Does Whatever a Sniper Can
by April Fitzsimmons, Sgt. USAF (1985-1989)
LOS ANGELES, Ca – “I was a sniper,” he said.
“But you’re out now?”
“Yeah. I did six years but I’ll probably re-enlist.” “Why?” I asked. “He’s got kids,” Galley-man hollered from his post.
I was charging my lap-top down in the galley and at the next stop in Chico, Sniper-man got off to smoke and Galley-man told me he’d cut off Sniper-man’s booze at 3am after he and another Iraq Vet drank most of Amtrak’s mini-bar.
The train rolled on and I looked out the window. A hawk dive-bombed to snag something in a strawberry field and folks stood along the roads waving to us. The train honked to make sure everyone knew we were coming through town as the Coast Starlight ambled south, yielding to every single freight train; product first, people second. “Same mom?” Galley-man, a Gulf War Marine, asked after the passengers all-a-boarded.
“Nope,” said Sniper-man.
“Dang,” said Galley-man “See boy’s got to work, he’s got two alimonies and needs health insurance for those kids. You best re-enlist boy.”
“Yeah, I know, I’m thinkin’ bout it?”
“What do you think? Should we be over there?” I asked Sniper-man.
“Do you think Osama Bin Laden is still in Iraq?”
“Then why are we there? Do you think American soldiers are the one’s to provide humanitarian aid to the Iraqi people?”
“Then why do you want to re-enlist?”
“Because I’m good at it.”
“Killing," he said.
“Do you miss it?”
“Sure I do.”
“What do you do when you miss it?” I asked.
“I play a lot of paint ball and break stuff.”
“Did you know the US Senate just doubled the reward for Osama to $50 Million?”
“Really?” he said perking up.
We slid past neglected downtown areas, trailer parks clotheslines, dirty industrial buildings blowing smoke, junkyards, abandoned cars, farmland, forests, lakes, cows and three tit-flashing teenagers.
Across from me, sat one of our finest. One of the bravest and most honorable killers we’d ever made.
I often thought that real killers don’t go around saying that they kill people. It’s bad form. But Sniper-man, since he was nineteen years old, was taught to kill. This was his job, this is what my tax dollars paid him to do, and he should be proud of it.
But I’ve rarely stopped to think: Where does Sniper-man go after he’s discharged? How does he apply for a job and what kind of useful skills can he contribute to an American community? What career could possibly give him the rush and thrill of what he’d experienced over there?
“Sniper-man, do you think the troops are better used here in the states protecting our citizens or over in Iraq protecting their citizens?”
“But do you think we have the troop strength to do both? Don’t you think we’re more vulnerable today in the US now that we got guys on their fourth and fifth rotation? Don't you think the troops are tapped out?”
“Do you think we’re safer today in America?” I don’t," I said.
“Did you see any security as we got on this train? Have you seen how many bridges we’ve crossed? Do you honestly think there’s someone from Homeland Security on this train?
The galley fell silent.
“Are you Homeland Security?” I asked Galley-man.
“Hell, no. I got kids.”
“Are you Homeland Security?” I asked Sniper-man.
“Cake eaters,” he said laughing.
I looked at Sniper-man. He was handsome in a heavy metal way. Crooked teeth, tired hair, lots of ink on his arms and old booze in his eyes and he had one of my favorite qualities. He had clarity. Sniper-man knew who he was.
“I think you should join Blackwater rather than re-enlisting. You’ll have more freedom and you’ll be less tied to all that military mumbo-jumbo and actually have a decent shot at finding Osama and collecting that $50 million. That is, if Osama’s still out there.”
“You think we already have him?”
“What do you think Sniper-man?”
“If we had him, do you really think I would know?”
“Exactly my point. Why would you work for a company that’s not going to be straight with you and tell you what they have and don’t have? Either way, you should go back as a paid contractor. There’s more risk but you seem to like risk and you’ll make ten times more than you would in the service. Then afterwards, if you do need some counseling to ease your mind, you’ll be able to afford quality help rather than standing in line with all the other Vets at the VA waiting for sloppy seconds. It makes sense, doesn’t it?”
“What about my uniform?”
“What about it?”
“I won’t get to wear it.”
“How does it make you feel when you wear it?”
“Proud. It makes me feel good about myself.”
“When I wear a nice dress I feel good about myself too. But, I’m sorry, it’s a costume. Trust me; you’d feel just as good in a thousand dollar suit and you’d have a better chance at watching your daughters grow up.”
He looked down.
I’d gone too far.
“Look,” I said softly, “If you’re a killer, you should kill. Just make sure you get paid what you’re worth. When, and if, you come back, and you start to have nightmares and accidentally beat your next wife for reasons you can’t decipher, you’ll have good money to help yourself, or at least help those you care about. The military will never give you that.”
Galley-man took a break and sat down with us.
“That’s not going to happen Cake-eater. You’re not a Marine, you’re Air Force, you’ll never understand. Semper Fi dude.”
They knocked fists and Galley-man continued.
“He needs to get out there, do his job, and come back home. No one’s beating their wives just because of the war and those that are, were wife beaters before they joined up.”
“You’re telling me that those 18 year olds were predestined to beat their wives?”
Sniper-man looked up with one cold clear eye.
“No man she’s right,” he said, his tattooed hand tracing a graffiti heart etched on the window.
“I know two green berets that killed their wives within weeks of returning home.”
The train rolled on and I looked out the window. A hawk dive-bombed to snag something in a strawberry field and folks stood along the roads waving to us. The train honked to make sure everyone knew we were coming through town as the Coast Starlight ambled south, yielding to every single freight train; product first, people second.
Artwork by Brownkuma – http://brownkuma.liberty2k.com/