The Red Circle: My Life in the Navy SEAL Sniper Corps and How I Trained America's Deadliest Marksmen

BOOK: The Red Circle: My Life in the Navy SEAL Sniper Corps and How I Trained America's Deadliest Marksmen
7.69Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub


For my three children



All the events in this book are true and are described herein to the best of my recollection; however, some details have been altered. With the exception of historical figures (e.g., Admiral Bob Harward, President George W. Bush, Harmid Karzai), close friends, and fallen comrades, I have changed most of the names; in some instances I have provided only the first names of friends who are still on active duty. Some dates, locations, and particulars of certain operations have been modified; and I have at all times sought to avoid disclosing methods and other sensitive mission-related information.



Title Page


Author’s Note

Foreword by Marcus Luttrell


1. Rite of Passage

2. Boot Camp

3. Obstacle Course

4. Nemesis

5. Getting Dirty

6. Cold Bore

7. When Everything Changed

8. Into the War on Terror

9. In the Caves

10. Coalition

11. My Proudest Moment




About the Author




I first met Brandon Webb when I was a student in the Naval Special Warfare Sniper Course.

Sniper school was one of the toughest things I’ve ever done, in some ways even more difficult than the infamous ordeal known as BUD/S, or Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training, that every SEAL undergoes. The sniper course starts with a stalking phase, which is all about stealth and concealment, training us to crawl painstaking inches and yards undetected across enemy-held territory. I have to be honest: This was not easy for me. The shooting part came naturally. The stalking part did not. I’m a pretty big guy, and trying to make myself look like an ice plant or manzanita bush instead of a six-foot Texan … it just wasn’t happening. I don’t know how I would have gotten through it, if it weren’t for Brandon being my instructor.

Brandon and his cadre were incredibly tough on us. They were intent on making us some of the best Special Operations forces in the field, and I have to admit: In that they succeeded. As I say in my book, Brandon’s standards were so high they would have made an Apache scout gasp. It wasn’t just a matter of making our lives hard. Brandon went beyond the call. He set aside time after course hours to answer questions and work with all the students; he mentored me, did whatever it took to make sure I knew my stuff.

Graduating sniper school was one of the proudest achievements of my life.

I went from sniper school almost directly to Afghanistan. Not too many months after being under Brandon’s care I found myself in the soaring Hindu Kush mountains, a subrange of the Himalayas, not far from the Afghanistan-Pakistan border on June 29, 2005. Everyone else in my recon team was gone, including my brother Morgan’s best friend, Matt “Axe” Axelson—all killed by the same couple hundred Taliban forces who were now doing their level best to kill me, too. If it had not been for Brandon’s patience, care, and skill with me in the sniper course not long before, I can promise you this: I would have left these Texan bones bleaching on the Afghan hillside.

My story, the story of Operation Redwing and the brave men who gave their lives in the battle for Murphy’s Ridge, is chronicled in the pages of the book
Lone Survivor.
Brandon’s story is chronicled here in the pages you hold in your hands. And it’s about time. His training saved my life then, just as it would again several years later in a very different environment, fighting house to house on the hot, muggy streets of Iraq.

And I know I’m not the only one. There are a lot of people out there, people whose names you’ll never hear, who are alive today because of the efforts, skill, and dedication of Brandon and others like him. What you’re about to read is not just the story of the making of a Navy SEAL sniper but the story of one guy who went on to help shape the lives of
of elite Special Operations warriors.

It was a great honor to serve on and off the battlefield with the men of the U.S. Navy SEAL teams and U.S. SOCOM (Special Operations Command). Brandon and I have both lost many great friends over the years, and it’s comforting to know that the memories of these great warriors will live on in the stories we share with you. My hope is that you will come to know them as intimately as we did, and that you continue to pass on their stories of heroism so that we may never forget the ultimate sacrifice they made for the freedom we enjoy today.

Brandon has a great story to tell, and it is living proof that you can achieve anything you put your mind to. It’s an honor to introduce his memoir.

Never quit.

Marcus Luttrell (USN Ret.), Navy SEAL and No. 1 national bestselling author of
Lone Survivor



Four of us—Cassidy, Osman, Brad, and I—went out before dawn to patrol a site where a C-130 gunship had engaged some forces the night before, to see if we could find any bodies. We reached the coordinates we’d been given just moments before the indistinct grays of predawn resolved into the pastels of daybreak. Before we could do any serious searching, we heard voices coming from some nearby caves above us. The four of us instantly hit the ground and waited. As we watched, a spill of enemy fighters started pouring out of one of the caves—twenty, at least, and all armed.

If this were happening in the movies, we would all just leap to our feet and blow these guys away, but in real life it doesn’t work that way. We were outnumbered at least five to one, and we were not exactly armed with machine guns. This was not the OK Corral, and if we leapt to our feet we would all be mowed down in short order. There was no hiding until they were gone, either: These guys were headed our way. We would have to call in an air strike, and do it fast.

There was a B-52 nearby; Brad got it on the radio. It was my job to give him the coordinates—but there was a snag. The only way to ensure that the team in the B-52 dropped their fireworks on the other guys and not on us was to give them exact coordinates. Typically we would do this using a high-powered laser range finder hooked into a GPS so that when it ranged the target it would give us not only distance but also the target’s GPS coordinates, which we could then pass on up to whoever we were calling for air support. These bombers are extremely accurate with their ordnance, like vertical snipers in the sky.

We’d only planned for a simple twelve-hour mission and didn’t have all our usual equipment. Typically, for a full-on recon mission, I’d have at least a good sniper rifle. We didn’t have even a decent range finder.

Training, training. As a SEAL sniper I’d been taught to estimate distances on the fly even without all the usual tools, using only my five senses and my gut, but typically I’d be shooting a 10-gram bullet from the muzzle of a rifle. In this case, we were shooting a 1,000-pound “bullet” out of a 125-ton aircraft, flying 20,000 feet above us at near the speed of sound, at a target less than 500 yards away from where we sat—and I had to get it right.

Range estimation. This was something else we covered in sniper school: You visualize a familiar distance, say, a football field.
That’s one football field, two football fields, three football fields
 … but this can be risky when you’re not on level ground. Here I had to sight up a rugged, rocky incline. And daybreak lighting can play tricks with distances.

Those twenty-plus al Qaeda, or Taliban, or who the hell knew who, were trickling down the slope heading straight for our position. They hadn’t seen us yet, but it would be only seconds before they did. If we were going to do this thing, it had to be

“Brandon!” Cassidy hissed. “You need to Kentucky-windage this drop!” “Kentucky windage” is a term that means basically this:
Wing it. Give it your best shot.
I gave Cassidy a bearing I estimated as 100 meters
the group. If I was going to be off at all, better to guess long than short, and if I was balls-on accurate, a drop 100 meters behind them should at least buy us a few seconds to adjust and drop a second time.

Now the enemy cluster was so close we couldn’t wait any longer. We were concealed but not covered; that is, they couldn’t easily see us, but once they knew where we were, our concealment would give no protection against incoming fire. We quickly moved to cover—and that’s when they spotted us. There were a few alarmed shouts and then the sounds of small-arms fire.

There is nothing quite so galvanizing as the distinct
crack! snap!
of semiautomatic weaponry being fired over your head, the
being the sound of the initial shot itself and the
being the bullet breaking the sound barrier as it zings past you.

We returned fire. I sighted one guy wearing a black headdress, dropped him. Quickly resighted and dropped a second, this one wearing the traditional Afghan wool roll-up hat. Sighted a third—then glanced up and saw vapor trails in the sky. The B-52 was flying so high it was invisible to us, but I knew exactly what was happening up there: They were dropping the first bomb.

When you are this close to a big explosion it rocks your chest cavity. You want to make sure your mouth is open so the contained impact doesn’t burst your lungs. Brad got the call: We were seconds from impact. We opened our mouths, dropped and rolled.

The Joint Direct Attack Munition is a big bomb and extremely accurate. When the first set of JDAMs hit, it shook the mountain under our feet, throwing rubble everywhere.

I whipped around and glanced back up the incline to assess the strike. Perfect—about 100 yards behind the target. I rolled again, adjusting numbers in my head, and quickly shouted the new coordinates to Cassidy, who gave them to Brad to relay up to the bird. In moments like this your senses go into hyperacute mode and seconds seem to stretch into minutes, hours, a timeless series of discrete snapshots. I focused on my breathing, making it slow and deliberate, feeling the cool morning air mixed with the distinct smell of explosives teasing my lungs. I knew my numbers were accurate and that the men shooting to kill us would themselves be dead in seconds. For a brief moment, I was at peace. And then an unexpected sound sliced through the strange silence: the wail of a baby crying.

My stomach twisted. I had a five-week-old baby boy at home whom I’d not yet held in my arms; hopefully I would survive this war to meet him face-to-face. Someone up on that hillside had a baby they would never see or hold again.

I knew these people had made the decision to bring their families out here to this godforsaken fortress, knowingly putting them in harm’s way. Sometimes, I’d heard, they even did this intentionally, using their own children, their flesh and blood, as living shields to prevent us from attacking.
It was their choice,
I told myself,
not ours
. But I’ll never forget the sound of that baby’s cry.

We opened our mouths, ducked and rolled. The second drop took them all.

*   *   *

The pages that follow provide a rare look into the most difficult, elite sniper training in the world and the traits it takes to produce a successful graduate: a sniper capable of stopping another man’s beating heart without hesitation at distances of over a mile.

These accounts and descriptions may read like reports from an alien land. It is a unique existence of brutal conditions, extreme pressure, and hair-trigger judgment. I have never second-guessed decisions made in the field; combat is no place for Monday-morning quarterbacking, and a SEAL sniper can’t afford to indulge in the luxuries of uncertainty or ambivalence.

This doesn’t mean that those of us occupying this unusual world shed or lose connection with our humanity. If anything, the opposite is the case. In a way, living in the crosshairs of split-second decisions with life-or-death consequences makes you
acutely attuned to the truest, grittiest realities of human fragility and the preciousness of life. It also puts you face-to-face with our deepest potential for idiocy and senselessness, and the consequences of those failings.

BOOK: The Red Circle: My Life in the Navy SEAL Sniper Corps and How I Trained America's Deadliest Marksmen
7.69Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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