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'Deadliest soldier' under fire for controversial memoir

SFC's kill stats 'exaggerated,' unit mates say

Jul. 7, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
The memoir, 'Carnivore,' left, credits Sgt. 1st Class Dillard Johnson with more than 2,600 kills. Johnson says that number reflects his whole crew's efforts.
The memoir, 'Carnivore,' left, credits Sgt. 1st Class Dillard Johnson with more than 2,600 kills. Johnson says that number reflects his whole crew's efforts. (Courtesy HarperCollins)
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The jacket of retired Sgt. 1st Class Dillard “C.J.” Johnson’s recently released memoir, “Carnivore,” calls him one of the deadliest soldiers of all time, with more than 2,600 enemy killed in action along with 121 “confirmed sniper kills.”

Johnson is the first to admit the claims are bogus. He blames the hype on his book publisher, HarperCollins, which he says ignored his efforts to tone down sensational parts and spread the credit.

“The actual numbers that squadron came up with are incorrect. And the actual numbers that the U.S. Army had were incorrect,” Johnson said. “We didn’t go back into the compounds and count bodies, we left. We shot people for 28 miles, but nobody went over there and counted people.”

“Carnivore” spans Johnson’s 20 years as a 19D cavalry scout but focuses heavily on his two deployments to Iraq, first in January 2003, and again in August 2005. Both times, he served as commander of a Bradley Fighting Vehicle — dubbed “Carnivore” — with C Troop (“Crazy Horse”), 3rd Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division.

On Point: The United States Army In Operation Iraqi Freedom,” the Defense Department’s official account of the Iraq War, credited Johnson with 2,746 enemies killed in action.

Johnson, 48, said those numbers come from battle damage assessments after the fact, and they reflect the efforts of his entire crew.

“All of that stuff that is written about me is about what 3-7 Cav did,” Johnson said.

But that’s not the way the facts are presented on the book’s cover or in several articles and television appearances, and that has soldiers who served with Johnson and detractors on the Internet calling him a liar.

“The thing that’s getting me, because of how it’s been marketed,” Johnson said, “is they look at the stats for the war, and they’re like, ‘This is bull----. This guy killed two-thirds of the people and the rest of the guys were off for lunch?’ ”

He feels the same way about the term “sniper.”

“Sniper is a very strong word, and it shouldn’t have been used,” Johnson said. “The term has always been ‘designated marksman.’ ”

He said he never went to sniper school and doesn’t refer to himself as a sniper in the book. He also doesn’t refer to himself as a designated marksman, because that wasn’t his title when he was asked to take out long-range targets during his second Iraq tour.

Two online articles published ahead of the book’s June 25 release date mentioned Johnson’s 37 awards — the U.K.’s Daily Mail described them as “37 medals for gallantry,” while the New York Post said all the awards were for Iraq.

In reality, Johnson earned 37 awards throughout his 20-year career. They include a Silver Star for rescuing another Bradley crew during the invasion, a Bronze Star for his second Iraq deployment and four Purple Hearts for injuries ranging from a gunshot wound to shrapnel in his hands and a burst eardrum. The rest are standard awards for combat experience, overseas service and so on.

“I’m not a hero,” he insists. “I got a Silver Star because I got a lot of contact. I got Purple Hearts because I was a dumb-ass.”

Several people who say they served with Johnson have denounced the book, including former Staff Sgt. Brad Spaid, an Apache Troop soldier, in an interview with the Christian Science Monitor. The soldier commanding the Abrams tank behind Johnsonsaid his comrade had a penchant for telling tall tales.

“Dillard was a good soldier,” retired Command Sgt. Maj. Anthony Broadhead told Army Times. “However, he tends to exaggerate a bit.”

Broadhead is in the book, as the then-sergeants first class and their crews destroyed an Iraqi police compound and fought off an ambush in late March 2003.

“This is a very smart guy tactically,” said Broadhead, who added that he hasn’t read the book yet. “He’s a good guy to have with you in combat, but he’s self-absorbed into being some sort of hero.”

Johnson contends he wrote his memoirs to give a more complete picture of what Crazy Horse Troop did in Iraq.

“That squadron was the best I ever served with,” he said. “That’s why I retired. I knew I was never going to be in a unit like that again. Those guys should all have books. They did very, very heroic stuff.”

Johnson said he feels the negative feedback from Facebook groups to Amazon.com book reviews is more of a character review than an assessment of the book. He saidsome of the backlash from his comrades might have more to do with past personality clashes than anything in the book.

“I’m an admitted a------,” he said. “I’m not what you want to be as far as the Army goes. I didn’t make any friends, I didn’t try to make any friends.”

He also contends HarperCollins dropped the ball in fact-checking and incorporating his edits. Army Times attempted to contact Johnson’s representative at HarperCollins but did not receive a response by press time.

Johnson points to one incident on a boat during his second Iraq deployment, where the language gives the impression he took command of the boat from his troop’s commander, Capt. Mike Burgoyne.

“The book makes it sound like everyone was lying down, handing me magazines,” he said. In reality, he said, he had only taken charge because his commander was busy returning fire. He said he sent that correction to his editor, but the passage was never fixed.

He said there were conflicts with his editor and the book’s ghostwriter, James Tarr, a contributing editor for Handguns and Rifle Shooter magazines. Johnson said once HarperCollins accepted his book proposal, they brought in Tarr to rework it.

He said they took the details he could remember and wove in information from “On Point” and another book “Takedown: The 3rd Infantry Division’s Twenty-One Day Assault on Baghdad,” by Jim Lacey.

He is upset that people think he’s portrayed as if he was the only one getting the job done.

“I tried to take care of my soldiers, and I tried to do the job,” he said. “There is nothing that I did during that time period that anyone else in my position wouldn’t have done.”

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