Oderint dum metuant, "Let them hate, provided that they fear". This quote by a Roman poet, made over one hundred years before the birth of Christ can pretty much sum up what the military sniper has to believe about his chosen line of work. The mention of "sniper" in certain circles can be met with anything from coolness to outright physical violence. There are different types of snipers, but the general public mainly considers them as cold hearted murderers or cowards, afraid to face their enemy. A psychopath running uncontrolled by personal ethics or recognized rules of society. Nothing could be farther from the professional military sniper. A military sniper lives or dies by control and a deep commitment to God and country.
I have control, I have control, I have control... five, four, three, two, (BANG), one.
Execute, execute, execute. This type of operation would be considered a good demonstration in precision planning, coordinating, communication and without a doubt, shooting. This is one scenario that a military sniper could find himself in. Another might be as a deadly voyeur, stalking and watching his target for days or weeks. His mission forcing him to become as close and intimate with his target, as the family and friends of his contemporary, who has been selected through detailed mission analysis, to be terminated. The military sniper, as opposed to the police sniper, will more often than not, find himself targeting an individual who is as ethically, morally and patriotically an equal to himself as his own teammates. The target, however, had the misfortune of being born in a different country.
Snipers employed in law enforcement, executive security and even certain special mission military units will always interdict persons who are known or suspected criminals. They can be proud and even boast of making the world a better place "one round at a time." The military sniper who patrols combat zones, whether in the rural or urban areas of the world only knows that the target must be interdicted in order to complete the mission. This responsibility truly takes a special kind of person, one who has been extensively trained and evaluated, both in his fighting skills and mental hardiness. These are the type of men who came to Fort Carson, Colorado to test their skills and share stories and ideas over the seven days of the 10th Special Forces Group's 5th Annual International Military Sniper Competition.
Thirty-four two-man teams, each of the sixty-eight individuals were experts in long distance, cold bore, first-round-hit shooting. Each man had been trained to the highest level his respective branch of service or country was capable of doing. They had brought an assortment of weapons, but primarily the military version of the Remington 700 (.308 win or .300 win mag) was the standard. The competitors were limited to the government issued weapon from their parent unit so there were no custom made, individually owned weapons used in the competition.
The contestants were primarily US Special Operations Forces with teams from all five Active Duty and both National Guard US Army Special Forces Groups, all three Battalions of the 75th Ranger Regiment, US Navy SEAL teams, Special Delivery Vehicle teams and a Naval Special Warfare Group. The conventional Army was represented by an Infantry battalion from the 4th Infantry Division as well as a Military Police Special Reaction Team. There were also teams from an Infantry battalion and Marksmanship Training units of the Army National Guard. The NATO countries were represented by seven teams from Infantry and advanced training units from Canada and a team from a special mission unit in Norway.
The event got off to a smooth start with the exception of the Norwegian team, who had lost their baggage and part of one of their rifles during the flight to Colorado Springs. All turned out well when the baggage and missing rifle bolt showed up before the first scored event.
The first event was a known distance shoot that was fired from the 200, 300, 400 and 500-yard firing lines. This event was a National Rifle Association type event. The sniper teams participated as both a shooter and a spotter at each yard line. They fired from the sitting, non-supported position from the 200 and 300-yard line and from the prone supported at the 400 and 500-yard line. The seated, non-supported position only allowed for the weapons sling to be used as support for the non-firing arm. This was one of the least liked events, as most snipers don't practice from this position during normal train-ups. The temperature during the event brought its own set of problems with it, as well. This competition is specifically run in the winter months to try and incorporate winter warfare training and techniques into the courses of fire. Most shooting matches are held in nice, warm weather, but the wind, snow and extreme temperatures associated with the areas of the world, not found on the equatorial plain, truly challenge a sniper. This year's event was the first in a long time that was conducted in conditions creating the glare that snow and ice can cast into a rifle or spotter scope.
The second event was an unknown distance shoot on various size steel silhouettes from ranges of 250 to 1000 meters, as well as an urban scenario shoot with targets being paper cartoons that were composed of "terrorist" and "hostage" personnel. These targets were between 250 meters to 350 meters away from the varied shooting platforms and were located inside of windows of a facade. The range to each target had to be determined by the team within one minute prior to firing at it. No laser range finders were allowed and the snipers had to rely on mil formulas to size the targets and determine what dope to set on the rifle. The spotter had his work cut out for him as well, due to the Colorado winter wind blowing across the range, whipping like a dragon's tail. Just because the wind was blowing at 10 knots, 3/4 value left to right at the 300-meter target didn't mean it wasn't a full value right to left 15-knot wind at the 950-meter target. The unknown distance range is at the base of the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountains and the wind will change rapidly and often, even on a good day. This was supposed to be a competition to pit the best military shooters in the world against each other and Mother Nature was doing her part to ensure it was tough.
