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Deployed soldiers include elite sniper unit

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By Kevin Koelling, Managing Editor

Lifetime love of shooting pushes man to qualify

TELL CITY - A National Guard soldier assigned to the Tell City armory turned a lifelong talent into an extra way to serve his country before he deployed to the Middle East early this year.

Rockport resident Russell Christian's rank is specialist and his duty title is infantryman.

He's also a sniper.

"I joined because I wanted to fight for my country, and am from a military family," Christian said in responding to News questions by e-mail. "The school benefits are good too."

A story published last fall at Army and National Guard Web sites said the formation of an "elite" 10-man sniper unit was part of an ongoing transformation of the Indiana Army National Guard. Author Master Sgt. Jodie Stafford of the Indiana National Guard Recruiting Command wrote that competition was tough at the Camp Atterbury Joint Maneuver Training Center that qualified the soldiers for sniper school before their deployment with the 76th Infantry Brigade.

A six-year veteran, Christian wanted to better himself, so when he saw an opportunity to join the elite unit, "I went for it!" he said.

The 23-year-old son of John Christian of Louisville, Ky., and Terry and Scott White of Rockport said he's been shooting with family members and friends all his life.

"I have always shot expert when doing a weapons qualification," he wrote.

The training he and the other prospective snipers underwent was mainly extra physical training, he explained. They were subjected to mental evaluations, couldn't have any type of criminal record and "our eyesight had to be perfect," he noted.

The would-be sharpshooters ran more and spent more time on the firing range than other soldiers, he wrote, and also devoted time to technical aspects such as range and target identification.

They had to make their own "ghillie suits" that would help them blend into the landscape and learn to conceal themselves and their weapons using the vegetation at hand.

While cautioning that movies "tend to elaborate things that aren't true," Christian said a movie sniper depiction by actor Marc Wahlberg was pretty accurate in depicting cover and concealment and his ghillie suit.

With a deployment to Iraq looming, the toughest qualification was in the psychological testing and reviews, Stafford wrote. For the chosen 10, sniping was a mission they might have to face, she explained, and that fact is the real concern for leaders in the company.

Are the soldiers mentally sound enough, and can they actually do the job if asked? Trainers put the candidates through a number of tasks to ensure they will.

"Can we do the job if asked? Absolutely," Christian said. "It is not a big question in my mind. It is what I was trained to do, and you trust your chain of command to make the right decisions for the mission."

He continues to train to keep his skills sharp, he said, but he doesn't expect to use them on the current deployment.

"We are doing combat logistical patrols," he explained, "making sure that supplies are moving throughout our area of operations."

That may seem a mundane mission, but Christian feels it's worthwhile.

"The war on terrorism does not ask for military muscle anymore," he wrote. "We are in a counter-insurgency mindset now. It is getting better here, but there is still a lot to be done. I hope they let us finish the job."