By Cheryl RodewigNovember 7, 2012
FORT BENNING, Ga. (Nov. 7, 2012) -- The world's premier snipers converged on Fort Benning Friday through Monday for the 12th annual International Sniper Competition.
The 36 two-man teams represented the active Army, Air Force, Army National Guard, Army Reserve, the Los Angeles and Chicago police departments, and military units from the United Kingdom, Ireland, Germany, Denmark, Sweden and the United Arab Emirates.
"It's just a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," said Sgt. Taylor Hutchins with the 101st Airborne Division from Fort Campbell, Ky. "You get to work with all these other foreign militaries. You get to learn from them. It's humbling. There's so many great shooters here that you just come out to do your best. It's a great learning experience as well as a competition."
Sgt. 1st Class Adam James, an instructor with the Sniper School, which hosted the competition, said learning is what it all came down to.
"At the end of the day, it's a big training event," he said. "You've got 36 of arguably the best sniper teams in the world right here -- from all over the country and different services, conventional and Special Forces, cops, Air Force, you name it. And it brings all these skill sets, all this huge knowledge base and experience together, and what a better way to get different snipers from different communities working together, training from each other, learning from instructors, learning from events, and ultimately taking stuff back and just continually improving."
The competition closed with a summit Tuesday, where each team was invited to share feedback on the event and lessons learned.
James said it was great to have so many teams compete with such a positive attitude -- motivated not just to win but also to share tactics and techniques with the sniper community.
Individual events during the competition tested the snipers' skills in marksmanship, target detection and identification, stalking and physical fitness.
"Each year we try and make the events more and more challenging because we know that every year there's new technology, new tactics, and so the snipers that are coming here every single year are better than the previous year," James said. "The events are designed to push the limits and exploit any holes they may have in their skill sets. And there's nothing wrong with identifying any shortcomings in your training because all it does is make you better."
Sgt. Josh Cavalier, a third-time competitor in the International Sniper Competition, can attest to the quality of the training received while competing.
"You can't do this anywhere else," said the Georgia National Guardsman. "The stalk lane that takes up this much of Fort Benning is not typical. The scenarios we get presented out here are almost impossible to recreate in a regular training environment. The training you get while you're here working with other units I would otherwise never even see it's definitely a unique setup."
As an instructor on Fort Benning teaching Air Assault and Pathfinder courses, Cavalier rarely gets the chance to work on his sniper techniques. The competition helps develop the skill set he uses when deployed, he said.
"I haven't picked up a sniper rifle since last year," said Cavalier, who competed in 2008, just three weeks after being certified, and again in 2011. "The last time I put this ghillie suit on was last year. So to get to come back into this community and see what the guys are doing on a daily basis, it helps us out a lot."
"The way we shoot at school and the way we generally train is a relatively high level of precision, but when we come out here it's a whole different level of shooting farther away at smaller targets. We don't train to shoot one-inch targets. We train to shoot people-sized silhouettes. You shoot to a much tighter standard here."
The one-inch target Cavalier referred to was featured during an event Saturday called rapid precision fire. It was a timed exercise where snipers had to hit a one-inch square at 200 meters as many times as possible.
Other events included a night fire, live-fire stalk, foot march, combat outpost defense, positive identification of moving targets, pistol shoot, stress fire, one-shot event and urban target memorization. Some were realistic, reflecting tasks the military units might perform in combat.
The combat outpost defense simulated a sniper team defending a forward operating base, James said. The positive identification targets represented both enemy combatants and civilians in an environment that included buildings, vehicles and other obstacles. Urban target memorization built on that idea in a more complex environment.
"They'll see the targets before they start the event, so they have to memorize which targets they're supposed to shoot, and there are also no-shoot targets out there -- all kind of different faces," James said. "They have to move through the building, different positions, windows, doors, even on the roof. Certain targets can be seen from select positions. Target one can only be seen from the top left window in the second story. So they have to constantly keep moving throughout the building scanning the whole lane and finding these tiny little loopholes and identifying targets."
Most events had applications for both military and civilian competitors. The stress fire required sniper teams to shoot from a range of "uncomfortable" firing positions," James said. "They have to be quick and they're constantly manipulating their weapon system and that induces stress."
The winners of this year's competition are Staff Sgt. Daniel Horner and Spc. Tyler Payne with the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit.