JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash.— —A movement on the horizon catches the eye of a sniper team. Through his scope, the spotter tracks the gentle movement of the grass, gauging the direction of the wind and distance to the target. His partner takes aim, gently squeezes the trigger... and bang.
For a snipers and spotters with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion, 161st Infantry Regiment, 81st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, success depends on perfect calculation in an imperfect environment. That is why they conducted an alternate position and urban stress shoot training event at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Nov. 4, 2023.
This training is all in preparation for Guard snipers to compete at the Winston P. Wilson Sniper Championship, an annual National Guard competition held at Camp Robinson in northern Arkansas.
“The preparation for this competition is pretty hard,” said U.S. Army Sgt. Remi Milslagle, a sniper team leader with HHC, 3-161 Inf. “They keep the majority of the details from all of the competitors, so you really have to work well with your teammate to prepare for whatever the competition throws at us.”
Getting to know how to best work with a teammate is essential for a sniper. Training together and participating in these competitions help build unit cohesion as well as allow the unit to know how well they can perform alongside their peers. Sniper/spotter teams must work quickly to make precise adjustments in a high-stress environment. The attention to detail before taking a shot at a target is a key factor for every move a sniper and his teammate will make.
“You’re taking out all of the factors such as wind, distance, position and so on before the first shot even goes off,” said Milslagle. “It's definitely a two-person job. If you don’t hit the target, you need your partner to spot the shot and make adjustments quick.”
In addition to showcasing a unit's excellent marksmanship skills, the competition's objective is to evaluate the performance of competing teams and how it pertains to unit training. Teams have the opportunity to network and display how well they perform when given newer and more efficient equipment.
“We just recently received the MK22 rifle which will replace the M2010 that we currently use,” explained fellow sniper Sgt. Matt Meckley. “So doing these training sessions as much as we can will help us get familiarized because these new weapons are what will be used in the competition.”
Training with better equipment allows for the snipers to do their job to the best of their ability. When units take part in training and competitions, it enables snipers to shoot at long distances, learn how to maneuver, conduct reconnaissance operations and overall prepare and train for missions.
“The competitions are a great way for us to measure our skill relative to our peers,” said Meckley. “We don't get a chance to do that with other units very often because we're such a small organization. It allows us to work as a team and to see how other teams perform as well.”
Snipers are an asset whose primary focus is to be able to shoot at long distances. It takes time and effort for a sniper unit to prepare and train. Their mission begins long before a shot is even fired.
“We conduct reconnaissance for days at a time, we hike through the woods, and we try to get vantage points to best see the battlefield before the battle even starts,” said Milslagle. “The sense of responsibility that is given to us as a small team and being able to accomplish the mission feels very rewarding.”