The sniper with one of the longest kills in Afghanistan has a message for Joe Biden – Daily Mail

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Sergeant Nicholas Ranstad was twenty minutes into a nap when his spotter woke him up.

Four Taliban fighters were 1.28 miles away from the hut where the Army specialist sniper was living in Kunar Province in northeastern Afghanistan.

If the insurgents had looked more carefully, they would have seen white marks on boulders beside them. Ranstad, a 28-year-old Florida native, had been using them for target practice for weeks.

Now, however, his AK-47-wielding target could shoot back while they were surveilling the U.S. traffic checkpoint.

Nick Ranstad set up on top of a Afghanistan Border Patrol (ABP) hut and got into the prone position.

He peered down his scope, and got the precise distance from his spotter Alex Simpson: the enemy was 6,778ft away – 22 football fields. It was an immense distance for any marksman.

He tried to reduce his heartbeat by taking slow, deep breaths, then pulled the trigger, unleashing a round traveling at almost 3,000ft per second.

Army specialist sniper Nick Ranstad killed a Taliban terrorist from 1.28 miles away in 2008. At the time it was the longest kill by an American in Afghanistan

A couple of seconds later he saw a burst of dirt six feet below the men. It was a miss. 

Angry with himself for a tenth of a second, he looked down the scope at his target again and saw the men scrambling.

‘I wish I had shot higher,’ he told

The militants had no idea where the shot had come from. Three of them took cover behind the biggest boulder, but one was exposed.

Ranstad pulled the trigger of his Barrett M107 again, and two seconds later he saw one of the men rolling down a hill. The rest is history.

Later he found out that his kill in January 2008 was the longest by an American sniper in Afghanistan to date.

He was happy with his shot, but says he was prouder to wear the uniform and serve in a team.

His record has been broken since, but his name is still etched in military folklore.

The historic shot is one of the stories the American military looks back on with pride from its 20 years in Afghanistan.

But what happened to Ranstad in the years that followed has become all too common among veterans from the War on Terror.

That story is one the Pentagon doesn’t want you to hear.

Eleven years after killing the Taliban fighter with a once-in-a-lifetime shot, he walked into the home of a friend, Marine veteran Sean Miller.

Like Ranstad, Miller was a fellow veteran who struggled with PTSD.

He had shot himself in the head.

Ranstad was twenty minutes into a nap when his spotter woke him up in January 2008.  Four insurgents were in front of boulders he had been using for target practice

Ranstad called 911 to report a suicide, but ended up being arrested and taken into custody because of the flurry of emotion he felt in the seconds that followed.

When he saw his friend’s body he was so upset he fired four rounds into the floor of the house.

He then ripped down the Marine flag outside Sean’s home and draped it over his body.

The responding officers read him his Miranda rights and he ended up in jail for several days before being released on a $10,000 bond.

He was charged with reckless use of a firearm and firing it inside a dwelling, and it took 13 months to clear his name.

Ranstad admits his reaction in that moment of rage wasn’t right, but the situation showed signs of a crisis that runs far deeper.

Ranstad pulled the trigger of his Barrett M107, and two seconds later he saw one of the members of the Taliban rolling down a hill. The rest is history

Now 45 years old, married for 18 years and with a child, he has been out of the military for six years.

He was honorably discharged because of his own battle with PTSD and the ongoing effects of a traumatic brain injury (TBI).

Thousands of veterans suffer from TBIs during their service, but trying to get an official diagnosis for them is a struggle.

It means veterans cannot get full benefits – even if they suffer symptoms such as headaches, insomnia, confusion, frayed memory, bad balance, racing hearts, paranoia, depression and random eruptions of rage or tears.

Ranstad’s story and his interactions with Sean before his tragic death are a painful reminder of the shortfalls of veteran care across the United States.

It is an issue he says has been overlooked for too long, a sentiment thousands like him agree with.  

In 2011, Ranstad met then Vice President Joe Biden with his spotter Simpson, who was in Walter Reed Medical Center after being paralyzed during his second tour in Afghanistan

They are needs vital for both Joe Biden and Donald Trump to address in the 2024 election.

