Army Sniper School comes to Fort Bliss
March 6, 2012
The young Solider settles himself, locks and loads a 7.62 mm round into his powerful rifle and takes aim. About 30 meters from the Soldier, is a piece of cardboard with a tuna can-sized hole. On the other side of the cardboard, stands a man-sized target 600 meters away.
His task is to successfully shoot the round through the small hole and hit the target.
How does he gain the ability, confidence, and knowledge to complete this task? He graduates from the U.S. Army Sniper School.
On March 8, 22 Soldiers -- 15 from Fort Bliss and seven who are stationed in Hawaii -- became Army snipers after graduating from the five-week course. The course started Feb. 5 with 44 Soldiers, including 14 from Hawaii.
Normally Soldiers have to travel to Fort Benning, Ga. to attend the sniper school. Instead, five instructors travelled to Fort Bliss to conduct the course.
"This [the course held at Fort Bliss] offers more of a one-on-one setting," said Sgt. 1st Class Richard Vest, a Springfield, Mo., native and senior instructor of the course. "These guys learn a lot of stuff in five weeks."
According to the Army, the average Soldier will hit a man-sized target 10 percent of the time at 300 meters using the M16A2 rifle. Graduates of the sniper school are expected to achieve 90 percent first-round hits at 600 meters using the M24 or M110 Sniper Weapon Systems.
"This [becoming a sniper] is why I joined the Army. It's been my life-long dream," said Sgt Alex Devenberg, an infantryman with Headquarters & Headquarters Company, 4th Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division.
Besides learning how to shoot rounds through a tiny hole, Devenberg and his fellow classmates also learned how to use four different sniper weapon systems to detect, determine accurate distance and shoot at several types of targets. They also learned how to camouflage themselves and write a sniper team mission statement.
While each unit is authorized three snipers, a sniper mission usually consists of a two-man team -- a shooter and a spotter.
"They usually put the most senior guy as the spotter," said Spc. Robert Cotter, who is the shooter, while Sgt. Devenberg is his spotter.
"All I do [as the shooter] is pull the trigger," said Cotter, a Morgantown, N.C., native and a member of HHC, 4/17th, 1st BCT, 1st AD.
Before Cotter pulls the trigger, Devenberg -- as his spotter - will set the distance and wind adjustments necessary to hit the target.
The role of both members of a sniper team is important in graduating the course, as well as to their unit.
"It is the only school in the Army where your partner can fail you out," Vest said.
Vest said a sniper team is one of the most valuable tools a company commander has during combat.
"They are the eyes and ears of the unit, and they can break the enemy's morale," said Vest.
According to 1st Sgt. Jason Pitman, B Co., 3rd Battalion, 41st Infantry Regiment, 1st BCT, 1st AD, the Army has between 500 and 800 snipers, making it one the toughest schools to attend and successfully complete. He said the selection process can be as hard as the school itself.
"You basically pick the best shooters in the unit," Pitman said. "They have to be mature Soldiers, someone who can be left alone for awhile, up to 72 hours. They have to be mature enough to take the shot. They're the only Soldiers who can shoot without getting permission from a commander."