Sgt. 1st Class Dillard Johnson has been called many things:
- Silver Star recipient
- Four-time Purple Heart recipient
- Deadliest American soldier
- Deadliest American sniper in the U.S. Army — second in the military overall to the late Chris Kyle
Except for the more than 37 medals he has earned — and even those might be a stretch for his humble personality — Johnson wouldn’t consider himself many of these things.
Not only did he tell TheBlaze that he doesn’t call himself a sniper, but he said he doesn’t attribute all the 2,746 confirmed kills often associated with his name to himself nor does he necessarily consider them the most of any one soldier.
For years, he said, he has been the public face of harrowing events that took place during two tours served in Iraq in 2003 and 2005. This is why the now 48-year-old has co-authored a book with James Tarr called “Carnivore.”
“I never wanted to write a book,” he said of the work that has been done for the past two years, save the last few pages. He allowed the book to move forward, still very reluctantly, because he wanted to do his best to shed light on the work of others within Charlie Troop of the 3rd Squadron, 7th Cavalry of the U.S. Army.
“I was a very, very, very small part of what took place there,” he said. And that’s what he hopes to show in the book.
The number of kills that are often attributed to him (which have led to the labeling of one of the deadliest American soldiers in recorded history), were not, for example, part of some personal count. Johnson explained that it was his job, when commanded, to get a best estimate of how many adversaries were killed during certain missions.
“The reason we did the count of personnel and equipment was so that we could give the commander an idea of what he is facing on this road,” Johnson explained. “It gives him a better picture of the battlefield.”
Basically, taking these numbers would give the commander a better sense of how many people and the type of equipment they could be faced with in future situations.
Johnson said he is sure his gunner on the Bradley Fighting Vehicle, which was nicknamed Carnivore, had more kills than he. He cited Sgt. 1st Class Anthony Broadhead as going shot-for-shot with him at the battle of As Samawah in March 2003. Johnson said Broadhead, too, saved his life twice while in Iraq.
In fact, it was because of Broadhead that Johnson was able to get a count for how many enemies had been killed by his team in the first place (he emphasized again he was counting because he was asked to by a commander).
While Johnson and comrades in the Bradley went forward to take inventory of the dead, which were often identified by the presence of a rifle, and other equipment, Broadhead was behind in an M-1 tank, ready to defend them should something go wrong.
“By him doing that, it gave me the freedom to count,” Johnson said, noting that tallies were made on a “little, green paper notebook.”
And as for sniper kills, which the book places at 121 — his longest from 821 yards — Johnson said he doesn’t consider himself a sniper. When asked why, he said because he didn’t usually shoot long distances.
“It was just done with an optic on the rifle,” Johnson said.
When it comes to the recorded kill counts, too, Johnson said what bothers him the most is that some people, misunderstanding the purpose of why the count was taken, think him morbid.
“I just happened to be in one spot to do battle damage and check it,” Johnson said. There are troops that never had the opportunity to take an assessment because, for defensive purposes, they had to keep moving.
Ultimately, Johnson said “Carnivore” is meant to be a story about Charlie Troop and the 3/7 Calvary.
“What I want the American people to get out of this book is that every soldier has a story. It’s not just Sgt. First Class Johnson out there by himself. Don’t forget about the other people who were there, because all of these stories are important,” he said.
Finishing the book, however somewhat reluctantly with the need to get the stories out there trumping Johnson’s not wanting to be in the lime light, was met two days later with the retired soldier coming out of cancer remission.
In 2003, Johnson was initially diagnosed with stage-3 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, thought to be the result of radiation poisoning from discharging depleted uranium rounds in combat. He beat the 1-in-4 odds of surviving and returned for a second tour in Iraq two years later. But just after finishing “Carnivore,” Johnson went to the doctor and found the disease had returned. He will be undergoing treatment.
“Every soldier who fought in Iraq has had to face his or her own demons, and I’m no different; my demon just happens to be cancer,” he said in the book.
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