He says it is time to prioritize those who served their country over migrants who are given benefits such as free healthcare and housing.

Thousands of veterans are living on the streets and many end up losing the invisible war they fight when they return home.

Ranstad was a military brat.

His great-great grandfather was a medic in the First World War. His grandfather was an infantryman in the Korean War. His father was the Navy’s Chief Masters-at-Arms and his uncle was an Air Force fighter pilot.

His aunt is in the FBI and his brother is a sheriff’s deputy.

He wanted to follow in their footsteps, looking up to and respecting them for their desire to protect Americans and give back to their country.

When he signed up to the Army he had wanted to join a tank platoon, but there were no slots available.

His second choice was a Cavalry Scout, and the Army needed snipers. So, he was sent to sniper school.

Ranstad leads a fire team of Air Force joint terminal air controllers in search of a high-value target during an exercise in Germany in 2008

He proved himself with a long gun and ended up winning the German Schutzenschnur Silver Aiguillette Medal. 

Only a handful of the most skilled U.S. service members are invited to compete.

It was a sign of the marksmanship that would make him a legend in the military. 

Ranstad was on his only deployment in Afghanistan in northeastern Kunar Province, near the Pakistan border, when he encountered the Taliban fighters.

For months he had been living in the hut, just over a mile away, across a ravine from the boulders he used as target practice.

Most snipers train with targets half a mile away, Ranstad’s was more than twice that.

Each time he took a shot, he or his spotter would write down his notes in a ‘dope book’.

He and Simpson recorded the wind, the temperature, the time of day and the accuracy.

The variables were crucial when the enemy came into his line of sight.

The deadly Barrett M107 rifle he held in his hands could shoot .50 caliber rounds the size of hot dogs.

What happened to Ranstad in the years that followed has become all too common among veterans from the War on Terror. His story is one the Pentagon doesn’t want you to hear

They travel at supersonic speeds for up to 1,750 yards.

Ranstad was shooting Armor Piercing Incendiary (API) rounds which created a firework effect on impact.

He kept doing it to mark targets for the Apache helicopters on station nearby, ready to be deployed.

Ranstad felt like the rifle was part of him. He could hit anything. Whatever the distance anyone stated it could shoot, he could fire it further.

He was manning a checkpoint in the area where the Taliban was executing construction workers, to stop others supporting U.S-backed projects.

Snipers may be portrayed in Hollywood as gunmen roaming battlefields picking off their targets, but they are mainly used for intelligence and surveillance.

In small teams they lie in wait, sometimes for weeks, to scout out an enemy’s position. Then they relay the location to strike teams or units ready to conduct a raid.

He knew insurgent fighters were in the area, so when he spotted the group, he relayed the information to his platoon sergeant who gave him the go-ahead.

The Taliban decapitated some construction workers earlier that week and left notes in Farsi stating: ‘This is what happens when you work with the Americans.’

Ranstad didn’t say a word as Simpson communicated his corrections of the wind and the heat signatures from the ground through his spotting-scope.

The rifle was perfectly still and he had reached an almost meditative state as he raised the scope level with the horizon.

Then he sent the round across the ravine faster than the speed of sound in the direction of the oblivious men on the other side.

Eleven years after killing the Taliban fighter with a once-in-a-lifetime shot, Ranstad (pictured) walked into the home of a friend who had shot himself in the head

He was angry he missed with the first try, as he prepared for every shot expecting to kill.

The militants started to scramble. Ranstad assumed his targets thought they were being shot at across the border from Pakistan, just across the river.

Three found cover behind the boulder, but one was in the open.

But he instantly composed himself and listened as Simpson called out a correction.

He pulled the trigger again.

That’s when the cloud of dust from his first miss was replaced with a corpse rolling down the hill.

Ranstad’s kill set an American record that wasn’t far from the 7,972ft shot by Canadian Army Corporal Rob Furlong in Afghanistan in 2002.

