The self-examined sniper
When Galen Wilson pulls his trigger, men die. The devout Catholic from Fort Lauderdale has come to terms with it.
By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published July 30, 2006
RAMADI, Iraq - 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 the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
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 5 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 what might be 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 youthful 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 April 16, Wilson says, he saw 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 three-story building just as Wilson got him in his sights, and is a probable death.
Wilson says his skill helps save American troops and Iraqi civilians.
"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."
He was raised in a remote part of the Rocky Mountains outside Colorado Springs. He regularly hunted before moving to Fort Lauderdale as a teen. His brother also serves in the military.
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. He spends hours on rooftop posts, peering out onto rows of abandoned houses from behind piles of sandbags and bulletproof glass cracked by gunfire.
Though Wilson firmly supports the war, he used to wonder how his actions would be received back home.
"At first you definitely double-guess telling your wife, mom, and your friends that you've killed 20 people," Wilson said. "But over time you realize that if they support you ... maybe it'll make them feel that much safer at home."