The following is an excerpt of an interview Brandon Webb gave to Men’s Journal.
The tempting question is, of course, the one that can’t easily be asked: How many? On the subject of his time stalking insurgents in Afghanistan, sniper and former member of SEAL Team Three Brandon Webb says, rather succinctly: “We dropped hate on them.” From the mouth of another man, such a declaration might suggest pride, but you can’t hear any in Webb’s voice. Later he’ll say, offhandedly, that he can always tell a man who’s been there by his eyes, and indeed there is something undisclosed in his: a kind of discretionary distance between a personal history likely unfathomable to civilians and his amiable demeanor. These days Webb writes regularly for the vital military news site SOFREP, which he co-founded in 2012, and flies retired Russian warbirds in his free time. He is the author of the memoirs The Red Circle and Among Heroes, forthcoming in May. We recently spoke with Webb about working with Chris Kyle and Marcus Luttrell, and what it takes to become one of the world’s elite snipers.
How Did You Get Into Sniper Training?
I was in my first platoon at Seal Team Three in 1999 with Glen Doherty, who was later killed [in the Benghazi attack] in Libya. The platoon was short two snipers and they called Glen and me into the office one day and said, “Hey, you’re the two best shots in the platoon, and we need two snipers. You, two idiots, are our best shots at getting through the course.” Because back then it was a 30 percent washout rate. Now it’s around three percent. The teaching style was not done very well back then. It was sink or swim. Either you just got it, and you got lucky that you had a good set of weapons and your scopes were working — because back then if you didn’t have good equipment, they didn’t give a shit — or it was like, “Hey, sorry, man. Pack your shit and get out of here.”
Why Were You the Best Shot? What Was Your Experience?
I never shot much when I was a kid, but on the spotting scope, understanding the ballistics and the calculations, I’m a ten. And on the stalk field, I was top in my class. I didn’t really understand it at the time, but I grew up spearfishing in the kelp beds on the coast of California. I didn’t grow up hunting whitetail, but I would stalk tuna and white sea bass and yellowtail. I’d position the sun behind my back. You know the way you approach, you dive down, and you’ve got to be very quiet, approaching the schools with a reef feature between you. Swim-up, slide-out, take a shot. All these Texas guys are saying, “That’s fucked up, this California boy.” They were pissed. But it was because I had all that practice stalking and hunting as a kid.
How Do These Stalking Exercises Work?
It’s three months straight, and it’s the most stressful thing I’ve ever done. You go out to this field in open terrain and you have instructors they call walkers with orange hunting hats, all with radios, and they go, “Alright, gents. You’ve got four hours, your target is in that direction, here’s your left boundary, your right boundary. Time starts now. Go.” Then you’ve got to get up to the position, identify the target, right? With two instructors sitting on this table or truck with high-powered binoculars, laser rangefinders, and a radio. And if they see anything they’re going to bust you. And if you’re busted, you failed. You’re off the field. And you can only fail a few. That actually happened to Marcus Luttrell. I failed him out for stalking. He was terrible. I mean he would clip ground cover, put it on his hat, and then stand up and go on the stalk. Through the binos, you see a dude — like a Sasquatch, a badly dressed Sasquatch out there. And I thought, who is that? Is that Luttrell again?
So What Makes for a Good Stalk?
The whole key to the stalk is finding those two fuckers on the target. Once you find them, it’s easy. It’s like, okay, I know where they’re at. Now I can put this tree or this bush or this terrain feature in between me and them and get up real quick and then once you get in real tight, you can kind of use that, even a shrub if I’m on my stomach and inching over. Okay, I’ve got to get that shrub in line, and now I can low-crawl all the way up and they’re not going to be able to see me. It’s called dead space.
Once I went up to a tree about 200 meters away, in the zone we had to be in, and then in 10 minutes took the shot. They thought somebody had accidentally discharged the rifle because it was so quick. They had never had somebody finish a stalk that fast before. I shot them with blanks, took another. Then what they do is take the two live guys off-target, put silhouettes there. You load a live round and shoot the target for your final score. And, uh, I’m walking back, man, 10 minutes into a four-hour stalk. These poor bastards. This was desert, West Coast, 115 degrees. And they’re all crawling, looking up at me like what just happened? And I say, “See you later, gents. I’m going to go take a nap.” And I’m back at the truck for four hours.
Is There a Personality Type That Seems Best-suited to Being a Sniper?
Yeah. You have to understand basic math and be able to do basic calculations really quickly in your head. You have to go, “Okay, I’ve got a guy running that way, the wind’s blowing that way, so I’ve got to add that wind value to my lead, add it or take it away.” And you have to do it really quick. Add an adjustment, take the shot. And we’re constantly putting people into situations, on purpose, in sniper school, to make or lose their cool. I’ll call down on the radio. I’ll say, “I don’t want you to hold the target up straight, I want you to half-ass it.” Because I want to see what this guy is going to do and if he’s going to lose his shit.
He says, “My target’s not straight, he’s not doing it right.” And so we’ll mess with him that way. We put him in situations over and over because we want to see who just doesn’t give a shit. They’re just like, “Fuck it, man, I’ll shoot.” A guy like Chris Kyle. He says, “I’ll shoot it anyway. We just got to get it done.” And that’s what you want.