ARLINGTON, Va. – When Jane Horton laid her husband, Spc. Christopher Horton, to rest in Arlington National Cemetery, she had just two lines to describe the love of her life. She chose “valiant warrior, fearless sniper.”
His former sniper partner agreed that he embodied that warrior spirit.
“The way you think about it going back to ancient times, what warriors are, what warriors do, and the warrior mindset; that was Chris,” said Garrett Grover, a former staff sergeant who was in the same sniper section as Horton when he was killed in Paktia, Afghanistan, Sept. 9, 2011. Both served in the Oklahoma Army National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 279th Infantry Regiment, 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team.
Grover said Horton was also a fierce marksmanship competitor. Jane Horton said her husband had shot competitively since high school and joined the Army Guard after being recruited by the Army Marksmanship Unit.
So, it was fitting when another Army National Guard sniper, Staff Sgt. Tim Grover, decided to honor Horton’s legacy through an annual sniper competition.
“His wife commented to me that she didn’t know how to keep Chris’s legacy alive since they never had kids to carry on his name,” said Grover, a sniper section leader with the Nebraska Army National Guard’s 2nd Battalion, 134th Infantry Regiment (Airborne), 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team. “This bothered me for years until 2019 when I put together the first sniper match in his honor.”
Last year, the two-day Chris D. Horton Memorial Sniper Competition in Jackson, Nebraska, included 22 teams from throughout the military sniper and civilian marksmanship communities. Grover said the competition honors Horton, sharpens competitors’ skills and strengthens bonds in the sniper community.
Developing that camaraderie is especially important in a career that Horton had described as very isolating.
“The path to becoming a sniper is by no means easy, and if you complete your training, it is a very hard and lonely job,” he said in a letter written while in Afghanistan. “It isn’t what you see in the movies or video games. It is a very difficult but rewarding career. There is no other job in the military like it.”
The letter was in response to a young boy who wrote Horton about his dreams to become a sniper. Today, that boy, now an adult, is a member of Special Forces – the Army’s famed Green Berets, said Jane Horton.
This sort of mentorship was not uncommon for Horton, who pushed his sniper partner into competitive shooting.
“I wouldn’t be a competitor if Chris hadn’t gotten me started,” said Garrett Grover, who shoots in as many as 20 competitions a year. “I wouldn’t own a rifle company if I didn’t get started in competition, and now I’ve made a career out of it.”
He attended last year’s competition and praised it as an exceptional opportunity for military snipers. He said that in addition to the community-building aspects, it is also unique for sniper competitions, focusing on more than just long-range shooting and fitness.
“There are a lot of people who can do a lot of push-ups and shoot really far, but there are not a lot of people who know how to use the mil relation formula to arrange targets without an electronic rangefinder,” said Garrett Grover.
In addition to long-range shooting, it requires stalking, camouflage and other essential military sniper skills, said Garrett Grover. The competition also includes an obstacle course, water crossings, and an aerial event where competitors shoot from a helicopter in flight.
“These are big stages. For instance, the obstacle course goes into the shoot house, which goes into the rooftop. It’s surprisingly complex,” said Tim Grover, adding that conducting the competition takes about 5,000 square acres of land. “A lot of these guys compete all over the country, and they’ve made a point to say, ‘Hey, this is, this will be a staple in our competition circuit for years.’”
Developing those skills is precisely what Horton promoted for the community he cherished so dearly, said Jane Horton. She said Chris, an advocate for additional training for Army Guard snipers, would be proud to be the competition’s namesake.
“I can 100% see Chris sitting around the fire on Friday night [the competition’s social gathering], with a cigar, telling jokes, and being the center of attention,” said Garret Grover. “But that wouldn’t have been as big for him as the competition. He was driven and motivated, unlike anybody I’ve ever met, and to try to embody that bit of his personality, I think competition is the best way to do it.”
Jane Horton, who attends the competition each year as the guest of honor, agreed.
“I think this competition would be one of the most humbling and exciting things for him,” she said. “He really felt that during this time in our country’s history, his generation was called to war. And that if he was that good at shooting, he needed to use that. So, it’s not just honoring him but bringing the sniper community together.”
The 2023 competition is scheduled Oct. 6-8.