First Words


It was one of those loose ends that in­evitably oc­cur.

In a fea­ture on the top snipers in U.S. mil­i­tary his­tory that was run­ning in an­other mag­a­zine, we were miss­ing a birth year from one of the 10. No one was hav­ing any luck track­ing down those four dig­its, so I con­tacted our gov­ern­ment. I sent a cou­ple of emails, made a cou­ple of calls and then crossed my fin­gers. Pretty tightly.


The first re­sponse from the U.S. gov­ern­ment wasn’t good. “We are un­able to pro­vide that con­fi­den­tial in­for­ma­tion.” By phone, I reached an­other source within our gov­ern­ment. I ex­plained what I needed, and the source checked that name against the names ac­tive in the mil­i­tary.

“I don’t show any­thing,” the source said, “but I show that name as a civil­ian. Here’s a con­tact num­ber for that agency.”

I thanked him and im­me­di­ately called.

The per­son who an­swered the phone said the in­for­ma­tion is un­avail­able … and then asked if we had tried so­cial me­dia.

“That is our next step,” I said.

Hav­ing read on so­cial me­dia that this re­tired sniper we’re af­ter val­ues his pri­vacy, I fig­ured we’d hit an­other dead end. But I tried, any­way.


Within just a cou­ple of min­utes, I found what ap­peared to be the Ti­mothy Kell­ner we were af­ter. I con­tacted him through his page and waited. Shortly there­after, I re­ceived an email from Tim, who said pub­lic af­fairs con­tacted him and pro­vided my in­for­ma­tion. He told me what we needed, and then I seized the op­por­tu­nity to ask him about his avail­abil­ity for a fea­ture.

“Sure, that would be fine,” he wrote.


I ab­so­lutely couldn’t be­lieve how lucky we were on that day in early Au­gust. We went from scram­bling to fill in a blank to scor­ing an in­ter­view with one of the great­est snipers in his­tory.

For what the mil­i­tary has done and con­tin­ues to do for us, my re­spect for them is through the roof. To show that re­spect, I planned to run Amer­i­can Hero as the head­line, which I asked him about.

“I’m not a hero,” he said, mat­ter-of­factly.

The heroes, he said, are those who do things like en­gage in fire­fights with the Tal­iban.

Re­spect­ful of his wishes, I changed the head­line. But, I’ll tell you right now, sir, that you are a hero. And that will never change. To be sure, ev­ery­one who puts on the uni­form to help keep Amer­ica safe will al­ways be a hero, but you stand above. Think of it this way, Tim. Great ath­letes play Ma­jor League Base­ball. Only the great­est make the Hall of Fame. You, my friend, are in the Hall. I will for­ever be grate­ful for your ser­vice to Amer­ica, and it is true honor to work with you.

Train hard. Live strong.

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