One day, as I stepped up to get into the bench seating area where we controlled the targets, someone yanked on a target. Between my inattention and his carelessness, the metal frame whacked me right in the head. 

Oops. Suddenly there was blood everywhere. 

This happened to be the day we were first sighting our .300 Win Mags. This was crucial: when first getting a new weapon we would have one day to dial it in, get all our elevations, and get the feel of the thing. I could not miss that day. I couldn’t miss any day. So they ran me out to the doctor’s, cleaned me up, slammed seven staples into my head, and ran me back to Coalinga. Within a few hours of the incident, I was back on the range, sighting in my new weapon. My head was pounding with every shot, and it felt like someone was nailing a steel spike into my skull. Tough. Deal with it. Adapt and overcome. 

A few weeks later, right after finishing the shooting phase, Gabriele and I had our official wedding ceremony and reception. (We had managed to keep the secret from my family.) Fortunately, my hair had grown in just enough so that the staples didn’t show in my wedding pictures. 

Along with the shooting drills, which kept us busy for up to eight hours a day, we also had extensive classroom work, which we did mostly during the heat of the day, sandwiched in between sessions on the range. We would get up early and shoot all morning, then do our classroom and practical exercises during the early afternoon hours, when the heat was at its height. In the later afternoon, we’d head back out onto the range and practice on the guns again. 

Every few classes we would be tested on whatever we’d learned. As with the shooting tests, it was either pass or you’re gone, no in between.

One of our classes consisted of a series of drills called keep-in-memory exercises, or KIMs. As a sniper, there are times when you have only a brief glance at a situation, and you have to be able to fix it all in your memory almost instantaneously. These exercises were designed to hone our capacity for accurate snapshot memory.

The instructors would lay a tarp over an array of objects, bring us in and stand us in front of the covered array, and then yank off the tarp, giving us thirty seconds to look at everything and memorize it all before the tarp went back to cover everything. Then we’d have to write it all down. Or they would scatter a series of objects over a hillside, and we’d have to scan it quickly with our binoculars and in that brief glance pick out everything that was out of the ordinary.