The reported record sniper kill is 2.14 miles from an unnamed Canadian sniper during a tour of Iraq in 2017.

Ranstad told that, looking back, the shot was ‘pretty cool’, but the team around him and winning the war was more important to him.

He went on to appear on TV shows to discuss his kill and even met the owners of Barrett, the sniper manufacturer, and told them how to improve their weapon.

In 2011, he met then Vice President Joe Biden with his spotter Simpson, who was in Walter Reed Medical Center after being paralyzed during his second tour in Afghanistan.

Despite the honors and the prestige, however, the stark reality of being a post-9/11 warrior set in.

‘After my deployment I started noticing it,’ he told

There was heavy drinking, fights with his family, and he was paranoid and waking up in the middle of the night with cold sweats.

‘It was all the cliché symptoms,’ he said. He knew he had PTSD.

At first he didn’t want to admit it to himself because of the ‘man up’ mentality that dominates the Army.

The attitude was that you never sought help, however much you needed it.

‘There was a stigma then and it’s still running through the ranks like a virus.

‘Soldiers think there is something wrong with them mentally but in all actuality, they were injured.’

Eventually, after he was medically discharged in 2018, he sought help and had his first encounter with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

‘At first, I thought it was supportive. There were lots of resources and they knew what they were doing.

‘But the more I worked with them, the more I found out treatment with the VA was lacking.’

They would schedule crucial appointments up to six months apart and would keep switching doctors so he would have to repeatedly go through the same tests.

‘Being a doctor in the VA is a revolving door,’ he said.

He also ran into the problem so many other veterans face; being given prescription pills instead of treatment.

‘When we got back from deployment and we had to reintegrate back, one of the stops was mental health doctors.’

Ranstad is pictured firing a Barrett M107 - the same rifle he used for his record-breaking shot -in a segment for The History Channel

The office was small, but the line of troops waiting to see the medics was out the door.

‘The guys (service members) were walking out with brown bags of all kinds of drugs.

‘God knows how much money these pharmaceutical companies made that day and how many dependents they created.

‘In my experience I felt like a dart board for pharmaceuticals. The doctors and therapists were throwing darts and seeing what stuck.

‘They gave me something one time and it made feel more depressed and suicidal than ever before in my life.

‘I told my therapist and she said, “Ohh, we need to get you off that immediately.”

‘I said, “No s***” and she put on some other s*** that didn’t work.

‘They didn’t even tell me about the withdrawals.’

It meant he gave up on the VA and now gets his care from a private healthcare provider.

He gives Biden praise for passing legislation to protect veterans exposed to toxic burn pits, but care for service members will ‘always be an issue’.

‘It seems like a lot of bill introductions but nothing seems to be getting passed.’

His message to Biden is to push even harder to protect those who have served. 

But one of the most disgraceful acts he has ever seen from a president was when Biden looked at his watch during the dignified transfer for the 13 American service members killed in the disastrous Afghanistan withdrawal.

‘I watched him look at his watch the first time while the first soldier, draped in the flag, was transported.

‘He never saluted anyone, then kept looking at his watch.’

‘I truly do not know how the parents didn’t confront him on the tarmac. I don’t believe I could’ve held my tongue.’

He is also furious about former White House press secretary Jen Psaki’s ‘backhanded’ apology for lying about the watch in her memoir.

‘I felt it was so disgusting. I felt she gave such a backhanded apology, plus she knows her audience so she gives two s*** about what anyone thinks. 

‘I’m irked just remembering that day. It’s sad that it took backlash for her to retract her quotes. 

‘If I was a family member of one of the fallen I’d sue the s*** out of her.’

Ranstad says the VA needs more money and each veteran needs an assigned counselor to set them up with a specific treatment program.

Many are still bounced around physicians and care facilities, even though they need urgent and constant care.

His spotter Simpson has to drive from North Carolina to Virginia because he doesn’t have a local spinal and pain specialist.

He and Simpson are still close friends and live in the same neighborhood. 

