This article is written by my friend Dave Nielsen. Dave served in the Ranger Regiment and then became a Special Missions Operator. He also served as a Sniper.
Foreword: In sniper training, the dialogue between sniper team members –
the shooter and spotter – is formatted and purposeful. The spotter, usually the
senior of the two, has held the job of shooter. He is the team leader, makes
decisions, provides security for the shooter who is occupied, and maintains
communication with the others. The others, the rest of the platoon may be on the
next hilltop over; they could be hours away by helicopter. It doesn’t matter; the
sniper team is alone for days at a time.
Sniper Dialogue is the two-way exchange of vital information between
teammates. It is the spotter walking the shooter onto a target maybe a mile away. It
is the shooter reporting observations (for hours or days at a time) to the spotter, up
to the others. Sometimes, though, it’s just banter between brothers. Necessary but
not reported, the chat can get philosophical, bickering, tragi-comic, or just hilarious.
Below is just one of many such dialogues.
Act I Scene I
Jessica Lynch mission, Iraq 2003
S1: So much for a good fight; what’d we each shoot, once? No other positions shot
that I heard.
S2: I drilled that guy in the window though. He was shooting and then disappeared
right when I shot. You think I hit him?
S1: Do you think you hit him?
S2: My crosshairs were on his upper chest, I pulled clean on the trigger. It’s not
even 200 meters. I wonder if I hit him, he disappeared right after the round cracked.
My night vision to scope mount is boogered up again. I couldn’t miss at this range,
S1: I think he’s dead. Oh my God, what is that smell? (sound of men throwing up at
the base of building the snipers are on top of).
Radio traffic: PC secure, moving to exfill LZ. All elements prepare to evacuate.
Roger. BREAK BREAK BREAK. Gravesites located, all elements remain on target. Air
elements push out to FARP. Translation: Assault force has Lynch, let’s leave.
Everyone move back to the vehicle you came in on or helicopter landing zone
briefed in the plan. WAIT A MINUTE- EVERYONE SHUT UP – we found the 9
Americans that went missing with Lynch and are Missing in Action. We’re going to
dig them up. Helicopters move to refueling point and await call to pick us up.
S2: Whoa, they found the bodies.
Radio traffic: (an hour into the recovery. Radio etiquette and protocol gone)
Roger sir, we’re almost done. We need to rotate guys out sir, my guys are sick and
most of our E-tools (collapsible military shovels) are broken.
Have them drink water and take a break Sergeant Fader.
Sir we’ve done that and BLAAAAAAEECH. We’ve done that sir HUUUUUPH.
Spit. We’re all throwing up sir, can we rotate our guys out?
I thought you said they were shallow graves Sergeant Fader.
Then what’s the problem, can you finish up? We have to get out of here.
Sir we.. FUCK sir we need more E-tools, they’re all broken. Everyone is
Understood Sergeant Fader. You have 9 bodies, correct? How many are
bagged and ready for exfil?
I’d say... I think... 7, wait.. 8 heads or heads with upper bodies. Their eyes are
coming out sir...
We have 9 heads and torsos now and most of the parts. Just get us some
fucking shovels. Please. Sir.
Sergeant Fader how close to recovery complete, over...
Sergeant Fader how close to recovery complete, over...
S2: They’re crawling around on the ground throwing up. I want to go give them my
water ok? Fader’s the man. BLAAAACH. Spit.
S1: Go. Help em dig too, then come switch out with me. Fader is the fucking man.
Fader, are you done yet Fader. Fader, I need to know when you’ll be done. Did
you get the shovels?
How about when we’re fucking done Sir. How about we leave when we’re done.
BLAAACH. Spit. No we didn’t get the shovels. The guys are digging with their hands.
We’re almost done. We’re getting everything we can but guts are spilling out. Limbs
fall off when we try to pull them out of the graves.
S1 is retired, working in the civilian world and speaking with a friend. S2 still active
duty. A decade of war and hundreds of missions later, the sniper dialogue has become
the unconscious: the repeating dream. It’s the voice in the head; the sniper dialogue
takes its directors chair deep in the soul.
CIVILIAN FRIEND: Jessica Lynch; was that even a thing? Did it even happen? I
heard it was nothing but a media event. None of our force were killed on that
S1: None of us were killed on the mission.
FRIEND: Wow. What a cover-up. The media says they feel duped, that it wasn’t a
real rescue mission.
FRIEND: Wow what?
S1: Nothing. It’s not a cover-up; forget it. The more I try to explain this stuff the
worse it gets. But I have to try, or this will drive me insane.
Do you remember when Greg was killed in our senior year of high school?
FRIEND: Of course bro. What’s that got to do with Jessica Lynch?
S1: Nothing. And everything. Remember Greg’s parents for the week it took to find
FRIEND: Oh God. They were hysterical. Inconsolable.
S1: Remember his parents after they found him and buried him?
FRIEND: Sad but at peace. Yeah, what a difference – all the difference in the world.
But Jessica Lynch lived, right? What am I missing?
S1: The 9 dead soldiers we brought home. Their missing bodies. We recovered
S1: The 9 dead soldiers we brought..
FRIEND: I heard you, but I didn’t hear about this. All the media talked about was
how the military made it out to be a heroic rescue mission, but that it was
overhyped. How did you recover the bodies?! How long had they been dead? Who
were they? Why don’t people know about this??
S1: Let me start from the end. This dude named Fader was in charge of the Ranger
platoon my sniper team was supporting. We were in a HUM-V driving back from the
mission; broad daylight, hot desert sun and we’re right behind the 5 ton flatbed
truck carrying the 9 bodies in body bags. They weren’t shaped like bodies anymore
man; each bag looked more like a hockey bag stuffed with equipment. It didn’t make
sense to the human eye... <S1 spits>
Then the bags started leaking. Sloshing around. The smell.. oh man the smell. Guys
were throwing up, dry heaving while we drove, until we crashed. The driver fell
asleep, we’d been up for 3 days and nights. What a mess.
FRIEND: Dude.. wait.. wow. Body bags sloshing around looking like gym bags. How
long were they dead?
S1: about 10 days buried in shallow graves. In April, in the desert. It’s well over
110 degrees in April.
FRIEND: How did you dig up the bodies?
S1: We used shovels and our hands to dig them up.
FRIEND: How many people have you told?
S1: Just you.
FRIEND: Why me?
S1: You’re the first one to ask.