Staff Sgt. Jennifer Bunn
2nd Brigade Combat Team NCOIC
Many people may have the misconception that the only skill a good sniper needs is the ability to shoot accurately. But anyone can learn to shoot. Snipers also need a combination of maturity, discipline, independence and physical prowess, in addition to determination to get as much training as possible to be proficient in their craft.
Two 10th Mountain Division (LI) sniper teams took all those qualities and more with them when they attended the Sniper Knowledge Exchange, Oct. 15-20, hosted by the U.S. Army Sniper School at Fort Benning, Ga.
The event originally was planned to be the 13th Annual U.S. Army International Sniper Competition with 36 teams participating. Due to the government shutdown and minimal funds, the school adjusted plans and continued with an event.
“(The school) could not call it a sniper competition this year so they called it a Sniper Knowledge Exchange,” said Staff Sgt. John Brady, a team member and a cadre at Fort Drum’s Light Fighters School. “It became a training event to go to combat.”
The name of the event may have changed, but the main focus remained the same. Sniper teams from all over the world gathered to showcase their skills in a challenging competition and to share their expertise and sniper knowledge.
Seventeen two-man teams participated in the event, including teams from the Army, Marine Corps, law enforcement ag-encies, Denmark, Ireland and United Arab Emirates.
The 10th Mountain teams gained valuable experience and training from their sniper counterparts to bring back to share with their Soldiers.
Staff Sgt. Thomas Dennehy, a sniper assigned to C Troop, 1st Squadron, 71st Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, placed fifth in the competition with Brady. Dennehy said he gained much more from the competition than a high score.
“I took away training ideas – different ways to implement certain lessons I want to get across to my Soldiers,” he said. “I think the biggest thing besides actually doing the competition is learning from all the other teams, especially international teams – the way they train, the ideas they come up with and the equipment they train on.
“It’s a big cross-training event going on the whole time, and I think it is worth more than taking whatever place in the competition,” Dennehy said. “It’s the knowledge that stays with me.”
Before they left for Fort Benning, the teams received incalculable support from 10th Mountain Division, Fort Drum’s Light Fighters School and their parent units. Team members Sgt. Andrew Duncan and Spc. Karch Chancellor, both assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, and Dennehy were temporarily assigned to the school for six weeks before the event so they could train and be competitive.
Brady helped organize and plan the teams’ training. A sniper since 2000, he has enjoyed passing his knowledge down to Soldiers new to the field throughout the years. From 2008 to 2011, Brady was an instructor at the USASS, and in 2012 he coached the 10th Mountain team. This year was the first time he was able to participate in this particular event.
“Light Fighters School’s role was to take the Soldiers from their units and detach them temporarily so they did not have distractions like the motor pool, formations and other unit duties,” Brady said. “Having the support from division and the units to have the Soldiers train here is an awesome asset.”
Duncan, Dennehy, Chancellor and Brady took this extra training to heart, and they appreciated every last bit of it. With so few of them within their units, they do not always get the type of training they need that is specific to their job.
Snipers do not practice at a normal firing range with a target at so many meters out. To become proficient, they need to practice every aspect of their skills, both mentally and physically.
Snipers have six basic skills they must master. These consist of long-range shooting; short-range fast shooting; alternate-position shooting; run an unknown distance or try to find out how far away things are; try to find things; and hide themselves.
During combat, a sniper is never using just one skill at a time; they are always combined, and that makes more stress on the sniper. That is how the competition was designed and how the teams trained. Brady’s years of experience helped him prepare appropriate training and get the team involved.
“We took those six skills and tried to either pair them up together: (for example), shoot fast hidden targets or shoot alternate positions with far targets. These add different stressors,” he explained. “During training, we had everyone come up with crazy scenarios. It’s up to the imagination.”
“The competition is designed that way also, for younger Soldiers and veteran Soldiers to become better at their skill. That is why I never like to shoot in the competition,” Brady continued. “I always want younger Soldiers to go to it, because this is putting them in a high-stress environment engaging precision targets, which they are going to have to do down range, but you can’t train that.”
