Guard Sniper School Trains Soldiers to Take Out Targets and Provide Battlefield Intelligence

Becoming a sniper in the Army National Guard won’t get you extra pay or even a patch on your uniform, but this Additional Skill Identifier, which will be added to your military records, is highly coveted among Soldiers.

That’s because sniper school is hard to get into in the first place. It’s also highly demanding, according to Staff Sergeant (SSG) Aaron Pierce, an instructor at the National Guard Marksmanship Training Center in North Little Rock, Ark., one of two Army schools that offer sniper training.

The school is limited to Soldiers in the 11 and 18 series of Military Occupational Specialties (MOSs). The 11 series covers 11B Infantryman and 11C Indirect Fire Infantryman. The 18 series are jobs in Special Forces.

SSG Pierce explains that typically a Unit’s Scout platoon holds competitions to test Soldiers’ land navigation, marksmanship, and physical training to determine which Soldier gets to go to the school, which lasts 42 days with no breaks and many 18-hour days. Only 160 Soldiers are accepted to Pierce’s school per year.

SSG Aaron Pierce (at right), a Sniper School instructor with the National Guard Marksmanship Training Center, coaches a student.

SSG Aaron Pierce (at right), a Sniper School instructor with the National Guard Marksmanship Training Center, coaches a student.

SSG Pierce recommends that Soldiers be in the top percentages of the PT scores because the job is physically demanding. Instead of a normal 35-pound rucksack, a sniper might carry 60 pounds on his back and have to walk a number of miles or even crawl to accomplish the mission.

Intestinal fortitude is a must-have, according to SSG Pierce.

“You’re using powered optics. You’re going to know whether you’ve eliminated that individual target,” says SSG Pierce, who turned down Army Ranger School to attend Sniper School in 2007. “You’re going to see it. It’s going to be personal.”

Also: “In the sniper world, you are in the business of hunting men,” he says. “There is a very high risk of capture or being killed because you don’t have a lot of support.”

Book smarts also play a role.

“Your ASVAB score has to be significant to attend this school. There are a lot of formulations. It is academically demanding,” says SSG Pierce. “If you struggle in mathematics, you are going to suffer badly in this school.”

Students must also have received an expert rifle qualification within the last 6 months.

But being a sniper isn’t just about pulling the trigger. When you go to sniper school, you’ll learn two roles – being a sniper and being the spotter, or the person who does most of the calculations to ensure the round meets the target.

“You have to know both jobs equally. If you’re a sniper, then you’re also a spotter,” says SSG Pierce.

For more about that, see the video below.

In fact, the more senior sniper typically works as the spotter who uses a kestrel, a hand-held ballistic computer, and a data book that contains DOPE, or Data of Previous Engagement. The distance of each target requires an elevation dialed onto the scope. The kestrel takes in the muzzle velocity, atmospheric conditions, and the caliber of the weapon to provide the elevation, and all of this is recorded in the data book.

The tricky part for the spotter, says SSG Pierce, is using an optic to read the wind – both for speed and direction.

“The bullet is going to curve in to the target, so if the wind is blowing left to right, we need to dial our crosshairs to the left because we know the bullet is going to be pushed to the right.”

SSG Pierce says the first three weeks of school are devoted to shooting moving and stationary objects, and estimating range. The second half is more marksmanship work, plus fieldcraft, which is stalking a target while remaining undetectable thanks to a ghillie suit. The suit provides camouflage that can be adjusted by attaching surrounding foliage to it.

Despite all the cool gadgets and stealthy moves, SSG Pierce says the job of a sniper isn’t always as glamorous as it may seem.

“Even though your primary mission is to deliver precision rifle fire, the secondary mission of a sniper is to collect battlefield information.”

While deployed to Iraq, SSG Pierce split his duties between conducting infantry patrols and operations and his role as a sniper. Most of his sniper missions involved watching main supply routes.

“You’re collecting information for follow-on forces most of the time. It’s mission first and not your own desires to use your skills to engage targets.”

And while being a sniper may not translate directly to a civilian job other than working on a SWAT team, when explained correctly to a potential employer, this Additional Skill Identifier has its merits, says SSG Pierce.

