UPDATE: Included at the end of this post is the gripping story of Bay Roberts sniper Dave Fitzpatrick, who served in Bosnia.
Newfoundlander Rob Furlong has lost his unofficial title as the best sniper in the history of marksmanship.
According to a story in today’s Globe and Mail, British Corporal Craig Harrison killed two Taliban fighters last November from a mountain perch 2.47 kilometres away.
Until now, the Canadian Forces and a former corporal from Fogo Island had claimed the world’s best sniper shot.
In 2002, when the Afghanistan war was still in its infancy, Canadian army Corporal Rob Furlong of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry killed an alleged al-Qaeda fighter from 2.43 kilometres away — seemingly an unsurpassable feat.
The rifle that Furlong used was a McMillan Tac-50 — which fires bullets the size of pop cans.
But then Furlong was actually usually American ammo when he fired his record shot, having run out of Canadian ammunition.
The Globe says Furlong’s shot was never formally publicized — snipers are covert by nature, after all — but word leaked out over the years.
The legend grew to the point where military observers hailed it as a landmark Canadian achievement.
According to Wikipedia, Furlong taught himself to fire a rifle ambidextrously, using both hands.
Furlong is now an Edmonton police officer.
No word on how good he is with a handgun, but I wouldn't cross him.
•••The following article was published in the August 2006 Independent about a Newfoundland sniper who served in Bosnia with the Canadian military.
Headline: One shot, one kill
Deck: Retired sniper Dave Fitzpatrick says Canadians don't understand the sacrifices their troops make
By Ivan Morgan
The Independent, Aug. 13-19 edition
Dave Fitzpatrick of Bay Roberts was almost killed by a sniper's bullet while serving as a peacekeeper in Bosnia in 1993.
The retired master sniper coolly explains in expert technical terms why the enemy missed.
"It was perfect elevation — if he would have added another half minute for wind. He was roughly 600 meters away and, as his bullet was approaching me, 100 meters away from me, (it) had to pass between two buildings and come out into the open."
He moves his hand as if delicately adjusting his scope.
"On this particular day the wind was gusting, so when the bullet came between the two buildings and into the open, the wind caught the bullet and forced it off just one-quarter inch off the left side of my ear.
"I'm so glad that he didn't know what he was doing that day."
Since Fitzpatrick's return, only four people have shaken his hand and thanked him for what he did as a peacekeeper in Bosnia. He wants the public to know what he and his colleagues did — the dangers they faced and the toll they've taken.
Fitzpatrick, who retired four years ago with the rank of master corporal, suffers from post-traumatic stress syndrome. He is matter-of-fact about his condition.
"I would literally go behind closed doors and have a good cry for myself. And I didn't know why, nor could I figure out why," he says. "My body physically, mentally and emotionally was breaking down, and very quickly."
Fitzpatrick praises Veterans Affairs for their assistance in arranging treatment. He also credits his wife, who he met in the 1998 ice storm, with turning his life around.
The St. John's native says he knew by age 12 he wanted to serve his country. With a military background — nine members of his father's family served before him — he dreamed of being a peacekeeper. In 1984, at the age of 20, Fitzpatrick enlisted in the Canadian army.
His decision to become a sniper followed from his training in biathlon — a winter sport combining cross-country skiing with sharp shooting.
"Snipers are not made, they're born," Fitzpatrick says. "It's something that comes to you naturally."
He was part of a sniping team of four master snipers. He compares the work to professional golfing. "It's kind of like looking at Tiger Woods lining up for a long drive, and both him and his caddy are off to one side and they are talking about calculations — wind, distance, instinct ... and a little bit of luck. And with that, comes the 'one shot — one kill.'
Fitzpatrick served for 18 years, but his sharpest memories are of his mission to Bosnia in 1992-93. There are things he won't talk about, but his roles as a soldier and a peacekeeper aren't among them. He speaks about his service with the clear-eyed seriousness of a man trained to do difficult, dangerous and unpleasant work.
Fitzpatrick says he was told by "higher ups" not to speak about certain things that happened in Bosnia. "We were tasked to do some things, and we carried out those tasks," is as specific as he will get.
He describes that tour as "hellish." Arriving in August 1992, the peacekeepers immediately went behind enemy lines.
"You literally slept every night with one eye open and one eye closed," he said.
He and his colleagues delivered food by convoy to the desperate civilians of Sarajevo, trapped by violence.
"We went to Bosnia with a big picture that we were going to go over there and literally try and draw a line between several warring factions and keep the peace — and keep the bullets from flying.
"Once we were in there we could clearly see we were just another battle group holding its own ground, and delivering food to the people who really needed it."
He says the Canadian military's role in Afghanistan is a different type of mission.
"They are not fulfilling a peacekeeping role as such, because no one has come to a ceasefire agreement over there — we were simply in the middle of a war."
He worries about what this means for Canadian soldiers. "We are going to start losing many more lives because they are starting to, I think develop a hatred for Canadians as they do for Americans."
Fitzpatrick uses his experience in Bosnia to shed some light on what the troops in Afghanistan face.
"I was sacred for my life. But every day I picked up my rifle and I carried on," he says. "We did what we had to do."
When asked what advice he might give a young Newfoundland reservist on the way to Afghanistan, Fitzpatrick doesn't mince words. "That's quite a trip he's going on."
He says most young people heading into combat "have absolutely no idea what they are getting themselves into." He knows because, he says, he was one of them. "I don't think anything can prepare you psychologically for going to war. You can only train so much for war.
"You don't know, when you are (to) come home on a plane, whether you are going to be sitting up in first class or if you are going to be in a box down in the bottom of the plane."
Fitzpatrick says a lot of the men and women returning from Afghanistan are going to go through what he has gone through.
He advises loved ones to let returning soldiers have their space. They are going to have flashbacks, they are going to have "survivor guilt," they are going to have questions, and they will need help."
Fitzpatrick tells a story he says defines the Canadian army's reputation as peacekeepers. During one food delivery, Fitzpatrick and his group were confronted by members of the Bosnian army, who often stopped convoys at gunpoint, demanding food. The Canadians refused.
Fitzpatrick says the Canadian major negotiated for three hours, meeting the Bosnians' threat of force with his own. Everyone's weapons were pointed at each other. "It was just a matter of one person pulling the trigger and it would have been a huge bloodbath," he says.
The major keep his cool, the Canadians stood their ground, the Bosnian army stood down and the people of Sarajevo got their food.
"Kudos to the major," Fitzpatrick says with a smile.
But most Canadians, he says, don't understand the sacrifices their troops make on these missions. As he says of his return from duty: "There was no parade."
Simcoe, Ont. native Petty Officer Craig Blake, who was killed on Monday by an improvised explosive device, is the 143rd Canadian soldier to die in the Afghan mission.