By Eric Durr, New York State Division of Military and Naval AffairsMay 12, 2017
FORT CHAFFEE, Ark. - Being a sniper, according to New York Army National Guard Sgt. David Peters, is the ultimate challenge for an infantryman.
"You have to know so much information. You have to perfect and master the infantry tasks and you have to perfect and master the sniper tasks as well, said Peters, a sniper team leader in C Troop, 2nd Squadron 101st Cavalry. "You have to be very precise."
Peters, along with Staff Sgt. Masami Yamakado, a squad leader in Company C, 1st Battalion 69th Infantry, got a chance to test his sniper skills against top-notch competitors from the Army National Guard, Active Army Sniper School, USMC Scout/Sniper School, USMC Reserves and foreign armies April 22-27 at the Winston P. Wilson Sniper Championship.
Held at the National Guard Marksmanship Training Center at Camp J.T. Robinson, Fort Chaffee, Arkansas, the 2017 competition brought together 25 two-man sniper teams from across the U.S. military, along with Canada, Denmark, Italy and Poland.
The two New York Army National Guard Soldiers finished ninth in the competition overall and came in at number three position among the National Guard teams.
Peters estimates he put about a thousand rounds down range during the five-day event.
They would have done better if he had not been a last-minute addition to the team, when Peters' original partner had to drop out, Yamakado said.
With Peters living in Hamburg in Western New York, and Yamakado living in Garrison in the Hudson Valley--342 miles away-- it was impossible to get together for training. Instead the two men went to ranges by themselves and knocked down targets.
They also hammered out a quick SOP over the phone over the course of a week.
"If we had more face time, more lead time, and more train-up time, I am confident we could have gotten into the top five and top four," Yamakado said.
"Everything was either all or nothing. We either cleaned it, and got maximum points on the event, or we didn't score because of something we didn't prepare for," he explained.
Yamakado, a former sniper section leader in Charlie Troop who helped train Peters, is school-trained and competed in the 2014 sniper competition. But he hadn't trained as a sniper in two years.
That experience, and their familiarity with each other, eventually let them work through the rough spots, the two men said.
"We were off to a pretty rough start, but once we started getting into our rhythm we started hitting targets left and right," Peters said.
A spotter and sniper usually need to work together for years to understand each other, said Sgt. 1st Class Brian Tippet, the Charlie Troop readiness NCO.
"They did extremely well, better than we could have hoped for, with no train-up time," he added.
Being a sniper means being expert with five weapons systems. It also means being a bit of a math whiz, since snipers have to calculate ballistic solutions on the fly. Some calculations are done on paper, and some done with a hand-held ballistic calculator.
Along with being able to shoot extremely well, snipers have to be able to collect battlefield information; knowing the difference, for example, between Russian 120 and 82 millimeter mortars. They've also got to be experts at camouflage and stealthy movement on the battlefield in order to get into a position to shoot or see.
The two-man sniper team consists of a shooter -- normally the junior Soldier--and a spotter who is the more experienced Soldier.
The shooter concentrates on the target. The spotter maintains situational awareness and works out the ballistic solution-- based on the temperature, wind velocity and direction, humidity or rain, distance and bullet trajectory--necessary to hit the target.
At the Army National Guard sniper competition, Peters was the shooter while Yamakado was the spotter.
Charlie Troop snipers are equipped with three sniper weapons:
• The M110 Semi-Automatic Sniper System or SASS, which looks like an M-16A2 on steroids and is used to engage many targets rapidly out to 800 meters;
• The M2010 Enhanced Sniper Rifle, a bolt-action, single-shot weapon that looks like something from a science fiction movie and hits targets out to 1,200 meters;
• And the M107 Barret sniper rifle, which fires a .50 caliber round and can hit targets up to 1800 meters away.
Snipers must also be expert with the M-4 carbine and the M-9 pistol.
The sniper competition tested their abilities with all those weapons systems, Yamakado said.
"It ran almost like a three-gun event," Yamakado said. "I would run to a building for 50 to 100 yards and engage pistol targets. And then I would go in the building and engage in a room with the M-4 and then go upstairs and shoot the sniper rifle. There were a lot of plain, line-infantry oriented tasks."
"It dragged the snipers out of their comfort zone," he added.
This was a big change from the 2014 competition, in which 95 percent of the tasks involved the sniper rifle, Yamakado said.
One of the most challenging events, and one the New Yorkers did well at, was the "live-fire stalk" during both daylight and night time.
The teams had to don their camouflage "ghillie suits" and work into a firing position overlooking a target without being seen.
Once they were on target they fired a blank round. An evaluator would approach the area to spot the team. Not being spotted added points to the total score.
To keep the competitors honest -- by ensuring they were actually in the designated area -- the evaluator would hold up a placard with a number or letter on it. The snipers had to be close enough to call the number in to the score keepers.
Then the team would engage the target and get scored on the hit as to whether or not the right targeting information was "dialed in" on the weapon.
The event was challenging for the team, because it was an event that Peters had not trained for.
What's more, Yamakado's ghillie suit was in a shipping container heading for Australia, where the 101st Cavalry is scheduled to train this summer, because he wasn't planning to be at the competition.
"I showed up at the stalk as the only guy without a ghillie suit. So I put a bungee cord around my waist and stuck in some branches and rolled with it," he said.
Another unique event was the opportunity to engage targets from a hovering UH-60 helicopter.
Peters balanced his SASS on a safety strap and had one minute to fire ten rounds at targets ranged between 500 and 600 meters from the aircraft. It's not something many snipers ever get a chance to train on, Peters said.
Peters, said Yamakado, was one of the few shooters who actually hit a target firing from the helicopter.
While the event was a competition, both Peters and Yamakado said they learned new techniques and tactics from the other competitors every day - lessons they'll pass on to New York Army National Guard snipers.
"I think we changed the SOP several times, just looking at how other teams do things," Yamakado said. "The school house does a very good job at making it one part match and one part training event."