FORT BRAGG, NC -- Two-man sniper teams from allied countries, NATO and four branches of the U.S. armed forces participated in the 10th United States Army Special Operations Command International Sniper Competition at Fort Bragg, North Carolina from March 17-22, 2019.
Each team faced a myriad of challenges that tested their performance under physical and mental stress while racing against a time limit of as little as four to eight minutes per event. Competitors received no instructions until just moments before competing in scenarios designed to replicate unexpected, but potential battlefield conditions.
"The way we run this is completely different," said Master Sgt. Josh, a Special Forces Sniper Course instructor. "The competitors show up to each event with only their briefing book. They are completely blind. They don't get the opportunity to talk to anybody, listen to anything or see the stages before shooting."
While 21 teams brought their experience, skills and weapons to the competition, they learned quickly that victory could boil down to simple fundamentals.
"You have the super precision side of your skill set, but basics will come into play at some point in the next five days," said U.S. Army Col. Michael Kornburger, Commander of the 1st Special Warfare Training Group (Airborne) that hosted the event, during the competition orientation brief.
The competition kicked off with a night live-fire exercise on the installation's Range 37. This range, a 130- acre, 360-degree course and the epicenter of the competition, was developed specifically to train special operations forces for urban warfare techniques and to hone marksmanship skills. There, the teams engaged targets with their rifles and pistols with the aid of night vision devices. The limited visibility and reliance on noise discipline made the first event all the more challenging.
Throughout the entire competition, the pace never slowed as the administrators forced a very rigorous and precise schedule. Competition designers pushed participants to their mental limits with events that required teams to find an enemy target in a crowd at long range or to abandon their own weapons and take up a fallen sniper team's rifle, scope and data on previous engagements card. Physically demanding events stressed their ability to fire with precision, such as engaging targets while running through a grueling obstacle course or with one hand cuffed to their back.
"The core tasks of everything revolves around real-world application," emphasized Josh.
Many events required more than sniper mastery. Competitors used carbines and pistols as well, switching from one weapon system to the other as they navigated through obstacles.
"The reason we added that in there is as a lead component for level one snipers; you should be able to shoot all your weapons effectively," Josh said. "It's easy to get down and practice behind your favorite rifle or gun, but you have got to pick them all up."
On the final day of the competition, the snipers donned ghillie suits and participated in a "stalk" event. This event required teams to sneak up to a target across hundreds of meters of terrain without being detected by administrators actively searching for them, all again under the stress of a ticking clock.
Since its initiation in 2009, the international competition has served to strengthen partnerships amongst allied military participants.
"These guys could very well see each other on a not too distant battlefield somewhere down the road," said U.S. Army Maj. William Cunningham, the commander for Range 37. "That camaraderie of getting together with the guys that do the same stuff for the same cause, albeit they're from different countries, is another great part of this competition."
This year's winners were:
1st place: USASOC
2nd place: USASOC
3rd place: Marine Corps Scout Sniper