I remember Jonny Kim as a new guy at SEAL Team 3 and later when he checked into sniper school at the old bunker complex south of Coronado, California. He had a quiet intensity and determination about him that years later I still remember.

When I was a sniper course manager for the west coast we had a unique system to ensure that no student was left behind. Students were divided up into shooting pairs, to shoot and spot for each other (until we break them up later to test individual skills). Then we would assign an instructor-mentor for two pairs (four students in total). This ensured that they got one-on-one attention and created healthy competition among the staff, because, nobody wanted their students doing poorly since it would reflect on them. The sailors were assigned randomly, and I ended up mentoring Jonny and his partner.

The course is one of the toughest in the world. Three months of seven days a week training that covers digital target packaging and photography, memory techniques, internal and external ballistics, shot calculations, stealth and concealment, and some of the toughest shooting standards past 1,000 yards that would have most Marines (the best riflemen) grinning.

I didn’t think Kim was going to make it at first glance. He was a green new guy, and not doing well initially on the range. It was one of the few times I guessed wrong. Jonny was determined to succeed and living proof that if you set your mind to something, put in the hard work (this is where most people drop off), you can succeed. That’s exactly what Kim did, he was one of the hardest working students I had, totally relentless in his pursuit, and it left an impression on me. Out of the 300 plus snipers that came through the course, he was one of the few that stand out to me this day. The others? Luttrell, his identical twin Morgan, Axelson, and Kyle. While there’s many other SEAL snipers that have gone on to do incredible things with their trade craft, have racked up way more body count than Kyle, you’ll maybe read about some day, these are the ones that made an impression on me.

Quick side story:

One of the only students I mentored who didn’t pass the course was Marcus Luttrell. He was an excellent shooter but couldn’t pick up stealth and concealment fast enough to keep pace with the rest of the class so we had to fail him. He would later come back, giving up his pre-deployment vacation to complete the course with high marks. He was deployed soon after, went MIA and the rest is history, chronicled in his book, Lone Survivor. My only critique of that book was that he spelled my name wrong! Marcus and Morgan, identical twins, are both outstanding guys and great SEALs.

Back to Jonny.

Career snapshot