Sniping is about more than good camouflage – but it helps…
Text and Photos by: Staff Sgt. Gina Vaile-Nelson, 133rd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, Kentucky Army National Guard
Additional Editting by: Lawrence Holsworth, Strike-Hold!
GRAFENWOEHR, Germany — An out-of-place rock…an olive drab rucksack not covered…the subdued black muzzle of a Winchester Magnum .300 caliber sniper rifle. These are just a few things that could get a Special Operations Soldier killed.
“Is there a blade of grass out of place, not enough grass or too many sticks? You start to go a little bit crazy here and get paranoid. You start to question your position and wonder whether or not you are actually hidden,” said U.S. Army Special Forces Sgt. “John Doe” (name changed for security reasons).
Concealed deep in the woods of the Grafenwoehr Training Area, Doe and his partner, German Special Forces Sgt. “Lutz Adler” (name changed for security reasons), lay in the prone, target in sight and ready to fire one extremely accurate, discriminatory round. They’ve been in their hide-site for more than six hours – through the night – after stalking four kilometers to a position where they could observe the target.
“We are used to training a certain way and techniques get ingrained into you,” he said.
Over the course of five weeks, the two Special Operations Forces (SOF) Soldiers fired approximately 900 rounds, “which in any other course may not sound like a lot, but we try to make every bullet count here,” Doe said.
The course – the International Special Training Centre (ISTC) Sniper Course – teaches NATO partner SOF the fundamentals and proper techniques of sniping.
“This is a great opportunity,” Doe said, “because a lot of time in Special Operations, as well as in the conventional Army, the first time you meet Soldiers from another country is downrange in combat.
“Having the opportunity to train with these individuals beforehand really improves the quality of the fighting force as a whole,” the combat veteran said.
ISTC Sniper Course instructor, Sgt. 1st Class Chris Rightmyer agreed.
“The multinational environment, working with JMTC and the NATO partners, allows us the opportunity to strengthen our relationships and build a rapport with other nations on the battlefield, which would be likely in the event of the Soldiers randomly meeting during conflict,” he said.
“These guys have a relationship that allows them to fight together and understand how to communicate effectively on the battlefield. They will have had the same training and worked together as a unified group,” he said.
Rightmyer said the students learn the basic fundamentals of becoming a sniper: shooting, observation, judging distance and stalking.
The Soldiers spend countless hours lying still and even more time processing math equations in their heads to determine things like the distance between their hide point and the target, the effects of air currents, humidity and temperature a bullet’s flight path, etc.. Using stalking exercises, memory and observation drills, Rightmyer and the other instructors also teach the new snipers how to successfully eliminate targets without being detected.
“Not every Soldier can attend this school,” Doe said, noting that his team is usually scattered throughout the world on missions or other training exercises.
“There is a lot to take away from here so that when the team is all back in one place, you can cross-train and teach each other what you learn. You get a lot more training that way,” he said.
“In training, you will make mistakes,” he said. “That’s the point. You make mistakes and learn from them. In combat, you really don’t get that opportunity. So, the mistakes you learn from here, you won’t make downrange and that means you can accomplish your mission and come back home again.”