A few weeks after our conversation in Lieutenant McNary’s office, Glen and I, along with two dozen others, mustered at the SEAL Team Five quarterdeck in Coronado for our initial sniper school in-briefing. Though this would later change, at the time the different SEAL teams would rotate as course hosts, and it happened to be Team Five’s turn.

They told us that there were two principal parts to the sniper training. First came the shooting phase, which would focus on learning our weapons, advanced ballistics, and, of course, the actual marksmanship training, during which we would work in pairs taking turns as shooter or spotter. The second was the stalking phase, where we would be trained in the arts of stealth and concealment.

We would be conducting the shooting phase at the Coalinga range, a private inland facility about a hundred miles northwest of Bakersfield, where we would camp out, receive all our instructions, and do all our shooting. In the event we survived the shooting phase, we would then go on to the stalking phase, concluding with our graded final training exercise (FTX) out in the California desert near Niland. 

Being from SEAL Team Three, which at the time had charge over the desert theater of operations, Glen and I were already quite familiar with the challenges of operating in that ungodly terrain and how fucking miserable it could be. We took comfort in the idea that this prior knowledge might give us some small advantage in the final phase. Assuming we made it that far. 

We were led to the team armory, where we each checked out the suite of weapons we would be working with over the next few months. We each got a sniper M-14 (a sniper version of the M-4), a Remington .308 bolt gun, a Remington .300 Win Mag, and a .50 cal, along with scopes and ammo. 

Once we had our weapons, we mustered back in the Team Five area to meet our instructor cadre. 

At the time, the sniper school was run by a master chief named Jordan, who was just in the process of turning it over to Senior Chief Seth Carver. Seth was an ultra-marathoner, one of those guys who runs 100-mile races but doesn’t make any kind of big deal about himself. He was a total professional and highly respected by everyone there. A few years later I would end up working for Chief Carver as part of an advanced sniper training cell and would be on hand to see his life crumble to pieces and be salvaged by the goodwill of the team. For now, Chief Carver was simply one of the good guys, one of those instructors we could count on both for his expertise and for his solid character.

That didn’t apply in every case. Our instructor cadre consisted of several full-time instructors along with a few guys pulled from the different SEAL teams to help out and augment the staff. In terms of their shooting skills, these guys were all at the top of their game, but they were not necessarily good teachers. This is something we would change later on, when I became part of the team that redesigned the entire sniper course, but when we went through the course back in 2000, there wasn’t much emphasis on teaching skills. It was a sink-or-swim deal: Here’s the training, and if you don’t get it, tough.