I had a great talk with Buck Sexton of GBTV’s (Glenn Beck TV) show, The Blaze, about modern snipers the other day. I always enjoy going on The Blaze because they’re read up on the issues and this is not always the case with other interviewers. You can read the full sniper story here.
Buck and I are planning on putting some rounds down range later this summer as part of an interactive sniper interview. The interview will showcase sniper capabilities and put him through a sniper familiarization course to give him an idea of what’s expected of today’s modern sniper. Stay tuned, it should be good stuff.
While inter-service rivalry can be a good thing (healthy competition drives innovation) I do want to describe some of the differences in the U.S. sniper programs. This is a high level 50,000 feet AGL look so ease back on the throttle if you’re expecting me to dive into course learning objectives, and minute of angle (MOA) discussions.
Here we go…
The USMC sniper course has always been a solid course of instruction. The other thing to point out is that it’s somewhat of a selection course and a badge of honor to earn the USMC SS qual. The Marine Corps produce some of the finest riflemen/riflewomen in the World, these are hard shooting individuals that show up to the USMC course. This matters greatly in the training of a sniper. Showing up on the door step of any sniper course and having the fundamentals of marksmanship down pat is HUGE and a big advantage the Marines have over courses, especially the basic Army sniper course (now 8 weeks in length).
The two Army courses are basic sniper (recently increased to 8 weeks) and the Special Operations Target Interdiction Course or what is commonly known as SOTIC.
Photo: Author, Brandon Webb (Private collection), with Barrett MRAD-Private Range in CA.
The Army’s Basic sniper course, from what I understand, is a grab bag of candidates (SF, Ranger, and basic infantry,etc.), some have good marksmanship fundamentals, some don’t (this is where the problem develops). From what my teammates tell me, the course dives right into scoped weapons and doesn’t spend a whole lot of time on ballistics (internal-external-and terminal ballistics). It’s good to hear from Jack (below) that the course has improved.
“They went through a lot of changes back in like 2007 to really modernize it then they expanded in to 8 weeks just recently.” -Jack Murphy (Ranger/SF/Sniper)
We used to send qualified SEAL snipers through this course until they complained that there was not much to learn, not the case with the SOTIC course, it had an excellent reputation as a true sniper’s course..
SOTIC is focused on supporting the Army’s Special Forces and a much more in depth course and I suspect (based on reports from fellow SEALs) that these candidates are more mature and have a solid foundation in basic marksmanship. I’ve never personally attended this course but a SEAL sniper classmate of mine was an Army Ranger (yes we let other services in our course sometime), SGT St. John. St. John was a hard shooting dude and took top honors in the old SEAL sniper course (we’ve made significant changes to this since) and earned it. He was the hardest gun in the class hands down. I should mention that this was his fourth sniper course, the guy was an animal and had been through USMC, Army basic sniper and SOTIC before showing up to ours. He was my primary input for understanding the differences in the Army’s courses and ultimately went on to become quite an accomplished member of the Army Marksmanship Unit (AMU). The AMU are the best match shooters in the world and sometime there’s a sniper in the bunch….
Photo: SEAL Snipers in Afghanistan (Author’s private collection)
The Naval Special Warfare or SEAL sniper course is just over three months in length and has been significantly re-vamped in the past decade. I personally believe it is one of the top courses in the world based on the comprehensive curriculum, focus on ballistics, technology integration, available funding and a focus on breaking out and testing the individual shooter (away from the traditional shooter spotter pair) to just name a few reasons. It’s not that I think SEALs are better than USMC or Army SOF, it just comes down to length of curriculum, quality of training, and funding. It’s one of (or perhaps the longest) longest basic sniper course in the world. We also get into heavy mental management and other areas of training that I will not mention because of OPSEC.
When I was the Course Manager I would field calls from other branches including foreign SOF that were either complimentary in nature (how are you guys training) or they would ask to send guys to our program.
I was speaking with Chris Kyle a few weeks back he reminded me of a call I fielded (bonus story here) from a Special Boat Unit guy (now called the Special Boat Teams or SBT) asking what the pre-req’s were for SEAL sniper, I said, “BUD/S” and hung up the phone. Chris said he remembered that to this day and it cracked him up, it also brought a smile to my face when he reminded me of it.
Getting phone calls from Iraq, and elsewhere from the Army, USMC, Danish, Germans, and Norwegians (to name a few) was proof that we were doing a good job producing some of the finest snipers on the battlefield. These calls and our guys kill ratio overseas is what would put a smile on my face and make the 90-hour work 7-day work week’s all worth it.
What One Thing Makes a Professional Sniper?
Great shooting, patience and intelligence aside; having a sound comprehension of ballistics and how all factors affect bullet flight, from the moment the firing pin strikes, is what separates the professional sniper from the aspiring one.
US SOCOM is about One Team and One Fight. It’s what SOFREP is all about. All of us SOF brothers are cut from the same cloth. How we were nudged into different directions in life and migrated to one selection course or another was left up to fate.
Some of the best operators I’ve met have been USMC, Army and let’s not forget AFSOC (more than a few Combat Controllers have saved my ass on the radio). And let’s not forget the basic unknown grunt rifleman (guys like Dakota) who lay it all on the line to save his brothers in a hail of gun fire.
One Team-One Fight.
Brandon Webb, Author of New York Times Best Seller, The Red Circle.