounted cannons. He wore a dirty T-shirt and some kind of cutoff trousers, with flip-flop sandals on his feet. I had a good lin...

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