The police officers who attended this year's TREXPO East keynotes were awed by the patriotism and heroism of the men who spoke at the event. They gathered afterward to shake hands with and have their pictures taken with these great Americans.
First off was Maj. E. James Land, USMC, ret., and secretary of the National Rifle Association. Land, who has trained law enforcement precision rifle shooters, was at TREXPO to talk about police rifle programs. But the focus of his speech was really the history of the Marine Corps sniper program. And the audience wouldn't have had it any other way.
Land was mentor and commander of Gunnery Sgt. Carlos Hathcock II, the deadliest Marine sniper in the Vietnam War. As Land said, "If it wasn't for Carlos Hathcock, no one would have ever heard of me."
But there was more to Land's distinguished service than just training Hathcock. Land helped establish the Marine Corp's Scout-Sniper School.
In his presentation, Land discussed the history of the military sniper and the development of current U.S. military training programs. He also praised the Marine snipers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. "We couldn't have held a candle to these youngsters today," he said.
Land strongly recommended that police agencies not use the term "sniper" for their precision rifle shooters. "Most people view the term 'sniper' with revulsion and you don't want that. Sniper is a very negative word."
For today's police precision rifle operators, Land offered advice to help deal with the psychological impact of taking a life through a rifle scope. "You have to mentally rehearse what will happen when you drop the hammer," he said. "You have to follow through on the event, and you have to reassure yourself that you were protecting your troops and you were the best person to do it."
The second keynote speaker at TREXPO East was Felix Rodriguez, retired CIA officer and author of "Shadow Warrior: The CIA Hero of a Hundred Unknown Battles."
Born in Cuba and a young man when Castro seized power, Rodriguez emigrated to Florida where he was recruited by the CIA to work against the dictator. Rodriguez participated in the Bay of Pigs invasion and in subsequent plots to assassinate Castro.
By far the most fascinating part of Rodriguez' storied service in the CIA was his work with the Bolivian Army tracking down infamous communist insurgent Che Guevara. Rodriguez helped capture Guevara and spent several hours chatting with the guerilla before the man's summary execution. Rodriguez said he tried to convince the Bolivians to spare Guevara's life, but they had other orders. Rodriguez said he broke the news to Guevara with a head shake of "no" and Guevara said he understood and that it would have been better to die in battle.
Rodriguez went on to serve in Vietnam, suppressing rocket attacks in Saigon and in Central America where he worked with the Contras. His involvement with the Contras brought him in front of Congress where he faced grilling by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.). Rodriguez said he opened his testimony with a statement: "This will be the hardest testimony of my life. It is very difficult to answer questions from someone you do not respect." He told the TREXPO audience that Kerry is a "son of a bitch."
Ending his presentation with questions from the audience, Rodriguez was asked what he thought of Castro's declining health. "I hope he is suffering for what he has done to us," he said.