By Army Staff Sgt. Matt Meadows
Special to American Forces Press Service
July 10, 2008 - Looking through a rifle sight into the eyes of an enemy -- no matter how evil that enemy is or how many innocent people he has killed -- and then pulling the trigger to end that enemy's existence affects a soldier. It takes a certain type of person to perform the duties of a sniper.
Army Sgt. Murray Spence -- a 30-year-old sniper assigned to Multinational Division Baghdad with the 10th Mountain Division's Scout Platoon, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team -- is a full-blooded Sioux who was raised by German Mennonites in Canada after he was put up for adoption at birth.
"They raised me as one of their own, and I consider them my family," he said. "That's the way it is. It really helped shape me to be who I am. They were really Christian, God-fearing people, and they instilled that in me. I am very thankful for that. Otherwise, I wouldn't be here today."
Whenever Spence is not on a mission, he likes to work out at the gymnasium and to go running. When Spence says he likes to run, he is not joking. He represented Fort Polk, La., in the Army 10-miler race in Washington in October 2007. His team placed first in the active-duty military mixed division, with a time of 1 hour, 4 minutes.
Nowadays, Spence spends most of his day cleaning his "kit" -- weapons and equipment -- and getting ready to go out on missions.
"Missions shift and change every day," he explained. "It might be one thing for a day, or maybe one thing for a week or two weeks, and then again six hours before [we are scheduled to leave], we might get shifted to do something else."
He spends his time getting ready, he said, "so if I have people relying on me, then they can rely on me."
Spence said he is allowed to operate fairly independently, which took some getting used to. Although he coordinates movement with the battalion, he said, it's good to have the freedom to choose his positions during missions to take advantage of his sniper-school training. "I definitely don't just run around out there and do my own thing," he said.
Being a sniper might seem to be a lonely existence. But even though Spence operates separately from other soldiers, he does not feel he is alone or unsupported.
"I don't feel isolated at all," he said. "The Wild Boar battalion treats me pretty well, and they make sure I've got what I need [and] all the support I need. As long as I'm doing the right things for the right people at the right time, everything just falls into place. It's a pretty good system. I like it."
The life of a sniper is challenging, to say the least. But Spence has been facing and overcoming challenges since the day he was born. He served as a reservist in the Canadian military for two years, assigned to a rifle company called the Royal Winnipeg Rifles. After leaving Canadian military service, Spence tried to return, he said, but the process was taking too long, so he enlisted in the U.S. Army. He decided to become an infantry scout and earned honor graduate honors in his sniper school class.
After I got out of the Canadian army, Spence said, he thought his military days were over. "But I got into construction," he explained, "and just got bored. Somehow, I ended up here. Somehow I ended up a sniper in Iraq."
Spence overcame the sweltering August summer heat of Georgia in 2007 and the challenge of mathematics to leave the sniper school with top honors. He was 28 years old when he attended the school, years removed from high school math classes. "Getting back to the math and how to figure out calculations ... on the fly was pretty tough," he admitted, "but it was worth it."
If Spence had had a little money at the time, he might not have joined the Army. His life almost took a turn toward a much different military lifestyle.
"I toyed with the idea of joining the French Foreign Legion before I came here, actually," he said. "I was about $200 short of buying a plane ticket to Marseilles, France, and that still interests me a little bit, just for the adventure. I might have enough of the Army lifestyle after this. We'll see what happens."
Spence is more than just a long-range shooter. Army Staff Sgt. Tommy Peek, Spence's platoon sergeant from Fort Polk, said Spence has provided protection for their battalion commander while moving throughout the Wild Boar operating environment and also has helped many less-experienced soldiers.
"He is a very diverse soldier," Peek said, explaining Spence was a crew-served-weapons expert with the M-240 and 50-caliber machine guns and the Mk-19 while assigned to Company D. "All his information and guidance to the younger soldiers we had actually helped a lot in their mentorship and their understanding of the crew-served weapons systems.
"He is a cut above the rest," Peek continued. "He is not just the basic soldier. He has a lot more to offer than just long-range target acquisition."
Working with Spence is a "delight" because of his consistent professionalism and guidance to younger soldiers, which makes Peek's job much easier, he said.
Because of his Canadian birth, Spence could not be considered for Special Forces, and several attempts to go to Ranger school have not worked out for one reason or another. But whatever Spence does in his life after he leaves Iraq, it is a safe bet it will not be boring.
"So, I guess it's time to move on and see what else is out there -- something interesting, something challenging," he said. "Hopefully, [I'll] try to become an underwater welder or something like that. It's different. It's challenging. It's operating on your own a lot. It's pretty dangerous, I think."
Being on his own a lot and having to do what he does, Spence said, his religious faith is very important in sustaining him and the majority of his sniper comrades. "It helps me day to day, every day, all day," he said.
Spence's message is a simple one. He would like people to know he and other Army snipers are not heartless, hardened gunmen.
"We are not just stone-cold, steely-eyed killers without souls," he said. "We are just regular people like everybody else."
(Army Staff Sgt. Matt Meadows serves in Multinational Division Baghdad with the 10th Mountain Division's 4th Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs Office.)