Army snipers prepare for competition with winning in their sights

By Corene Brisendine

For several reasons, the 1-16 Infantry Regiment sniper team is looking forward to going to the 2012 International Sniper Competition at Fort Benning, Ga., this year.

Staff Sgt. John Jasper, section leader for the team, said this is his second time at the competition, and he is looking forward to seeing how he does following a year in Afghanistan. Jasper competed in 2010, but missed 2011 due to his deployment.

The competition is designed to recreate combat scenarios in order to push the sniper teams to the limits of their abilities, said Lt. Col. Roger Cromby, commander of the 1-16th Inf. Rgt.

The competition comprises 10 to 15 combat-related events, including field firing, advanced marksmanship and field craft. Sniper teams are invited not only across the Army, but also from civilian law enforcement, special forces and the other military branches, as well as foreign allied military sniper teams.

“It’s a tactical contest,” Jasper said. “They set up all sorts of shots, whether they are limited visibility, moving shots, keyhole or loophole shots.”

Jasper and his team practiced Tuesday by shooting stationary distance targets anywhere from 100 to 800 meters out from the firing line. Spc. Phillip Ryan, the spotter for Jasper during the competition, said there are two men per team, one spotter and one shooter. The spotter gauges wind, distance and visibility of the targets with a set of special binoculars that tells the spotter how far the target is from the shooter. The shooter lays in a firing position while looking through the scope on the rifle supported by a tri-pod that limits the shooter’s range of visibility. The spotter directs the shooter to the target by describing landmarks and distance and “walks” the shooter to the target.

Although Jasper and Ryan will be the only two division soldiers competing, the rest of the team will be down there going through the exercises for training as well. Unlike Jasper, who has been with the sniper team for three years, Ryan said he has only been with the team for about nine months, but looks forward to the training. He said they held a competition within the team, and he was the only one to qualify, which is why he was chosen to go through the competition with Jasper.

Jasper said he is looking forward to the training the team will receive while visiting the school. That training is better and more thought-out than what they can receive at Fort Riley. While the training there is good, he said, they are not able to set up some of the combat situations as easily as the school. For example,  Jasper said they could request a helicopter in order to train while flying, but the paperwork and people he would have to go though makes the task daunting. But the school routinely sets up helicopter training, moving vehicle training, and other types of combat situations routinely, making it a great training opportunity for not only himself but his entire team.

“You might have to engage a target from a helicopter, you might have to engage a target from a vehicle or alternate firing positions—kneeling, standing—or from the side of a building,” Jasper said. “They just give it a timeframe—a couple minutes to do that, a minute to do that. Throw in some stress—running, carrying a heavy load kind of a deal—and whoever does best wins.”

Jasper also said he looks forward to seeing what equipment other sniper teams are using. He is especially interested to see what the special forces are using. His team will be using the M-110 Sniper Systems, a standard issue sniper system that includes a standard issue range finder, and standard issue night vision equipment. He said the M-110 is the equivalent of a .302 in civilian terms. The rounds they use are 175 grain Sierra Match Kings, which anyone can purchase.

Jasper said the competition will push the limits of not only the men, but also the equipment by setting targets out to the limit of the rifle’s range.

“We can shoot up to 1,200 meters during the day depending on shooter and ammo,” Jasper said. “At night, depending on the lume—how big the moon is and how much light there is—you can engage out to the same distance. If there’s not a whole lot of lume, it’s probably out to 300 meters.”

Finally, Jasper said he is looking forward to networking with the other teams. He wants to see how they are training. His team has been preparing for the competition since returning from Afghanistan in January, and he is confident they will do well. The division team placed in the top six in two different categories last year.

“It is a very challenging competition and you expect it to be given the maturity level, the experience level, in the high level of performance these teams have,” Cromby said. “In order to finish high you really have to do well, and in order to separate the best it has to be a pretty challenging competition.”

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