By Bryan Gatchell, Fort BenningFebruary 4, 2019
FORT BENNING, Ga. -- As part of the next phase of an ongoing international partnership between Fort Benning and the German military, a German soldier recently trained American Soldiers on sniper craft at Fort Benning, Georgia, with plans this year for an American Soldier to instruct German sniper students in Germany.
Over several weeks, 1st Sgt. (Stabsverwebel) Eric Vogel of the German army's infantry training center (Ausbildungzentrum Infanterie), in Hammelburg, Germany, helped teach American sniper students camouflage techniques, target detection, range estimation, intelligence preparation of the battlefield, relevant reporting procedures, advanced marksmanship, and many more subjects.
Capt. Gregory Elgort, commander of Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 29th Infantry Regiment, 316th Cavalry Brigade, oversees the course. He said the purpose of inviting Vogel was to provide "additional perspective on sniper operations."
"Our students were able to take away from our German exchange instructor - First Sergeant Vogel - a lot of tips and tactics that he had and used in his instruction of the German sniper course," said Elgort. "He was also able to bring a whole different perspective in terms of terrain and background, because obviously he's been a German sniper.
"Most of our instructors have spent a lot of training time in the United States deployed to various combat zones like Iraq and Afghanistan," continued Elgort. "A German instructor just brings a whole other depth of perspective from his various background and experience."
Across nations, Vogel asserted, the physics of their craft is the same.
"Shooting is shooting," said Vogel.
Vogel highlighted several key differences between how the two armies' courses. The two armies teach to different equipment. The German army students must pass through a prerequisite course that is not required of the U.S. Army course. The German army has a higher instructor-to-student ratio, which allows students greater individual attention. The U.S. Army spends more hours working per day and conducts more repetitions in varying conditions, including several nighttime shoots, whereas, according to Vogel, the German sniper course would conduct one nighttime shoot.
"Our course, we have only 16 students in the course, and here there are like 30 or 32," said Vogel of the armies' courses' competing strengths. "Here they start at 6 o'clock in the morning, and they finish about 2100 ... Here you have more time, and at the end, I think it's the same."
Staff Sgt. Michael Turner, C Co., 1st Bn., 29th Inf. Bde., an instructor and writer at the sniper course, worked closely with Vogel. He said he and Vogel would discuss the course both on and off duty and examine the manuals, all to improve the U.S. course. During the course, Turner would typically teach a class, and Vogel would serve as the demonstrator and would add insight from the German course.
"I love the fact that we're doing a whole interoperability thing," said Turner of helping train snipers in other U.S. military services. "But when we had an actual German instructor coming and showing us how he liked to do things and the way that they teach the course, it allowed the United States Army sniper course to fill some of the holes that we maybe had and improve our coursework, our doctrine, our POI, our lesson plan."
Turner added he personally gained a lot from working with Vogel.
Elgort said the sniper occupation attracts individuals who are open to learn and are curious about the experiences of others in their career field.
"All of our young Soldiers that were here to learn and become Army snipers love hearing about experiences and trainings and tips from our instructors," he said. "And bring in a sniper from a different army, who's been a sniper ... and teaches at the German sniper course, is just very exciting for them. They love to hear about it."
If all works according to the interchange plan between the U.S. and German army sniper courses, Turner is set to help train German snipers at their course in Hammelburg later this year.
Because part of the German sniper course focuses on cold weather conditions, Turner spent some of his holiday block leave training in the snow at high altitudes in Colorado and Washington state. He has also gone over Reconnaissance and Surveillance Leader Course again, and has consulted with other U.S. Army instructors.
"I'm gathering as much information as I can so I can be as much help to their course and represent the United States Army as best as I can," said Turner.
The exchange of instructors between the two sniper courses constitutes a part of the third phase of an ongoing exchange between the U.S. and German armies that locally manifested in its initial phase as an information exchange between the U.S. Army Infantry School, U.S. Army Armor School and the Maneuver Center of Excellence. The second phase was a student exchange. The Infantry School was the first Fort Benning organization to take part in the third phase, an instructor exchange, which resulted in five American Soldiers graduating in September 2018 from the German army's military close combat course.
Vogel sees the sniper program as likely to improve incrementally as the exchange between the two sniper courses continues.
"There's a long process for changing subjects," said Vogel. "I take it to my unit, and then we change the program. We change the details. And afterwards the Americans make the same.
"We're excited to continue the partnership and continue the exchange of information between our two courses, especially for such a niche community," said Elgort. "The sniper community is very small in our Army, and even smaller in smaller armies. It's so important that they stay tied in."