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War Stories: This Is What It Takes To Get Through Navy SEAL Sniper School

Take it from a real SEAL sniper: This school is tough.

Courtesy of Wikipedia


In the spring of 2000 our 18-month work-up concluded with an Operational Readiness Exam (ORE), conducted off San Clemente Island, in which a small group of us simulated a covert tagging and tracking op on an enemy vessel. There were some tricky issues with water currents on the way back in, and things got sketchy. By the time we got back to rendezvous with our vessel I had run out of air and had a headache. But we passed the exercise. GOLF platoon was certified and operationally ready to rotate overseas to serve in an alert status, which the platoon would do after a little down time. Before it did, though, something unexpected happened that changed the course of my career in the Navy. One day shortly after our ORE, Glen and I were called in to see our OIC, McNary. When we entered his office we found Tom B., our platoon Leading Petty Officer, and Chief Dan there with him. Clearly something was up, something big, but we had no idea what. Were we in some sort of trouble?


“Listen,” said McNary, “you guys have done a really great job here, and we’re short-handed on snipers right now. We want to offer you the opportunity to go to sniper school.”


I was not planning to become a sniper. In fact, the thought had never occurred to me. Of course we all knew the SEALs had snipers, and we all knew how difficult a course it was. The whole thing seemed fascinating … but I’d never for an instant considered that I might become one of those guys. All my life, I’d loved being in the water, and all my life I’d wanted to be a pilot. But a sniper? Not a chance. And now here it was, being offered to us on a plate. We were stunned; we were thrilled. And we were terrified. It was unheard of for a new guy to get a sniper billet. There were some seriously seasoned guys on the team who had waited years to get a slot; that’s how hard they were to get. We knew it was a fiendishly difficult school to pass, and that the last thing anyone wanted was some wet-behind-the-ears new guy in there, because he’d just fuck it up and wash out. We also knew that everyone would be watching us, including our entire platoon, hell, our entire team, and that they would all be counting on us. If we washed out we would be letting them down. If we said yes, we would spend the next three months under excruciating pressure.


We didn’t hesitate for a second.


1. Cold Bore

There are some pretty difficult schools and training courses in the United States military, but none has quite the reputation of SEAL sniper training. It is one of the toughest programs anywhere on the planet. Even when compared to my combat tours in Afghanistan and later in Iraq, I count my time in sniper school as one of the most intense grueling experiences of my life. The SEAL sniper course is three months of twelve-plus-hour days, seven days a week. Ironically, it is not all that demanding physically. After going through the brutality of BUD/S and some of the programs in SEAL Tactical Training, there was nothing in the sniper course that posed any real physical challenge. But it is extremely challenging mentally.


“First and foremost? Intellectual capacity.” When people ask what it takes to become a Navy SEAL sniper, that’s my first answer. Don’t get me wrong: you have to be physically tough. Our training demands that every graduate be one of a unique breed, willing to snake his way through treacherous urban war-zone terrain or crawl the hot desert floor for hours, slow as a snail and often through his own bodily waste, sometimes withstanding days on end of unendurable physical hardship, to set up on his target. Still, the physical ability is maybe ten percent of it. Most of it is mental.


Sniper school is one of the very few courses a SEAL will not be looked down upon for failing to complete. It’s an unwritten rule that you don’t give guys a hard time for washing out of sniper school. Because the course is known for its insane difficulty, just being selected or volunteering to go automatically elicits respect in the teams. The students who entered the course were already the cream of the crop, but the attrition rate was still vicious. When I took the sniper course in the spring of 2000, we classed up with twenty-six guys at the start. Three months of continuous training later, only twelve of us would graduate.


A few weeks after our conversation in Lt. McNary’s office, Glen and I, along with two dozen others, mustered at the SEAL Team 5 quarterdeck in Coronado for our initial sniper school in-briefing. Though this would later change, at the time the different SEAL teams would rotate as course host, and it happened to be Team 5’s turn. They told us that there were two principle parts to the sniper training. First came the shooting phase, which would focus on learning our weapons, advanced ballistics, and of course the actual marksmanship training, during which we would work in pairs taking turns as shooter or spotter. Second was the stalking phase, where we would be trained in the arts of stealth and concealment.


We would be conducting the shooting phase at the Coalinga range, a private inland facility about a hundred miles northwest of Bakersfield, where we would camp out, receive all our instruction, and do all our shooting. In the event we survived the shooting phase, we would then go on to the stalking phase, concluding with our graded final training exercise (FTX) out in the California desert near Niland. Being from Team 3, which at the time had charge over the desert theater of operations, Glen and I were already quite familiar with the challenges of operating in that ungodly terrain and how fucking miserable it could be there. We took comfort in the idea that this prior knowledge might give us some small advantage in the final phase. Assuming we made it that far.


We were led to the team armory, where we each checked out the suite of weapons we would be working with over the next few months. We each got a sniper M14 (a sniper version of the M4), a Remington .308 bolt gun, a Remington .300 Win Mag, and a .50 cal, along with scopes and ammo. Once we had our weapons, we mustered back in the Team 5 area to meet our instructor cadre.


Read the rest of this article here, courtesy of our buddies over at SOFREP!