Wednesday brought about what is usually considered the hardest event, the team stalk. The teams were required to stalk, undetected to within 300 meters of their pre-designated target. The stalk lane had been planned and set up when the ground was shades of brown, but the snow that fell two days before the competition added a new dimension to the stalk event. The stalk lanes were down a slope that approached the "targets" as they viewed the area with binoculars. Obviously, some lanes were better than others and it was up to the sniper teams to pick them. They needed to conduct a good map recon of the area and then they could view the terrain from hiding spots, most of which were less than ten inches off the ground, while they walked, crawled or slithered to their self imposed Final Firing Point. The snow backlit many of the sniper teams as they moved behind and through brush and bushes. Include a 25-40 knot wind and temperatures below zero, it was a very physically and mentally demanding three hours. Out of the 34 teams who started the event, about ten of them got caught by the sniper instructors on glass at the target sites. "Murphy" had showed up with snow and extreme cold. Add to that a poor choice of stalk lanes by some teams, or failing to stalk within 300 meters of the target and this event had effectively taken the hope away from 28 men of finishing in the top three places for the rest of the competition. However, it was never supposed to be easy. As a new day dawned and these highly trained professionals had thawed themselves out and returned for another hard day of shooting, it was obvious that none of the teams who had gotten busted on the prior day's event were slacking off. Every team was as hungry for points remaining to be earned as they were the first day. That's the great part of this competition. It allows you to see up close, the superior mental stamina and moral courage these men of elite military units from around the world share. These are true warriors, as much as when the Knights of old jousted for honor and glory in-between campaigns and quests. The event being fired this day was named "Snaps and Movers." Again from the 200, 300, 400 and 500-yard line, both members of the team would have to take turns at shooting and at spotting. At each yard line a target (head or partial torso) would appear for only brief seconds within a 10-meter front, as well as a 9 inch by 36 inch "walker" that would move left to right or visa-versa, across the same front at walking or patrol speeds. It is an awesome thing to see targets this size and being displayed for only a very short time, be shot time and time again from farther away than the average person would notice someone standing and waving at them. In all fairness, there is technology that allows weapons systems to be much more accurate than was demonstrated by the snipers attending the competition, but the technology has its downsides as well. A sniper has the capability of providing the "user" with plausible deniability. A sniper can demoralize an entire unit and prevent them from accomplishing their prescribed mission, or at least slow it up. And then disappear like a ghost. A sniper can stay in place and report what he sees for an extended period, whether he is used in the fire-mode or not. There is a place on the modern battlefield for the sniper, now and in the future.
The final event was the highly secretive and anticipated stress shoot. All that was told to the competitors prior to the day of the shoot was that it would be physically and emotionally stressful. Of course, this vagueness only added to the self-imposed stress that teams were generating by trying to get early information. As the teams were randomly selected and brought to the start point with "anything you feel you'll need" to fire the course, they were instructed, in a broad sense, on what was required. The shoot began with a quarter mile sprint up and down a very steep hill. This was no small task in itself considering Fort Carson is over 6000 feet above sea level and the air is mighty thin for a flatlander. From the first position, the team had one minute to identify, range and fire at the correct target, which was around 400 meters away. Only the first or second round counted for a score, and the time to run the event also counted for a portion of the score. If they took too long, they had to move to the next point with a zero for that particular target. The next point was several hundred meters through a ravine and up a rope climb, followed by climbing to the top of a four-story shooting tower. The tower was swaying several inches at the top due to the kind wind. The kind of wind you swear at. The target was only a little over 200 meters here, but it was a head, hidden behind a hostage with only about 3/4's of the "face" showing. Hit the target, get points. Hit the hostage, and you lose the same number of points. More stress. Upon climbing down the tower the teams would have to run to the next point and from a prone supported position, fire at a target, again within hostages, at about 650 to 700 meters away. As the team would rush to the final point they could look downrange and barely see the next target at 1000 meters away. The teams firing the .300 win mags had the advantage on this shot, but the .308 win also reached out there and touched it numerous times. The time ended after the final shot. Hit or miss. The scores were tallied up and the final standings roster was posted after we got back to main post.
After it was all said and done, the 5th place team was from C Company, 3rd Battalion, 172nd Infantry, US Army National Guard. The 4th place went to SEAL Delivery Vehicle (SDV) Team 2, US Navy. 3rd place was won by B Company, 5th Battalion, 19th Special Forces Group (ABN), US Army National Guard. The runner-up sniper team came from the SEALs again, at Naval Special Warfare Group Two (NSWG-2), US Navy. Finally, as with all competitions, the men who proved they had what it took to overcome any obstacle set before them and end up on the top of the pile, 1st place for the 5th Annual 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) International Sniper Competition was won by the shooters from SEAL Team Two, US Navy.
The men of the 10th SFG(A) Special Operations Target Interdiction Committee, Operational Detachment-Alpha 061 put many hours of planning, coordinating and back side support into the successful outcome of this competition. Many comments were made and much advise was given by all involved and quite a lot who were not involved. "Everything we do that does not kill us, makes us stronger." This was one of those events. The next one will be better, as everything gets better with practice. The planning and coordination that went into this mission was longer, more intense and further reaching than any deployment or training exercise that the team members have been on before. The satisfaction for a job well done was shared by all, as this was the best and biggest competition so far.
MSG William A. "Congo" Easterling is the current Commander and Operations Sergeant for ODA-061. He has been guiding the 10th SFG(A)'s sniper training program for over 33 months. 10th SFG(A) is currently conducting 20 man Level II SOTIC courses and sniper sustainment courses. An advanced sniper course and an SF battalion level commander and staff officer's seminar are being developed by ODA-061.