This legendary Marine sniper made the Corps’ longest known kill shot more than 50 years ago with a machine gun

carlos hathcock marine sniper
Carlos Hathcock taking aim in Vietnam.

  • Gunnery Sgt. Carlos Hathcock holds the Marine Corps record for the longest confirmed sniper kill shot.
  • The late Marine sniper set the record in 1967 with a M-2 .50 caliber Browning machine gun.
  • With 93 confirmed kills, Hathcock is one of the deadliest snipers in the Corps’ history.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

A Marine sniper killed an enemy soldier 1.4 miles away in 1967 with a .50 caliber Browning machine gun. To this day, it remains the Corps’ longest confirmed sniper kill shot.

The tales of Gunnery Sgt. Carlos Hathcock’s exploits in the jungles of Vietnam are legendary. With 93 confirmed kills and around 300 unconfirmed, he is one of the deadliest Marine Corps snipers in history.

The enemy gave Hathcock the nickname Long Tra’ng du K’ich, “White Feather Sniper,” because he notoriously hunted with a white feather tucked into the band of his bush hat.

Hathcock learned of the nickname after the Viet Cong put out a hit on him, offering to pay handsomely any soldier who killed Long Tra’ng and his commanding officer, Capt. Jim Land. The bounty on each of their heads was three years officer’s pay.

Many snipers tried to best Hathcock and claim their prize, but none succeeded. There were some close calls though.

One enemy sharpshooter came dangerously close to killing Hathcock in an intense battle near the firebase at Hill 55. In the final moments of the fight, the two snipers had each other in their sights, each man ready to end the other’s life, but Hathcock was faster on the trigger. He put a bullet clean through the man’s scope, killing him instantly.

Carlos Hathcock
Carlos Hathcock

‘The longest-reaching sniper weapon’

And that was far from Hathcock’s only outstanding shot. During the war, Hathcock also set a US military record for the longest confirmed sniper kill shot. That record held for almost four decades.

From a hill in Duc Pho, Hathcock shot an enemy in the head at 2,500 yards with an M-2 .50 caliber machine gun known as “Ma Deuce,” Charles Henderson wrote in “Marine Sniper,” his novelized biography of Hathcock.

“This is the longest-reaching sniper weapon, the M-2 .50 caliber machine gun,” Land, Hathcock’s CO, told a group of war reporters at one point, according to Henderson. He said the weapon was “effective out to three thousand yards,” well beyond Hathcock’s Winchester Model 70 .30-06 caliber rifle.

Marine snipers could equip the Browning machine gun with either a Unertl Optical Company or Lyman Gunsight Corporation eight-power scope, the same ones the snipers put on their rifles, and provide “a battalion commander the benefit of extra long-range sniper fire,” Land said.

Hathcock’s longest confirmed kill shot before he was sent to Duc Pho for combat operations in early 1967, was at less than 1,200 yards, Henderson, a former Marine sniper, wrote in the follow-on book “Silent Warrior.”

Use of the M-2 machine gun as a sniper weapon began during the Korean War and continued during the Vietnam War.

While the Marine Corps still uses heavy machine guns, its snipers generally do not. “Scout Sniper platoons are not equipped with these assets in their internal sections but have the ability to request or utilize them if the mission requires,” the Corps told Insider.

“In the formal Scout Sniper curriculum, Marines are only trained on the prescribed Scout Sniper Rifles that are organic to their units’ table of equipment,” it said.

The Scout Sniper community does not officially keep records ranking its confirmed kills by distance, though the Marine Corps was able to confirm for Insider that Hathcock still holds the service’s record for the longest confirmed sniper kill shot.

As for why it does not keep official records, the Corps said that “close range or long range is little concern to Scout Snipers as long as an enemy combatant is neutralized.”

Hathcock, who helped build and shape the modern Marine Corps Scout Sniper program with his former commanding officer, Land, and others, held a similar view, considering numbers and records largely meaningless.

Carlos Hathcock Marine Sniper
A commanding general presents the Silver Star to Gunnery Sgt. Carlos Hathcock

‘A meaningful thing about numbers’

For many years, Hathcock was thought to have the most confirmed kills of any Marine Corps sniper. It is actually Sgt. Charles “Chuck” Mawhinney, but even when it was believed to be Hathcock, that never mattered to him, according to Henderson.

During a discussion about his kill count, Hathcock once told a fellow Marine that “you can take those numbers and give ’em to someone who gives a damn about ’em.”

“It’s my job,” he said. “If I don’t get those bastards, then they’re gonna kill a lot of these kids dressed up like Marines. That’s the way I look at it.”

Hathcock is probably the Marine Corps’ most famous sniper, but his success was not measured simply in bodies or yards. Hathcock prided himself on doing his job well, not ending the lives of as many as 400 enemy troops.

“You would have to be crazy to enjoy killing,” he often said, according to Henderson. “I never enjoyed it. It was my job. It was important that I did it well.”

The sniper said that “if there was a meaningful thing about numbers, it would have been the number of lives I saved. Not the number I took.”

Although the Vietnam War did not end until the mid-1970s, it ended for Hathcock in 1969 after he suffered severe burns across most of his body while pulling Marines from a burning troop carrier that struck a mine.

Hathcock, his body on fire as he did it, saved the lives of seven of his fellow Marines. For his heroism, he eventually received the Silver Star.

Hathcock’s 2,500-yard shot in Vietnam is among the top seven longest known sniper kill shots worldwide and is the second longest in the US military.

His record for the longest confirmed kill shot by a US military sniper was broken by a US Army Ranger in 2004, roughly five years after he died of multiple sclerosis.

The disease, together with his injuries from war, did what his enemy in Vietnam never could, but not before Hathcock left a lasting impact on the Marine Corps.

Hathcock trained hundreds of snipers. He spent his life demonstrating and teaching, as Henderson wrote, “that the deadliest thing on the battlefield is one well-aimed shot.”

When Hathcock left the Marine Corps at just under 20 years of service, a commanding officer presented the legendary sniper with an M40A1 sniper rifle.

He was also presented with a plaque that read: “There have been many Marines, and there have been many marksmen, but there has been only one sniper – Gunnery Sergeant Carlos N. Hathcock. One Shot – One Kill.”

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The Marines are honoring the type of rifle and scope used by the Corps’ deadliest sniper

A Marine Corps sniper in Vietnam
An unidentified Marine Corps sniper in Vietnam

  • The Marine Corps celebrated the history of the M40 sniper rifle with Redfield scope at Camp Lejeune.
  • The M40 rifle was the same type of weapon used by Marine sniper Sgt. Charles “Chuck” Mawhinney.
  • Mawhinney is the deadliest sniper in Marine Corps history, with 103 confirmed kills.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

The Marine Corps recently honored a rifle and scope long used by its snipers, including one of the service’s deadliest marksmen.

The Weapons Training Battalion (WBTN) at Marine Corps Installations East-Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune has chosen “Redfield” as the call word for the Stone Bay ranges in recognition of the impact the M40 rifle equipped with a Redfield 3x9x40 scope has had on Marine Corps history.

Call words are a standard part of range control. Other examples include “Bearmat” at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twenty-nine Palms and “Longrifle” at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton.

“Redfield” was chosen for the Stone Bay ranges because WBTN specializes in marksmanship, the Corps said in a post on the naming ceremony. It was also chosen because it celebrates the history of Marine Corps marksmanship.

“We must remember where we came from,” a retired Marine told the Corps. “Those marksmanship skills we’ve honed over the many years, we must continue to grow and make them better.”

Charles Mawhinney
Charles Mawhinney

The modern Marine Corps sniper program was born in the jungles of Vietnam, when legends like Gunnery Sgt. Carlos Hathcock, Master Sgt. Eric England, and Sgt. Chuck Mawhinney proved just how effective a marksman trained in the art of stealth, camouflage and concealment could be in battle.

For the Marines, Hathcock is by far the most famous of the legendary snipers. He had 93 confirmed kills with countless more unconfirmed, he set a record for the longest kill shot that held until the early 2000s, and he was a pioneer alongside others like Maj. Edward James Land in Marine Corps sniper training.

It was long thought that Hathcock, armed with his Winchester Model 70 .30-06 caliber rifle equipped with an 8-power Unertl scope, was the deadliest sniper in Marine Corps history, but that title belongs to Mawhinney.

The sergeant primarily waged war in Vietnam with one of the new M40 sniper rifles, a modified version of the Model 700 Remington 7.62mm bolt-action rifle that was first introduced in 1966. The early Marine Corps M40s were equipped with Redfield 3-to-9-power scopes.

Charles Mawhinney
Charles Mawhinney

Mawhinney is the son of a World War II Marine veteran. He joined the Corps in the summer of 1967 and trained as a scout sniper before he deployed overseas.

He spent almost a year and a half in Vietnam, but when he returned home to Oregon in 1969, he kept the details of his service a secret. Mawhinney was not recognized as a Marine Corps legend until more than two decades later.

In the early 1990s, former Marine sniper Joseph Ward credited Mawhinney with setting a Marine Corps record with 101 confirmed kills in his book “Dear Mom: A Sniper’s Vietnam.”

Further investigation, however, revealed the number to be inaccurate. Mawhinney actually had 103 confirmed kills, along with 216 probable kills.

Mawhinney’s rules of engagement were simple. “If they had a weapon, they were going down,” he previously told The Los Angeles Times. The sniper believed that with each kill, he was saving the lives of his brothers in arms.

One of the things that haunted Mawhinney after he returned home from war was an enemy soldier that slipped away after a Marine armorer made adjustments to his rifle, affecting his shot.

“I can’t help thinking about how many people that he may have killed later, how many of my friends, how many Marines,” he said in an interview. “It’s one of the few things that bother me about Vietnam.”

Chuck Mawhinney posing with a M40 rifle replica, the same type of rifle he used in Vietnam
Chuck Mawhinney posing with a M40 rifle replica, the same type of rifle he used in Vietnam

Mawhinney is one of a handful of outstanding snipers that modern Marines aspire to be, not simply for his skills in battle, but also because of his humility and professionalism.

An infantry weapons officer and WBTN gunner recently told the Corps that he hopes that when Marines hear the call word “Redfield,” they will remember not just the M40 rifle, variants of which have been used for decades, but also legendary Marine marksmen like Mawhinney.

Mawhinney’s M40 sniper rifle has been on display at the National Museum of the Marine Corps since 2006.

The Corps replaced the M40A6, the latest variant of the M40 sniper rifle, with the Mk13 Mod 7 Long Range Sniper Rifle in 2019. The service is, however, looking to replace that weapon with the Barrett Multi-Role Adaptive Design (MRAD) rifle.

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53 years ago, a vicious, unexpected attack showed Americans what kind of war they were really fighting in Vietnam

Marine Corps Marines Hue South Vietnam
US Marines on residential street behind a tank firing over an outer wall of the citadel in Hue, South Vietnam, February 13, 1968.

  • In the final hours of January 1968, the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army launched a massive offensive across South Vietnam.
  • The Tet Offensive failed to hold territory or spark a general uprising, but daily footage of brutal fighting broadcast into homes in the US had a profound effect on how Americans viewed the war.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Shortly after midnight on January 30, 1968, cities in South Vietnam came under simultaneous attack by North Vietnamese Army (NVA) soldiers and Viet Cong (VC) guerrillas.

Many of the attacks were beaten back relatively quickly, some within hours, but the following days revealed that the fighting was not isolated.

Over 100 locations, including 36 of South Vietnam’s 44 provincial capitals, six of its largest cities, and dozens of towns, hamlets, and South Vietnamese Army (ARVN) and US bases faced a massive and well-coordinated attack.

The NVA and VC had launched their Tet Offensive, a brutal assault by some 84,000 soldiers and guerrillas across South Vietnam. They were told to “crack the sky” and “shake the earth” and that the offensive would be “the greatest battle ever fought in the history of our country.”

What ensued would change the course of the Vietnam War.

A plan to start an uprising

Viet Cong Vietnam Tet Offensive
A woman Vietcong soldier with an anti-tank gun during a fighting in southern Cuu Long delta amid the Tet general offensive, spring 1968.

American military advisors had been on the ground in Vietnam for over a decade, but the country saw ever increasing fighting since the US directly intervened in 1965.

By 1968, at least 485,000 US troops were stationed in the country. The fighting on the ground was almost exclusively in the countryside, and bombing operations had expanded into Laos and Cambodia in an effort to destroy the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the main supply line for communist forces.

Contrary to statements made by President Lyndon B. Johnson and the overall US commander in Vietnam, Army Gen. William Westmoreland, there was no sign of victory in sight.

The war had entered a stalemate, and the leaders of North Vietnam, upset by the lack of progress, devised a plan that they believed would give them the decisive victory necessary to unify Vietnam under communism.

Viet Cong Vietnam Tet Offensive
Viet Cong soldiers charging the enemy in South Vietnam, 1968.

They would take the fight directly to South Vietnam’s centers of power – the cities.

The objective was to take control of the major cities, broadcast messages of revolution, and start a general uprising across the country, overwhelming American and ARVN forces and leaving the US with no choice but to withdraw.

The offensive took place during Tet, a holiday that was traditionally, but unofficially, seen as a ceasefire period, allowing ARVN soldiers to return home.

In the months before the offensive, the NVA and VC smuggled thousands of men, weapons, and tons of supplies down the Ho Chi Minh trail and into South Vietnam’s cities.

Diversion at Khe Sanh

Khe Sanh b52 strike
US Marines in sandbagged trenches watch a B-52 strike on Communist positions only 1,000 yards from the base at Khe Sanh, March 3, 1968.

By December, US and ARVN commanders knew something was coming. They noticed the massive increase in activity along the Ho Chi Minh trail, and captured reports showed plans for attacking cities. They also intercepted a recorded message calling on locals to rise up.

Westmoreland believed these were diversions and that the true target was Khe Sanh, a large military base just a few miles from the demilitarized zone between North and South Vietnam.

Worried that the US could suffer a defeat like France’s disastrous loss at Dien Bien Phu 14 years earlier, Westmoreland ordered reinforcements to Khe Sanh and put its 6,000-strong Marine garrison on alert.

Sure enough, almost 20,000 NVA troops attacked Khe Sanh on January 21, starting a brutal months-long siege.

Believing this to be the main attack, the US threw a massive amount of firepower into the fight, dropping close to 100,000 tons of bombs on NVA positions. Half of the US Army’s mobile reserve was also sent into the area.

But Khe Sanh was the diversion.

Saigon

Saigon Vietnam embassy Tet Offensive
US soldiers seen through a hole in the perimeter wall after the attack on the US Embassy during the Tet Offensive, in Saigon, early 1968.

A little more than a week after the fighting at Khe Sanh started, the true targets came under attack. Saigon, South Vietnam’s capital, was the biggest.

Shortly after midnight, the presidential palace came under assault, as did the airport, the city’s biggest radio station, and multiple bases, including Westmoreland’s own headquarters.

Most shocking, 19 VC commandos breached the US Embassy, engaging US troops in a six-hour long firefight before being killed or captured.

But things fell apart for the VC and NVA in Saigon. US and ARVN forces inflicted massive casualties, and operators at the radio station prevented the call for an uprising from going out.

By early February, the attackers were on the defensive, and the fighting was over by early March.

Huế

Marine Marine Corps Hue South Vietnam
Keeping low to avoid enemy fire, US Marines push one of their wounded out of range during fighting in the old section of Hue, February 1968.

As ARVN and American soldiers were regaining ground across the country, in Huế, near the northern border, the bloodiest battle of the offensive was only getting started.

Huế, the old imperial capital, was a major cultural, religious, and educational center. It was divided by the Perfume River: to the north was the walled-off old city within the 200-year-old citadel, and in the south was the city’s new section.

On January 31, over 5,000 NVA and VC stormed the western walls, quickly taking all but two areas: the Mang Ca garrison in the northeast corner of the citadel, controlled by the ARVN 1st Division, and the MACV compound held by US Marines on the southeast corner in the new city.

Battle of Hue Vietnam Marines wounded medic tank
Bloody and bandaged troops on a tank used as a makeshift ambulance during fighting in Hue, February 15, 1968.

An initial US attempt to link up with the ARVN was repulsed, and American troops, untrained in urban combat, fought floor by floor, house by house, and block by block for weeks.

The Americans were originally denied permission to use tanks or airstrikes, but the bans were lifted after it became clear how entrenched communist forces were.

By February 10, the Marines had killed 1,000 combatants and secured the new city at a cost of 358 casualties. They then linked up with the ARVN and pushed into the citadel, where the process started again.

Only after the communist forces’ supply lines had been cut were the Marines and the ARVN able to secure the citadel. By February 25, the remaining NVA and VC had retreated, and the city was fully secured on March 2.

Aftermath

Saigon Vietnam Tet Offensive
Two 750-pound bombs hit in the Cholon area of Saigon during the 1968 Tet Offensive.

The Tet offensive was devastating.

Eighty percent of Huế was destroyed, and over 2,000 civilians there, labeled as threats to the revolution, were executed by VC death squads. Thousands of civilians were also killed in the fighting. US and South Vietnamese forces suffered over 12,000 casualties, including more than 2,600 deaths.

The offensive was also a disaster for North Vietnam. Of about 84,000 combatants, up to 58,000 are believed to have been killed, wounded, or captured. The VC was particularly hard hit, losing so many guerrillas that it was effectively wiped out as a viable fighting force.

In addition, they achieved none of their objectives. There was no general uprising, no South Vietnamese units defected, and they were unable to hold any of the cities or towns they seized.

Saigon Vietnam Viet Cong embassy Tet Offensive
Two dead Viet Cong soldiers on the grounds of the US Embassy in Saigon during the Tet Offensive, January 31, 1968.

But Tet was a strategic victory for the North.

Every day, media outlets broadcast graphic images of death and destruction directly into American homes. Particularly horrifying were images of the summary execution of a VC death squad captain by a South Vietnamese general.

Moreover, the fact that the NVA and VC had conducted such a large-scale attack as Johnson and Westmoreland promised victory was near led many Americans to see the war as unwinnable.

Political opinion turned against the war, and the US mission shifted to strengthening South Vietnam’s military so it could fight alone, enabling the US to withdraw, which it did in 1973. But South Vietnamese forces were quickly overwhelmed, and Saigon fell in 1975.

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How a ‘successful failure’ deep behind enemy lines 50 years ago changed the way US special-operations units plan missions

Son Tay raid Vietnam
The HH-3 helicopter Banana 1 after deliberately crash landing inside the Son Tay camp, November 22, 1970.

  • As the Vietnam War raged 50 years ago, a US special-operations task force attempted a daring prisoner rescue at a camp right next to Hanoi, the North Vietnamese capital.
  • Operation Ivory Coast, as the raid on Son Tay prison was known, didn’t free any US POWs, but it did have a profound effect on how US special operations were conducted.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

By 1970, US intelligence knew that there were 450 American POWs in North Vietnam, several of who were dying of starvation, torture, or illness.

The Pentagon decided to rescue some of them.

So, 50 years ago, a US special-operations task force attempted the unthinkable: a daring prisoner rescue right next to Hanoi, the North Vietnamese capital.

A raid like no other

Son Tay raid Vietnam
The Son Tay Prison.

The main objective of Operation Ivory Coast was to rescue about 50 American POWs from the Son Tay prison.

To do so, the Pentagon assembled a joint special-operations task force, totaling 148 men – Green Berets and Air Commandos – all hand-picked volunteers.

Army Col. Arthur D. “Bull” Simons was the overall ground commander. Simmons was no stranger to prisoner rescues. As a Ranger during World War II, he participated in the successful raid at Cabanatuan, a Japanese POW camp in the Philippines.

The assault force was divided into three groups. “Blueboy,” led by Capt. Dick Meadows, would land within the prison courtyard and rescue the prisoners; “Greenleaf” would land outside and provide fire support and reinforcements if needed; finally, “Redwine” would secure the prison camp’s perimeter and hold off any NVA reinforcements.

The air package, which had to fly the 687-mile route, consisted of one HH-3E Jolly Green Giant and five HH-53 Super Jolly Green Giant helicopters to carry the personnel, two MC-130 Combat Talons for navigation, two HC-130 Hercules for air-refueling, five A-1E Skyraiders for close air support, and 10 F-4 Phantoms to ensure air superiority.

In addition, several Navy aircraft would conduct a diversionary raid east of Hanoi before and during the raid.

Using footage from Ryan Model 147 drones and SR-71 Blackbirds, the CIA was able to construct an exact replica of the prison compound at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, where the assault force trained.

Son Tay raid Vietnam
Special Forces operators abroad one of the helicopters for the Son Tay raid.

The replica was so precise that it even included a bicycle that the guards could use to call in reinforcements. Before D-Day, the ground force had done 170 rehearsals, while the aerial force had completed 268 practice sorties in the US, all of them at night.

Because of the mission’s importance, the operators received state-of-the-art gear, including Singlepoint Sights, a sort of night-vision aiming scope, and 30-round magazines for their CAR-15 rifles. They also wore sterile uniforms with no ranks or tabs that would identify them as Americans.

The raid’s organizers feared that their plan might have been compromised. Special-operations teams conducting covert cross-border operations into Laos, Cambodia, and North Vietnam were plagued by intelligence leaks that got many teams compromised or wiped out. (Eventually, a mole who had been passing information to the North Vietnamese was discovered in their Saigon headquarters.)

The plan in case they were compromised was to stick together and dig in on the banks of a nearby river. With enough air support, they could hold off superior NVA forces until an extraction was possible or the assault force was overrun.

“You are to let nothing – nothing – interfere with the operation. Our mission is to rescue prisoners, not to take prisoners,” Simons told his men during the final brief.

The prison’s proximity to Hanoi meant the NVA guards there had thousands of troops to call on for reinforcement.

The task force flew from the US to a CIA compound in Thailand. After a couple of days of rest, they flew to their launching site in Laos. On the night of November 20, the task force launched.

‘We’re here to get you out’

Son Tay raid Vietnam
Capt. Dick Meadows before the operation, with the white bullhorn he used to warn the prisoners.

The task force approached the target and caught the NVA completely off guard.

The HH-3E carrying Blueboy crash-landed in the courtyard, and the operators shot out toward the compound.

“We’re Americans. Keep your heads down. This is a rescue. We’re here to get you out. Keep your heads down. Get on the floor. We’ll be in your cells in a minute,” Capt. Dick Meadows, the officer in charge of the force inside the compound, shouted through a bullhorn.

Meanwhile, the HH-53 carrying Greenleaf mixed up the compounds and put the security element into a secondary objective, which was packed with between 100 and 200 Chinese troops, 500 yards away.

After a short but intense firefight, the 22 men of Greenleaf neutralized the Chinese threat, killing hundreds and sustaining no casualties. Simmons himself, the senior man on the ground, killed an NVA guard with his revolver.

Back on the target, Blueboy’s operators had suppressed the NVA guards but found empty cells. Meadows radioed back “negative items,” the code word for a dry hole.

Unfazed, the assault force collapsed its perimeter and reboarded the choppers, taking off for Laos. The operation had taken just 28 minutes.

A successful failure

Son Tay raid Vietnam
President Richard Nixon presents awards to Son Tay Raiders. Simons is on the right.

Although the primary objective of the operation was to save POWs, a secondary goal was to give the prisoners hope and send a message to North Vietnam that the US wouldn’t leave its troops behind. In that, the mission was a success.

“We were absolutely elated when we learned of the raid,” Maj. R.E. Smith, an F-105 pilot who spent time in Son Tay prison before the raid, said after he was repatriated in 1973.

“It was the single most significant event in terms of POW life that happened in North Vietnam. It brought us together. It allowed us to be better organized. It reinforced the belief that the US would go to any length to see that we were returned,” Smith said.

The intelligence failures of the operation led to a reorganization of US intelligence community and set the foundations for the creation of organic intelligence-gathering capabilities within the military.

The raid also had an unintended consequence. The trouble of setting up a task force from scratch made clear the need for a dedicated unit to perform such special missions.

Only a few years later, Col. Charlie Beckwith created Delta Force, in which Dick Meadows was a plank holder. The unit was soon called into to perform a similar operation in Iran, after Iranian revolutionaries took 66 Americans hostage.

The spirit of the Son Tay raiders has lived on for decades in the US special-operations community.

Stavros Atlamazoglou is a defense journalist specializing in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (National Service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate.

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