AR RAMADI, Iraq -- An explosion ignites a fierce firefight at Marine Combat Outpost Horea. In the chaos, Marines grab their weapons and begin neutralizing the advancing enemy. Suddenly, an insurgent is on a distant rooftop aiming a rocket-propelled grenade launcher at them.
They have seconds to react.
A shot is fired.
As dust and smoke settle and the fighting ceases, the Marines see the lifeless RPG gunner, felled by a single round.
“That was probably the one shot I remember the most,” said Lance Cpl. Galen E. Wilson, an infantryman with 2nd Platoon, Company K, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment. “I took it at 500 meters out during a complex attack.”
Wilson has fired his rifle in 20 engagements where he used “one shot, one kill” accuracy. His proficiency with a rifle has saved countless lives in Ar Ramadi.
“He has a lot of good judgment and doesn’t have an itchy trigger finger,” said 1st. Lt. Carlos M. Goetz, his platoon commander. “He goes through the proper rules of engagement and positively identifies each target.”
“He is doing what he was trained to do, what every Marine is trained to do,” said Goetz, 29, from Miami, Fla.
The 21-year-old Wilson, from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., holds the title of “Designated Marksman” with Company K. Wilson has been conducting counterinsurgency operations with the battalion in the Anbar provincial capital since March.
“I knew he was a good shot, but I didn’t know how good he was until that day he stopped the RPG gunner,” said Cpl. Antonio P. Duquette III, team leader for 2nd Platoon, Company K. “He’s out there to do a job, and he does it better then anyone I have ever seen.”
His teammates have a few nicknames for him, such as “the one shot wonder” and “the second coming of Carlos Hathcock,” the legendary Marine scout sniper of the Vietnam War.
But most call him Whiskey, a nickname adopted from the radio call sign he used during a deployment to Fallujah.
“If there’s a threat, Whiskey will have eyes on it, and if he takes the shot, he’s going to eliminate the threat,” said Duquette, 31, from Manchester, N.H. “He seems to do it on a day-to-day basis, and that is amazing to me.”
Whiskey spent most of his childhood living in the mountains of Colorado, where he honed his shooting skills. His father, a Navy Seal, started teaching him how to fire scoped weapons as soon as he was old enough to hold one.
Growing up, he practiced marksmanship in his backyard by shooting pinecones and tin cans.
After the events of Sept. 11, Wilson decided to join the Marine Corps. With his parent’s encouragement, he enlisted in the Delayed Entry Program at the age 17.
“Even though my dad was in the Navy, he looked fondly on the Marines,” said Wilson. “He told me it was a good branch, and since then I’ve always wanted to become a Marine.”
On Sept. 23, 2003, he planted his shoes on the yellow footprints in Parris Island, S.C. His drill instructors were the first to witness his talent during the rifle range portion of his basic training, where he shot high expert.
After graduating from basic training in 2004, Wilson headed to Fallujah for his first deployment with the battalion. In Fallujah, his skills saved Marines' lives.
He calls his rifle “the hammer.” It is not a typical M16. Specially designed for marksmanship, the M16A2 Squad Advanced Marksmanship Rifle (SAMR) comes fully equipped with a high power optical sight, match-grade heavy free-floating barrel, and an expandable bipod mount.
“The Marine Corps has enabled him with an awesome rifle that allows him to do his job,” Goetz said.
Lance Cpl. Richard M. Mason, an assaultman for 2nd Platoon, Company K, sits on post with Wilson at the Government Center in Ar Ramadi.
One particular situation sticks out in Mason’s mind about his teammate’s situational awareness.
“I was scanning the area and I noticed a group of birds fly out of a section of tall weeds,” Wilson said. “Then I saw an insurgent with a weapon."
“I heard the shot, and the next thing I know I see a guy lying in tall weeds with an AK in his hands,” said Mason, 21, from Medina, Ohio. “His attention to detail is the key factor in his success.”
Since March, Wilson has completed numerous combat patrols and spent more than 1,000 hours on overwatch at the Government Center and Combat Outpost Horea. To date he has accrued more than 20 confirmed kills and located 15 improvised explosive devices before they could be detonated against coalition and Iraqi forces.
“He’s doing a great job, and we are definitely proud of him and all the Marines here,” Goetz said