“You can certainly say that it is a very demanding school that only a small percentage of Soldiers attend. It requires intelligence, discipline, intestinal fortitude, and physical fitness,” says SSG Pierce. “It requires you to think outside the box and make snap, educated decisions. Certainly those disciplines can be applied to other things.”

So, if you’re ready to test your discipline, consider joining the Army National Guard, which, besides Infantry and Special Forces jobs, offers training in more than 130 careers. Search our job board by location, job field, or keyword, or contact your local recruiter for personalized advice.

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Leading the Double Life of a Citizen-Soldier®

Fresh out of high school, Reanna Alvarez didn’t go off to college the following fall like the rest of her friends after graduation. If she wanted to pursue a degree, she was going to have to find a way to pay for it herself.

A friend mentioned that he was getting his school paid for through the Army National Guard, a branch of the military Alvarez hadn’t heard of, where Soldiers serve one weekend a month and two weeks in the summer.

The fact that Guard service was a part-time commitment carried a lot of appeal for Alvarez while she was mulling her options at age 19.

“You could be in the military, choose an MOS [Military Occupational Specialty] that you’re interested in, and then on the civilian side, you could do the same thing,” explains Alvarez. “You have the experience from the military that you could utilize as a civilian. Then, while you’re a civilian, you can be going to school.”

Now a specialist with the Maryland Army National Guard for the past five years, Alvarez’s MOS is 92A Automated Logistical Specialist. In her Engineering Unit, she is responsible mainly for vehicle dispatch, keeping track of keys and personnel paperwork. She also tests her Unit’s equipment, like gas masks, to make sure they are working properly. On the civilian side, SPC Alvarez says the job is comparable to working at a distribution center.

SPC Reanna Alvarez

SPC Reanna Alvarez

When she’s not at drill, at home with her two kids, or doing homework for college, where she studies psychology, SPC Alvarez is a waitress, where her co-workers marvel at her ability to stay calm in any situation.

“The Guard gives you so many traits you can use as a civilian,” she explains. “I’ve gone through Basic [Training], where you have so much going on, there’s people yelling, and so much thrown at you that it makes civilian life look like a piece of cake.”

SPC Alvarez had a harder time at Basic Training than others might. She was battling an eating disorder, and a Drill Sergeant had found out. That led to a meeting with the Commander who could have easily sent her home.

Instead, she received encouragement.

“He told me he saw a lot of potential in me and that I shouldn’t let [the eating disorder] define me, and he really wanted me to push myself.”

Part of the reason she’s chosen psychology for a major is because of her struggle with the eating disorder that started when she was 16, and partly because she wants to be able to help veterans someday.

In the meantime, she’s helped out at two major events close to home in her capacity as a Guard Soldier – the Baltimore riots, which took place in spring 2015, and more recently, the Presidential Inauguration last month.

“I think it’s very cool knowing that I’m going to be able to tell my kids someday, whenever they can understand, that I was part of that experience … not only at the inauguration, but pulling security for the inauguration.”

Another cool thing she can tell her kids is that she was in a National Guard commercial that tied in to the 2013 “Man of Steel” Superman movie. SPC Alvarez was one of about 20 Soldiers who were chosen out of thousands of applicants to fly out to Hollywood to shoot the commercial and meet the director of the film. You can spot SPC Alvarez walking on the sidewalk in a gray and black striped sweater at the 6-second mark:

SPC Alvarez says the connection between Superman and the National Guard is, that like Clark Kent/Superman, the Guard Soldier also leads a double life as part-time citizen/part-time Soldier.

Even in stressful circumstances, like the Baltimore riots that lasted for several days, SPC Alvarez says people were grateful to have Soldiers on hand.

“People were constantly telling us, ‘thank you for being here. Thank you for making us feel safe.’ At the end of the day, that’s all we try to do.”

So if you’re interested in keeping your community and the Nation safe, consider joining the National Guard, where you can train in one of 150 different career fields and take advantage of great benefits like money for college. Search our job board for descriptions of each career, or contact a recruiter for personalized attention. 