The 10th Mountain teams demonstrated dedication to their craft by doing whatever was necessary to get to the event. Without temporary duty funds, the Soldiers had to pay out of pocket to get to Fort Benning. They pooled their resources and traveled together. They also arranged to borrow weapons from the sniper school, because they could not transfer their own in civilian vehicles.
Having to borrow weapons added to the stress of the competition, but it also showed how well these four 10th Mountain Division snipers were prepared. The team uses the M-110 Semiautomatic Sniper System, which chambers a 7.62 mm round. It is built for long-range precision shooting. Using an unfamiliar gun and optics can throw off a person’s game.
“We are familiar with the (weapon) platform, but with sniping, there are a lot of things that go into your individual rifle, not individual weapon systems, because an M-110 is an M-110,” Brady said.
“Each one has a different muzzle velocity, different trigger and little things that go into play when you try to make a really long shot,” he added. “So, we have to borrow guns, and we (only) get two days range time before the competition. We had prior trainup and experience that allowed us to perform well.”
Being a participant is not the only highlight of the competition. Chancellor, who teamed up with Duncan and place sixth, said he learned a lot from watching the other teams maneuver through the seven scenarios and engage the targets.
“You look at different teams going through the same event, and they are sol-ving the same problem 17 different ways,” he said. “What is cool about these competitions is that you get to learn how these guys – these true professionals – react to the same situations and execute the mission, and that is what you really come out of the competition with.”
It takes a different kind of Soldier to become a sniper.
According to Duncan, it takes a little bit of “cowboy” along with professionalism. After a deployment from 2009-2010 in Iraq with 1st Armored Division, his platoon was asked if anyone wanted to go to sniper school. Duncan was the only one to raise his hand.
He found a sniper slot in 4-31 Infantry as soon as he arrived.
“I always wanted to be in the infantry, but something about being a sniper always intrigued me, and so once I had the opportunity for it, I took it,” he said. “When you are doing something, whether it is sniper school or Special Forces selection, it is a leap of faith; you kind of step out into the unknown. It’s something I wanted to do. I just took that leap of faith and went for it, and everything worked out.”
Chancellor, who has been in the Army for three years, started hunting at a young age. His platoon sergeant and leader noticed he was a pretty good shot and asked him if he wanted to go to sniper school. Before they finished the question, Chancellor said yes.
“I grew up in a lot of hunting, and the whole sniper aspect mindset kind of clicked with me ever since I was 5 years old or so,” he said. “I like the skill; it’s an art form. It’s kind of like my art.”
Dennehy serves as a sniper and platoon sergeant for his Scout section. He joined the Navy first and then transferred to the Army, because he was dissatisfied with his job. He has been in the Army for five years.
“The Army was a backup plan for me. I was in the Navy before, and I just didn’t get to do what I wanted to do. I didn’t feel important, and when I got here, I knew the guys that were snipers,” he said.
“Once I learned part of the job and learned the math that is involved, it was a little intriguing I guess, plus they were always the most squared away,” Dennehy continued. “Their Army Physical Fitness Test (score) was the highest, (and) they were smart. That is what I wanted to be. I wanted to do more.”
For Brady, when opportunity presented itself, he grabbed onto it. That is how he became a sniper. Back in 2000, he left a detail to go to a dental appointment. When he returned, his platoon sergeant saw him and told him to go to sniper tryouts. He obeyed, and the rest is history.
“I was a machine gunner for a year, and I did not ever think (sniper) was an option. I love doing it. I’m spoiled; I have had sniper in my job title for 13 ½ years,” he exclaimed.
Regardless of how these 10th Mountain Division snipers arrived at this moment, they all agree they love their job and want to pass their skills and the benefit of their experience to younger Soldiers. They are eager to start preparing for the next U.S. Army International Sniper Competition and any other competition they can attend.
Competitions are crucial for snipers to expand their knowledge base and learn and maintain perishable skills. The more snipers who get the opportunity, the better the sniper community will be.
“One of the best ways to improve yourself is to push your limits,” Duncan said. “Don’t settle for complacency; don’t settle for mediocrity. Always strive to push the boundaries, and I think this competition did (that).”