I honestly hate technology. You start to give it even the faintest bit of trust, and it goes behind your back and makes things difficult. Well, maybe on that hand, I should of just charged my iPod (which doubles as the recorder for most of my interviews) before I decided to call Robert Furlong. Anyway, as the phone call with Robert was wrapping up, my iPod died. With fingers crossed and silently fuming under my breath in the hopes I wouldn't be heard on the phone, I hoped the recording would of saved before the device shut down. It didn't. Once my iPod had enough charged to turn on again, I realized my whole phone call recording had never been saved. I ran to get a piece of paper and a working pen, then with the questions I had just asked in front of me, I closed my eyes and recalled most of the answers I could. My older brother has been awarded the distinctions with one of the best memories in Toronto (apparently they rank this), so I like to think my memory isn't too bad as a bit of runoff from him. What I realized though was that recalling all Rob said really allowed his answers to sink in more. I feel I'll be rethinking his answers for a while to come.
With that in mind, there may be a few “specific” details missing from this particular interview, but that really isn't an important aspect to this one. In my opinion, in this particular conversation I had the chance to have, it was more the emotional aspects than the specifics that had the strongest prevalence. I've had the chance to discuss humorous careers, daring adventures, cooking, opera music, ballet, religion, ice road trucking, stunts, ultimate fighting, challenges and many more categories. This week, I've had two very different conversations regarding the death of a human being. A topic that's never very easy. Earlier this week I had the chance to speak with Carol Todd, the mother of bulling victim Amanda Todd who unfortunately took her own life in October. The story of meeting Carol is for a Canadian Stories book I'm working on. Meeting her took a lot of personal reflection, in regards to if I felt I was able to speak with someone about a sensitive topic such as suicide.
Speaking with Robert was similar, yet very different at the same time. Rob and I spoke about a “world record” he held from March 2002 to November 2009. The record he held was “longest recorded sniper kill in combat”, a record he received while serving in Afghanistan during Operation Anaconda. Upon his spotter noticing a belligerent (enemy) soldier during conflict Shah-i-Kot Valley, Furlong took the shot that would kill the enemy soldiers life, a shot that was 2430m in length, a shot he would later learn had more significance than simply aiding the mission. I had to decide if I was up to speaking about such matters, if I felt Robert would like to talk after all these years (knowing he had spoken about it before) and had to consider if it was appropriate to write about. Needless to say, I made contact and we were in touch. At about three o'clock on Tuesday the 20th of August, I called Robert Furlong's cellphone. He was out east at a coffee shop taking a break and reading emails. That's when we started talking about his career with the Canadian Armed Forces.
Rob Furlong, photo retrieved from
It was around 1997, the year after my little brother was born, when Rob decided to join the Canadian Armed Forces out east, becoming the first in his family to enter this profession (thanks, Rob). This is an instance were the recording would of came in handy, but I can let you know that he then went to Quebec for some training in a wide range of areas, yet it was what he would do outside of training that would effect his career, that being competition shooting. After people realized the talent he had there, he earned himself a spot (out of about two offered) in a more detailed sniper program, which Rob decided to go for.
After training, came Robert Furlong's first deployment, he was off to Bosnia-Herzegovina as a peace keeper. What he would later realize here was how much more organized the bases were, the protocol and even things to do in your free time. He didn't really realize this then, as to him it was his first deployment as a soldier (well, peacekeeper). It was when Rob was sent to Kandahar Province, Afghanistan with the first deployment of Canadians and Americans that the comparison to Bosnia was made. They landed in an old air force base, and slept in two man tents. Rob made it to his first active war zone as a fighter, as a soldier. This is what he was trained for. Early on, he was stationed in an old, formerly Russian town with Anti-Taliban locals, a fellow Canadian and some Americans, mainly gathering intel. Then came Operation Anaconda, one of the first large-scale operations and battles in the war.
Somewhere in another area of conflict, a Canadian named Arron Perry would take a shot at a belligerent in a helicopter. This shot hit its mark, and unbeknownst to Perry, would set a world record for the longest in combat kill since a United Nations Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant Sniper named Carlos Hathcock in 1967, Vietnam. Perry wouldn't hold this record for long.
With that going on in one area of combat, Furlong described to me what fighting in Anaconda was like, my first time hearing first-hand a soldier explaining what it was like in an active war zone. It seemed you were constantly being shot at or bombed at. You had very little solace, and when you did, you were planning tactics to strike back at the enemy to aid the mission. Mid-fight, his spotter noticed a troop down below in the Shah-i-Kot Valley. Rob took his shot, the enemy was neutralized, and fighting was continued without a second thought by many. After all, this was war.
It was when he made it back to camp after the operation protocol was finished that stories started to spread about what he had done. He had beaten both Hathcock's and Perry's "record", and killed a man in combat from an astonishing 2430 meters, nearly 2.5 kilometers.
The rifle used by Furlong
Image from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Tac50.jpg
How could one be proud to be know for this particular record? Be proud knowing that people know you as the man who took another life from an especially long distance away? Rob wasn't proud of that aspect, be he is proud he could successfully aid his country, and the protocols of the mission he was on. I say that's a pretty hard internal battle to fight.
I asked him what went through his mind when Canada left Afghanistan, and I received the longest pause in an interview I'd had ever been granted, before an answer. Of course he's glad that we're gone, and that soldiers can feel safe again with their families, and our nations out of war. But he remembers all his friends left behind, or brought home no longer with us, and wonders if they're really done in Afghanistan yet.
While sitting at his desk one day at work, Robert Furlong received an email from a friend. A British soldier named Craig Harrison broke his record, twice, with two consecutive shots on Taliban soldiers. Rob felt several emotions at the same time. Firstly, relieved the title wasn't his anymore. Yet he also felt he now knew what Craig may be feeling about the record he just received.
After talking about life now, Robert and I said our fair wells, and he invited me to keep in touch. I'd like to thank him for taking the time to speak with an 18 year old learning about Canada, and for protecting our country.