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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A Lot of Voom and Boom — The Life of an Armorman

PV2 Kenneth Hawkins of Louisiana’s 3rd Battalion can fire a round as long as his arm. The process starts with speed, safety, and precision. And it ends with a thrill he can feel in his bones. In this interview, Hawkins describes what it’s like to be an 11C Indirect Fire Infantryman in the Army National Guard.

PV2 Kenneth Hawkins; photo by Romero & Romero

PV2 Kenneth Hawkins; photo by Romero & Romero

Hands-on training

The training is cool. They tell you about your systems — the 60 mms, the 81 mms and the 120 mms. You get hands-on with each system. You set up bipods, they tell you the nomenclature of all the pieces. You learn how to put the bipod together and take it apart in less than a minute.

Powerful first impressions

The first time I shot a 120, I actually didn’t get to see the explosion, but I could hear it. The round was almost as big as my arm. I’m pretty sure it made a big gap in the ground. You fire it, and you wait 10 or 15 seconds before you hear this large explosion far off in the distance. Even with my ear protection in, I could just hear this big boom. I was like, I just did that.

When the 80s and 120s fire, you feel your body shaking. It’s right there on you. It kind of frightened me the first time. I heard that voom! That about did it for me.

Staying safe

Make sure your fingers are out of the way because if they’re not, you can lose a finger very easily.

The best advice I’ve been given is to yell when there is a misfire, to make sure everybody else is safe. There were a couple misfires with the 120 during basic training. If you were in a helicopter, it would have looked like a crowd of ants scattering off into the woods.

Steady as she goes

The 60s, you can hold with your hand and pretty much run with it. There is no bipod. You hold the mortar with whichever hand you use to aim at the target. There’s a trigger on the handle. You have to make sure you have a steady hand, because if you’re shaking, your round is going to end up somewhere else.

I’ll go where they need me

I’m infantry; I can do an 11 Bravo’s job if I need to. They can splish-splash me that way. Or if I need to go to the range to fire a few rounds, I can do that.

Hit the Hummer!

During training, they had a Humvee out on the field, and we were trying to hit it. It took me a couple tries to hit it. I wasn’t very steady the first time. Whenever somebody hit something, everybody celebrated, “Yeah! Do it again!”

For this and other jobs that can rock your world, visit the Guard’s jobs board and contact a recruiter today.

Original article by Matt Crossman was published in Volume 11, Issue 3 of GX magazine.

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