A Sniper’s Tale of Survival in Ramadi
Warrior.Scout.com – Warrior had the opportunity to sit down with world-class Marine scout sniper Sgt. Tim La Sage, our Warrior of the Week. In our conversation, La Sage talks about a famous kill shot that saved an Army convoy, his favorite sniper rifle for urban combat, Chris Kyle and ‘American Sniper,’ and a hellish night in Ramadi where nearly an entire scout sniper platoon was lost.
Tim La Sage can still recall his father teaching him the basics of shooting on his family’s 500-acre spread on the Wolf River in Wisconsin, where he used to pepper squirrels with his .22 as a youngster.
It was the foundation of instruction La Sage took with when he joined the Marine Corps a decade later at age 17, beginning a 22-year (and counting) career in the Marines.
During that time La Sage served his country in various capacities. In the 1990s, he was a member of a rapid response team that recovered U.S. embassies in the world’s hot-spots. He was an infantry instructor at Camp Lejeune, and later helped found and write the handbook (literally) for the government’s Military Operations on Urban Terrain (MOUT). He has taught courses in rural and urban sniper combat, close-quarters battle, defensive tactics, boat and ships assault, tactical shotgun and pistol tactics, and more.
Following 9-11, La Sage deployed as a scout sniper with the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment (2/5), First Marine Division, part of the vanguard of the attack on Baghdad. (The half-track La Sage was riding in was the second vehicle in the van, directly behind the lead tank.)
Not long after the the sack of Baghdad, he was given a free hand to handpick his own sniper team for 2/5, putting together one of the deadliest sniper platoons assembled in the Iraq theater, a platoon that was put to the test in the huge, sprawling Iraqi city of Ramadi.
It was in Ramadi–a city that today is a graveyard of insurgents–where La Sage pulled off one of the most famous sniper shots in a generation (you might have seen a reproduction of it on the History Channel – Check the 2nd video below), and where he and his men would endure a hellish night that would leave two men dead and five wounded.
WARRIOR: Can you tell me about your most famous shot?
We were in Ramadi; it was the second of November. We were watching a main avenue of approach, observing a roundabout in a crowded marketplace. I was eight stories up, about 670 yards from a spot where the enemy was laying IEDs. There was a guy on a moped who kept dropping someone off to lay them. Every time we’d take out the guy on the ground, the guy on the moped would drive back with another one. We were letting the guy on the moped live because he was giving us people.
W: Then what happened?
I saw a car approach, I could see its hood and a guy get out, but then I lose my line of sight. Then the vehicle drives off toward a dust cloud that is approaching. As it closed in, I could see it was Army convoy.
W: How far away are you?
I’m about 700 yards away. I am shooting from a tripod, standing. I see the vehicle is heading for the convoy. It’s closing fast. I had to make a decision. So I take the shot. I can see red through the windshield, the vehicle straightens and hits the curb. It was a very lucky shot. When you shoot through glass you never know which way the bullet will go.
W: What happened next?
We sent a Humvee to the kill site to recover the bodies. They find the vehicle loaded with explosives. It turned out there was a general in the second vehicle in the convoy, a brigade commander. He later gave me a gift. It’s funny, when I heard an Army general wanted to talk to me I got a little nervous. I assumed I must have been in trouble for something, so I was avoiding him. But he tracked me down and gave me a challenge coin.
W: Your platoon had gained quite a reputation even before this shot, hadn’t it?
It did. My scout sniper platoon was able to freelance more than usual in Ramadi. The unit prior to us had a difficult deployment there. (Editor’s note: The previous scout sniper section had lost several Marines and one of its precision rifles to the enemy.) We became quite proficient in non-traditional tactics in the city, inciting a bounty on our heads from our enemy. The bounty was carried forth to all units to follow. It was kind of a badge of honor for us.
W: What was the best part of being a sniper?
The brotherhood. Being part of that top 10 percent. Controlling a battlefield for your unit, controlling the enemy’s thought process. As a man, that is the best part. But it changed for me after we lost our guys. It lost some of the sex appeal, know what I mean?
