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1/23 snipers reclaim city from insurgents

10 Oct 2004 | Cpl. Randy Bernard

Marines from Scout Sniper Platoon, Headquarters and Support Company, 1st Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 7, won a decisive battle against a heavy insurgent threat recently. The snipers were called to action after they received reports that hundreds of heavily armed insurgents, dressed in black garb, were occupying the city."We are the eyes, ears and trigger finger for the battalion commander," said Sgt. Herbert B. Hancock, the chief scout sniper for the platoon. "Anything that he sees as a threat, we are sent out to check up on."The snipers were the first Marines to enter the city and observe the threat. Once the snipers had located the insurgents and established positions to assess the situation, the snipers realized just how right the reports had been."They were all out in the open doing whatever they wanted to," said Hancock, 35, a native of Bryan, Texas. "They were in control of that side of the city, rerouting traffic, threatening to kill people and terrorizing people. "Any convoy that looked like it had anything to do with the coalition was attacked and hit by (improvised explosive devices). There were civilians and civilian cars in the area, but they didn't care. They were being blatant about the fact that they were in control." After witnessing the insurgents pull people from their cars, shoot at civilians and detonate IEDs in the traffic circle, the snipers began to fire at them. Sergeant Milo S. Afong, a sniper with the platoon, took the first shot."I had a perfect silhouette of his body and his weapon," said Afong, 23, a native of Vista, Calif. "It had been the first time I saw people out here with weapons."After the first shots were fired and a few insurgents were hit, the masked men in the traffic circle realized they were under attack. "Even more of them showed up carrying (rocket propelled grenades) and AK-47s," said Cpl. Stephen R. Johnson, an assistant team leader with the platoon. "That is when they started shooting back. At first they were fighting us out in the open and behind cars. That wasn't working for them so they got up in the buildings and tried to set up concealed positions and shoot at us."According to Gunnery Sgt. Timothy J. Dowd, the platoon commander, this battle marks the first time in history that snipers from 1/23 engaged enemy troops and was also one of the largest scale sniper missions in Operation Iraqi Freedom. That was the heaviest firefight in the city, according to Johnson. That particular firefight lasted approximately 45 minutes. However, the sniper battle against the insurgents in the area lasted several more days, until their extract."The whole time it was like we were in a shooting gallery with people shooting at us," said Afong.The Marines proved themselves as valuable assets to the battalion."We showed how (a handful of) guys basically eliminated a whole platoon," said Johnson, 24, a native of Woodlands, Texas. "We have proven that snipers are cost effective with lives and rounds. There are no substitutes for snipers on the battlefield."The snipers made it out of the fighting with only minor injuries.