It was during Ranstad’s treatment where he had his first encounter with Sean. 

Ranstad met Sean for the first time in 2017, when both were attending therapy sessions for PTSD.

‘When I first got there, I was very standoffish and he was the first one to talk to me.

‘It was probably because he had felt that way sometime in his initial treatment process. I believe this was his third.’

During the sessions they became good friends. They kept in touch, speaking almost every day.

They would often talk about the struggle to get benefits.

‘I know he was stressed about getting permanent disability status and I tried to tell him he would be approved.

‘But at the same time the VA was jerking him around. He was getting exhausted with the process.’

The journey for veterans to get the sufficient level of compensation for injuries they suffered can take years, and is mired in red tape.

The benefits are approved for Americans whose symptoms will never improve, but some die before they ever get a chance to see it.

Sean was having continuous health problems and Ranstad was trying to help him get back on his feet.

‘I detoxed him at my house for about a month, and he sounded good. We would do daily “hello” texts, but nothing crazy.’

One night, Ranstad got a text from Sean that concerned him.

He said he was feeling bad, and Ranstad told him he was going to make the five and a half-hour drive from Fort Liberty (which was named Fort Bragg at the time), North Carolina, to his home in Virginia.

Sean responded that he was fine and not to worry. Ranstad didn’t believe him and told his wife about his concerns. 

She said he needed to go check on Sean to make sure he was alright.

It was May 2019. During the drive, Sean wasn’t responding to text messages and Ranstad became increasingly worried.

When he arrived at Sean’s home in Warren County he knocked on the door but there was no response.

So, he climbed through an unlocked window and found Miller in the living room, dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Distraught, he took out his own gun and fired into the floor several times.

He was letting off steam, but now wishes he hadn’t lost his cool.

Sometimes he questions if he should have gone into the house at all, but if Sean had been alive when cops turned up there could have been a standoff.

‘It would’ve been really bad for the police department,’ said Ranstad. ‘Not to take anything from the department but Sean was not the one to mess with.

‘They later thanked me for going in first. In the event he was alive I would’ve had a much better chance of de-escalating the situation if there had been one.’

Ranstad called 911 to report the death.

When first responders arrived, he explained to officers he had gone inside to check on Miller’s welfare.

He was then informed of his Miranda rights not to self-incriminate. Later, he was charged with reckless use of a firearm and jailed.

‘I think they thought I was suicidal and wanted to hold me so they trumped up some charges to hold me for a couple days.

‘They (the guards) were quite hospitable to me in the jail. Even the bosses came in to check in on me and sit with me to see if I needed anything, which I thought was weird.’

Ranstad’s kill set an American record that wasn’t far from the 7,972ft shot by Canadian Army Cpl Rob Furlong in Afghanistan in 2002. The reported record sniper kill is 2.14 miles from an unnamed Canadian sniper during a tour of Iraq in 2017

Even though he was released after a few days, the beginning of a 13-month ordeal had only just begun.

It wasn’t until June 2020, after the wait for ballistic lab test results and navigating lengthy red tape, that the charges were dropped – with the help of his attorney Jerry Talton.

‘He called me at work. It felt like 1,000 pounds was lifted off me and my family’s shoulders. We had closure.’

For Ranstad, it wasn’t just about clearing his name. Sean’s tragic death represented the devastating consequences of a deeply-flawed system of veterans’ care.

Following his death, Ranstad’s wife called Sean’s therapist, who informed her he had been approved for the benefits he had been waiting so long for.

‘I don’t know what was said but I know my wife laid into (the therapist),’ he said.

Whether Ranstad was getting care from the VA or the private sector, he said it was like being on a conveyor belt.

Staff were spread thin. The private sector facilities were built like resorts with huge funding from the VA. 

But the quality of treatment for each veteran was sacrificed.

Instead, he found the best therapy was talking to the men and women who also served. It’s that comradery he still misses, years after he left the military.

‘I’ve seen so many soldiers thinking they’re mentally ill and I tell them, “No you were injured.”’

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