W: Tell me about that night in Ramadi. The night when your unit ran into trouble.
It was the fourth of November, about 3 a.m. We were set to move on a bad guy’s house, it was (Abu Musab) al-Zarqawi’s cousin, actually. We were moving into an alley a couple blocks away, “bumping across” we call it. Two guys had been sent ahead to provide cover. I think they had been spotted, because somebody was waiting as we crossed a street where an IED was placed. We had gotten really good at spotting these; but this one we didn’t see. We were running across the street when they detonated it. It was a huge blast. Two of my teammates, one to my right and one to my left, were killed. It was a mess. (Editor’s note: Out of the eight people in LaSage’s unit, seven would earn the Purple Heart.) At the end of this, I could put a beer can through my thigh. I lost all the muscle and fiber in my leg.
W: How the hell did you get out of there?
We loaded our KIA and packs into a Humvee, what we could fit anyway. Myself and another dude, we couldn’t get in; there wasn’t room. So we stayed back with one pack and our sniper rifles. Eventually we commandeered a little orange and white taxi. We drove it to base across the city, about eight miles away. I had a tourniquet holding my leg together. I had no pants on, no shirt on. My shirt was a tourniquet for my teammate. So we drove back to battalion–a palace the military had taken over–in a “borrowed” cab.
W: What’s your opinion of the M40?
Man, the M40A1 was used forever. Bolt action is the best, but in a city it can be complicated. In Ramadi, I thought the semi-auto SR25 was great; it allows you to rapidly fire from a 20-round magazine. That’s hard to beat in a city.
W: I have to ask, did you know Chris Kyle?
I’ve trained and worked with many SEALs in my career. But our paths didn’t quite cross directly. My time in Ar Ramadi came just a little bit before Chris’, by just a few months, I think.
W: Have you seen American Sniper?
Yeah, I have. I was asked a while back if I’d be interested in advising for the film through a mutual friend of James Dever (the senior adviser of the film). I was not able to assist directly, because I’m on active duty. But yeah, I saw the movie and thought it respected Kyle and his family while telling his story. I also watched Fury. I enjoyed it. I watched Lone Survivor and enjoyed it. Most of us that have been there have enjoyed these films. But I found American Sniper extra beneficial. It left me feeling more normal to see someone else experiencing what I did after coming home from deployment. I even recommended it to my wife; I thought it was important for her to know that she isn’t alone in the hardships she’s experienced.
W: Was it weird to watch?
I guess you could say so. I mean, I was severely wounded and lost men to my left and right while hunting the same individual that Chris Kyle was assigned to neutralize. I don’t have issues with the movie’s depiction of events. I did smirk a little when I watched Bradley Cooper engage the moving car. (Editor’s note: the scene in the film is similar to documentary footage of La Sage’s famous shot in Ramadi.)
W: What do you make of all the controversy around the film?
When you call Chris Kyle a coward, you call all of us cowards. I have been where Chris Kyle has been. I have been in the public eye, critiqued and criticized by people who haven’t been there. I belong to a group called the R&S Foundation. It’s a group where all of us scout snipers, reconnaissance Marines, and SARC’s can meet and support each other. Many of us can relate to scenes in the movie where we have disconnection to our state-side lives due to our dedication to duty and our teammates being in harm’s way. The film is a good depiction of the mental struggles many of us experience after coming home. This is just another opportunity for outsiders to judge us, to critique “the man in the arena.”
W: What would you tell a 17-year-old kid who told you he wanted to be a Marine scout sniper when he grows up?
I’d tell him if he has the heart, he can do it. I’ve had guys that joined the sniper platoon who’ve not fired a gun before. But they were tough, in good shape, and intelligent.
W: What was the worst part about being a sniper?
For me, I’m getting to know my family for the first time. I was deployed a lot, even in recent years. In 2011 I was gone the whole year, and I really didn’t see them much in 2010.
This interview was based on telephone conversations and electronic correspondence with Tim La Sage. It has been condensed and edited for clarity and accuracy.
See more of the story here, with the famous vehicle shot in the 2nd video: