Nicholas Irving

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As a sniper, you have the power to end the most precious thing on the planet without that person even being aware of your existence. It takes a certain type of individual to deal with having that kind of power.

Nicholas Irving (born November 28, 1986) is an American author and former soldier. He was a special operations sniper in the 3rd Ranger Battalion for the U.S. Army.



Modern Warriors (2020) interview

Modern Warriors: Real Stories From Real Heroes by Pete Hegseth. New York: HarperCollins Publishers. First edition November 2020.
  • As a sniper, you have the power to end the most precious thing on the planet without that person even being aware of your existence. It takes a certain type of individual to deal with having that kind of power.
    • p. 211
  • I always told my guys that they should call me "Irv." I never wanted them to call me "Sergeant." Even though I'd earned the nickname and the reputation as the Reaper, I wanted everyone to operate on the same level playing field. I wasn't any better than anyone. That didn't mean that I didn't carry myself with confidence, but I remained humble. One thing is for sure, if you ever say anything in the battalion that sounds like a brag, you'll never hear the end of it. Also, that was just how I was raised. Lead by example. Don't ever be your own cheerleader.
    • p. 217
  • I look back now, and I'm completely amazed at a lot of things we all did. I was scared every time we went outside the gate. Every single time. Every single firefight. That last deployment in Helmand Province I was convinced I was going to die. Maybe it was superstition, but on your last deployment after you'd made the decision to leave the military, you know that you were either going to get shot or killed. We were experiencing way too much contact with the enemy, way too many ambushes, way too many close calls. At that point, Marjah was the Wild West. The only thing that kept me going was the guys to my left and to my right.
    • p. 218
  • I think that a lot of people have this misconception about what it means to be a sniper. A lot of people are fascinated with the long-distance kill. That's kind of the romanticized version of the lone gunman out there stalking his prey. Guys do that, and that's important, but that's not the only kind of sniping that gets done. Direct-action sniping is different. You're in a firefight. Chaos is going on all around you. I saw a mix of both kinds and they required a different skill set- not entirely, but to a degree- and a different mindset. But a lot of people don't understand that as a sniper, 90 percent of your job is relaying information back to the other guys and teams and command personnel behind you. You're out in front and can see things they can't but need to. The way I looked at it, that first 90 percent was about helping save lives. The same with the 10 percent.
    • p. 218-219
  • The truth is, when I left the military, and even at times when I was home from deployment, that badass mentality was too much for me to deal with. I felt like I had to live up to being a badass and I was scared to death that I really wasn't that way. It's hard enough living one life, but when you're living two or being two different people, things get complicated. So, I just tried to continue being that badass, and drinking a lot helped to do that and to forget the fear of not being a badass. That's a lose-lose proposition I can see now.
    Plus, the Reaper was my identity. I'd served six deployments overall. My whole identity to that point was wanting to be a soldier, a sniper, and then being those two things. And I was good at it, too. I was known for being good at it. Being that guy, that badass, that Reaper was how I was able to survive and how I was able to function in this world. I was molded by having such life-changing experiences as being in combat and serving as a sniper. And coming back home after having been all that and figuring out a way to still be all that while in the civilian arena was hard.
    • p. 222
  • I've never really talked about this openly. I was too scared and too uncomfortable. Given what's happened recently with the death of George Floyd and the response to that, I've been asked about these issues more. The simple answer is that yes, in the military, I was discriminated against. It wasn't always open, so it was often subtle, but I felt it was there. Some people made assumptions about me just because of the color of my skin.
    • p. 224
  • Truth is, I did know how it was. Truth is, in the military, I was treated better as an adult than I am as a civilian. I didn't really experience much racism as a kid. I realize now, that I was pretty naïve.I remember my dad having "the talk" with me. Not the one about the birds and the bees, but the one about how I should conduct myself when I am forced to have an encounter with a law enforcement officer. I thought everybody got that talk from their fathers. I now realize they don't, just minority parents talking to minority kids about what o do so they don't end up arrested, roughed up, or dead. When I told Jess that down the line I was going to have to have that talk with my son, she was totally confused. What? Why? You mean...
    • p. 225
  • I've been pulled over multiple times for the same taillight that is not burned out. I've been paid one-third less for television appearances and other work in that industry than my white counterparts with less experience. I've been told by TV people that when I had dreadlocks, I should cut them out because my appearance was sending a negative message. Some of this stuff happened as recently as two weeks ago. So it happens. And as a black man, you take it. Not all the time, but most of the time because you grow up aware of the consequences of not taking it. And recently, as a veteran, I've watched and listened as there's been talk of having our active duty military people being called in to help quiet unrest and arrest lawbreakers. I couldn't imagine doing that. Not to black people. Not to white people.
    • p. 225-226
  • I enlisted to fight against foreign and domestic enemies. The average protestor on the streets is not an enemy, not a terrorist. That's not the job of the 101st Airborne or the Green Berets or other military units. As a civilian, seeing that being considered or threatened is scary. I think about some of the tactics we used overseas, and I can't understand how anyone would consider using them here in this country.
    • p. 226
  • I'm sad about the state of this nation right now. I really am. I remember how people rallied around the flag after 9/11. We were all on the same page. We felt unified for a while. I am proud of what I did in fighting the Global War on Terror. I'm glad I served, but in a way, with what's going on now in this country and how divided we are, it's almost like what our Vietnam veterans faced in coming home. We aren't physically being spit on and degraded, but it is an enormous sign of disrespect for our efforts to come back home from war to have another one going on here. Especially since we can fix this.
    • p. 226-227
  • If I could tell everyone in this country one thing that I learned it would be this: We need to have an open ear and an open mind. We need to have leaders that are willing to listen, to accept feedback, and adjust. We also need to remember that we still have men and women overseas who are fighting and dying to preserve and protect the principles that we're all supposed to have bought into as Americans.
    And remember that if you do have respect for a veteran, and the vast majority of people do, that means that you should have respect for yourself and for other Americans. We are all there fighting, black guys, white guys, Hispanic guys. So, if you want to say thank you for your service, then stop the fighting here, stop the discrimination among races and classes. That can start with being an open ear. Listen. As a leader, it isn't about issuing commands. You have to listen, accept feedback, and make changes.
    • p. 227

Quotes about Irving

  • Sergeant Nick "the Reaper" Irving earned his reputation and nickname on a remarkable tour of duty in 2009 while serving primarily as a direct action sniper in Helmand Province. While serving with the 3rd Ranger Battalion, in a period of three months he established a record by accounting for the confirmed deaths of thirty-three enemy combatants. He was the first African American sniper to serve in his battalion, and proudly followed in the footsteps of his parents, both of whom were in the Army.
    Nick admits to having a bad case of "SEAL-itis" as a kid, as a result of his exposure to the Charlie Sheen film Navy Seals. He went so far as to attend, and pass, the Navy Sea Cadet SEAL camp in Florida following his senior year in high school. It was only because a pre-induction physical revealed his color-blindness that he was forced to give up his long-held dream. Post 9/11, the military was in need of qualified candidates, and an army recruiter sought him out after a nurse cheated for him on the color vision test, convincing him that the Army's elite Ranger Regiment was essentially, as he put it, SEALs without the water.
    • Pete Hegseth, Modern Warriors (New York: Broadside Books, 2020), p. 213
  • Nick was already a well-practiced and highly-skilled marksman before entering the military, but he had to overcome a serious obstacle before he could join the Ranger Battalion- his fear of heights. Completing airborne training was a major challenge, and to this day, Nick marvels at the fact that some people leap out of airplanes for enjoyment. Despite that fear, he was able to join the Rangers, and he credits his father and father's military training for straightening him out. He admits to being an angry and sometimes wayward young man who often lacked discipline and focus, except when it came to precision marksmanship and working toward his early goal of becoming a SEAL. Early on, he discovered John Plaster's influential book, The Ultimate Sniper. Though a few birds and a neighbor's window paid the price of his early interest in weaponry, he refined his skills and came to liken sniping to chess, with its emphasis on anticipation, prediction, and analysis. He used those high-level critical thinking skills in serving with great distinction for six years.
    • Pete Hegseth, Modern Warriors (New York: Broadside Books, 2020), p. 213-214
  • Since leaving the military, he has enjoyed a career as an author of two highly regarded memoirs and a series of military action novels, as a television personality, and as an instructor at HardShoot. The last one is at a precision shooting company where he instructs individuals, including Olympic marksmen, in the fine art and hard science of shooting. Along with his wife, Jessica, and his son, Kaden, he resides in Texas.
    • Pete Hegseth, Modern Warriors (New York: Broadside Books, 2020), p. 214
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