This is what goes through a sniper's mind before the shot
If he had to do it all again today, he's not sure he would be able to. Mentally, he's not sure he's got what it takes anymore.
But when you ask Adam Peeples about about that night on the rooftop in Ramadi when he shot an enemy sniper, he talks about it as if he just pulled the trigger.
And he's more than alright with it.
"I was like, I can't believe I'm in a position where I get to draw on this guy," said Peeples, a former Army sniper who had waited for just such a moment before he even got to Iraq. "We talked about it later, and our general consensus was can you believe that guy? What was he thinking?"
That was a high point. In fact, he and his men had been up on that rooftop in the most intense fighting anyone of them had ever seen. It was February 2007 and Ramadi was a place to go to die — for Americans and everyone else.
During lulls in the fighting over three days, they got resupplied by the Bradley fighting vehicle crew that had dropped them off at the beginning of the operation. With a fresh supply of pre-loaded mags, a crate of grenades, a bunch of M240 ammo, three AT4 grenade launchers and food, the fight kept on going.
Peeples (left) preferred taking sniper shots with his customized weapon he built with $2,500 of his own money and parts he ordered from the United States. (Photo courtesy of Adam Peeples)
The air smelled, the city smelled and they could hear the bullets zipping past their heads over the voices of an enemy close enough to be clearly heard. About every 10 minutes, it got kinda quiet.
It was during one of these lulls that Peeples took the time to scan a building about 75 meters away that he believed was the source of a spate of gunshots that were more accurate than most.
"It had started easing off a little bit. We had called in three [guided missile launch rockets] and a 500 pound bomb and we'd shot three AT4s, so the buildings were pretty devastated," he said. "But there were still guys creeping around up there and we were taking pot shots over our heads."
Listening closely to the shots, Peeples figured the shooter was probably using something like an SVD Dragunov sniper rifle.
An Iraqi army soldier fires an SVD-63 Dragunov sniper rifle during training. (Photo from US Military)
"A couple of shots hit the wall and I said, 'this is a sniper… or he thinks he is anyway,' " he recalled.
With so many shots spinning out from their position, he had taken the universal night site off the front of his rifle because it had gotten heavy and he wasn't really looking through it to find targets that were giving themselves away with muzzle flashes. But as he started to look around, he put the site back on the rifle to scan the building he suspected as a hideout.
Peeples used a customized weapon he built with $2,500 of his own money and parts he mail ordered from the United States.
Using the Army-issued lower receiver of his M16 — the part that makes the gun fire — he added a new barrel and several accessories that made the rifle extra accurate and customized for his shooting style.
"It was an extremely accurate weapon, every bit as accurate as the M24 was," he remembered. "If I had a good shot on a dude's head and I were to miss because the rifle's not good enough to make the shot, then why take the shot?"
He propped himself up on the wall, and using his scope, looked slowly from window to window, shining is invisible IR floodlight to look into the rooms through open windows and doors.
Peeples peers over a wall to identify an enemy sniper position. (Photo courtesy of Adam Peeples)
The night was clear and the smell of gun powder hung in their nostrils. Peeples didn't have his finger on the trigger because he didn't expect to see anybody – until he saw the glint and his heart beat a little faster.
As he passed over one of the open windows, it caught his trained eye – and he went back to it.
"I could see the guy. He had a table set up and a chair and he had something that he had his rifle sitting on like a pillow or a blanket or sack of sand or something," Peeples said. "I could clearly see a rifle and a guy sitting down, I could tell his weapon had a scope on it. It's kind of cool when you can see someone and you know they can't see you. He was close. I could see him back there trying to figure out where to shoot at and where to see us. I can imagine from the shots he's taking at us he couldn't see. It was not accurate fire."
The distance between them was shorter than a football field and Peeples didn't hesitate.
"From the time I saw him to the time I shot him was six or seven seconds." he said. "It was a head shot, just dropped him. He just fell right on top of his rifle and knocked the table over," Peeples said, conceding that even though the enemy sniper's shots weren't accurate enough to kill him or any of his men, "somebody might have told him how to do it, or he figured it out somewhere. He had an idea of what he was doing."
That night was Peeples' chance to take out one of an unknown number of snipers operating in Al Anbar province.
"A big part of this job is to treat it as a job and just kind of dehumanize it," he recalled 10 years later. "I really just made it my job, it's what I'm going to do and not really get into thinking about what I'm actually doing. It becomes a much harder job to do when you think about what you're doing for a job which is killing people."
And he'd kill again if it could save the lives of some of his buddies.
"It was the personal satisfaction of knowing we set up a proper ambush, took out those guys and it was a huge motivation," he said. "It was my drive. It was everything that made me want to go out there and do it."
Gina Cavallaro is the author of "Sniper: American Single-Shot Warriors in Iraq and Afghanistan."