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STEM Careers in the Guard: A Spotlight on Science

This fall, On Your Guard is taking a look at STEM, or Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, careers offered by the Army National Guard. These are jobs that require problem solving skills and a strong desire to figure out how things work. They are also typically high paying jobs that are in demand in the civilian workforce.

So why is that important? Because Guard service is typically a part-time commitment, many of our Soldiers make the most of their skills training and the Guard’s education benefits to build successful full-time civilian careers.

This week, we’ll take a look at Science careers.

If you’re good at analyzing complex problems and finding ways to solve them, you may be interested in one of the Army National Guard’s science careers. These can range from jobs in medicine to biology, chemistry, physics and environmental science.

First Lieutenant (1LT) Michelle Warner-Hersey, who joined the Guard after college, applied her dual degree in the science-related fields of athletic training and sports management – and a minor in coaching – to become a 74A Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) Officer in the Ohio National Guard.

Chemical Units are trained to defend against weapons of mass destruction that could involve chemical, biological, nuclear, or radiological agents.

1LT Warner-Hersey and her team, the 155th Chemical Battalion, are trained on how to use personal protective gear to enter a contaminated area, and how to use detection equipment that allows them to assess and understand the environment, “knowing whether we’re entering an area that is suitable for life or not suitable for life, whether it can be mitigated by our protection equipment, or we need to get back out and get something at a higher level.” 

1LT Michelle Warner-Hersey of the Ohio National Guard

1LT Michelle Warner-Hersey of the Ohio National Guard

The team’s objectives are contamination avoidance, determining what contaminants they might be dealing with, and conducting decontamination to ensure that the team is not bringing anything hazardous outside, thereby expanding the contamination area.

“The mission, in general, is to save lives, mitigate human suffering and prepare for follow on forces.”

So far, 1LT Warner-Hersey has not had to respond to any disasters.

“We learned a lot from 9/11. Luckily all of our information is kind of in the what-if world, because we haven’t had to deal the hazards of mustard gas or Agent Orange and things that used to be used,” she explains. “Even things like 9/11 when there wasn’t a specific hazard, but everyone was affected by the dust, smoke, and asbestos, those are things we could have responded to and maybe will in the future.”

Or, as she and members of her Unit like to say, “We train really hard to hope to never do our job.” 

To be able to do this kind of job, 1LT Warner-Hersey says Soldiers will have to be able to understand how chemicals, radiological material, and biological agents react. This requires an aptitude for science and math. And while 1LT Warner-Hersey always liked science, she says math was not her strong suit.

Her determination solved that problem. 

“I just studied a lot and got a lot of help, mainly because I was so interested in the science part that I didn’t have a choice but to figure out how to learn the math side.” 

A CBRN Soldier will also have to be able to make quick decisions, says 1LT Warner-Hersey. She notes that protective gear can make communication difficult because it can inhibit motor function, and masks can make it more difficult for speech to be understood.

Those obstacles, too, are overcome in training by acclimatizing the body to the protective gear.

“You really have to figure out how to handle yourself in a really stressful, fast-paced environment when you’re limited on how you function normally.”

That includes things like speaking differently to be understood through a mask and using hand and arm signals.

For more on what the equipment and a training exercise look like, check out this video, which features 1LT Warner-Hersey and her former Unit. 

Training in the CBRN field can also translate to civilian careers, especially in working for HAZMAT teams or providing HAZMAT training. 1LT Warner-Hersey says she knows of Soldiers who’ve applied their skills to work in crime labs, lab testing and drug testing on the civilian side.

So if you have the aptitude for, and an interest in, a career in science, be sure to visit our job board to check out these Military Occupational Specialties (MOSs):

74D Chemical Operations Specialist

12Y Geospatial Engineer 

68A Medical Equipment Repairer

92L Petroleum Laboratory Specialist

94H Test, Measurement and Diagnostic Equipment Maintenance Support Specialist

Guard careers in closely related fields, like Engineering, Math, and Technology might also be of interest to you. One way to narrow down your options is to contact your local recruiter.

 

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