The Weight of a Sniper’s Decision

The cold morning air hung thick in the Afghan valley. Each warm exhalation would briefly fog the outside corner of my rifle scope. But I held steady and maintained a clear view of the middle-aged man. He wore a traditional Afghan dress and had a crook in his step, perhaps a story from the Soviet or Taliban conflict. The intense training I’d received years earlier in the Navy SEAL Sniper Training Program had taught me to be patient, wait for a perfect shot, make sure this is a bad guy, control my breathing, and then go over my mental checklist… breathe, focus, squeeze.

I reflected internally. I alone at this moment held this man’s life in my hands. And he had no idea I was aiming center mass with my 300 Win Mag. 

At long range, it is critical to account for all environmental and ballistic factors. Wind, temperature, barometric pressure, degree of latitude, bullet velocity, and the Coriolis force (earth’s rotation). Every detail of this shot and local terrain had been previously programmed into my handheld computer which had spit out a final firing solution. After our platoon commander Cassidy would signal me off I would have to make this one.

Most of the work I did with SEAL Team 3 in Afghanistan had been sniper recon, ID targets, call for air support, and drop in death from above, usually in the form of a 1,000 lb. JDAM headache. A few were more up close and personal, and burned into my memory like a personal YouTube channel looping over and over. 

What’s it like to be a sniper and go through the training?

As a former Navy SEAL Sniper, a basic and later an advanced course instructor, and eventually the head instructor for the west coast SEAL sniper training program, I am intimately familiar with the patience and skill necessary to graduate as a sniper. 

The 21st-century Sniper is a mature, intelligent shooter that leverages technology to his deadly advantage. He has spent thousands of hours honing his skills, a master of concealment in all environments, from the mountains of Afghanistan to the crowded streets of Iraq. And is trained in science but, he, alone, is left to create the individual art of the kill.

The battlefield to the sniper is like a painter’s blank canvas. It is up to him to use his tools, training, and creativity to determine how that final shot, and the devastating psychological impact that is ultimately the result of his actions, will play out. 

What does it take to make a Navy SEAL sniper?