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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Marine Sniper Metes Out Death

RAMADI, Iraq -- He was 5 when he first fired an M-16, his father holding him to brace against the recoil. At 17, in 2002, he enlisted in the Marine Corps, spurred by the memory of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Now, 21-year-old Galen Wilson, a lance corporal, has 20 confirmed kills in four months in Iraq -- and another 40 shots that probably killed insurgents.

Wilson is the designated marksman in a unit based in Ramadi, watching over what U.S. Marines call the most dangerous neighborhood in the most dangerous city in the world. Here, Sunni insurgents are intent on toppling the government, which is protected by the Marines.

Wilson, 165 centimeters tall with a soft face, is married and has two children and speaks in a deep, steady monotone.

After two tours in Iraq, his commanders call him a particularly mature Marine, always collected and given to an occasional wry grin. His composure is regularly tested. Swaths of Ramadi are dominated by insurgents who regularly attack the government headquarters.

During a large-scale attack on Easter Sunday in April, Wilson said, he spotted six gunmen on a rooftop about 400 meters away. In about eight 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 counts as a probable death. "You could tell he didn't know where it was coming from. He just wanted to get away," Wilson said. Later that day, he said, he killed another insurgent.

Wilson says his skill helps save American troops and Iraqi civilians. "It doesn't bother me. 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 desolate part of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. "My father owned a weapons dealership, so I've been around exotic firearms all my life," Wilson said.

In the heat of day or after midnight, he spends hours on rooftop posts, peering out onto rows of abandoned houses from behind piles of sandbags and bulletproof glass cracked by gunfire. Sometimes individual gunmen attack, other times dozens. Once, Wilson shot an insurgent who was "turkey peeking" -- Marine slang for stealing glances at U.S. positions from behind a corner. "I didn't doubt myself, if I was going to hit him. Maybe if I would have I would have missed," Wilson said.

The key to accuracy is composure and experience, he said. "The hardest part is looking, quickly adjusting the distance [on a scope]," he said. "It's toning everything out in my head. It's like hearing classical music playing in my head."

Though Wilson firmly supports the war, he used to wonder how his actions would be received back home. "But over time, you realize that if they support you ... maybe it'll make them feel that much safer at home," he said.

He acknowledges that brutal acts of war linger in the mind, but in the end, killing enemy insurgents doesn't bother him. "It may sound cold, but they're just a target," Wilson said.