Snipers Bring School to Iraqi Desert
By Spc. Ryan Smith, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service
BAGHDAD, Iraq, Oct. 29, 2003 For most people, the U.S. Army Sniper School at Fort Benning, Ga., conjures up images of soldiers in camouflage sneaking around the densely wooded training grounds of western Georgia, learning to kill the enemy stealthily with high-powered rifles.
1st Armored Division sniper trainees take aim at targets downrange to zero their rifles at a range near Baghdad Oct. 22. Photo by Spc. Ryan Smith, USA
(Click photo for screen-resolution image)
However, the rural woodlands of the southeastern United States have little in common with the sun-scorched desert of Iraq, and cannot compare to the bustling urban setting of cities such as Baghdad. So, rather than sending troops to Fort Benning for sniper training, the 1st Armored Division has asked the school to come to Iraq.
A mobile training team of three sniper instructors from the school brought its weapons, equipment and other teaching materials to Baghdad, where they are training 20 1st Armored Division sniper candidates.
Though mobile training teams routinely travel to teach sniper students at locations away from Fort Benning, this is the first time an MTT has trained soldiers in a combat zone since the Vietnam War, according to Sgt. 1st Class Clark Swedberg, senior instructor for special projects, U.S. Army Sniper School.
The advantages of bringing the school into the environment where units are conducting combat operations are clear, he said. Soldiers have experienced the conditions of the environment, and can use the sniper training to better react to situations they may encounter.
"The wind is a lot different here (from the wind at) Fort Benning," Swedberg said. "It makes a big difference for soldiers to learn to deal with it here, where they will experience it later. We can identify any other problems and fix them now."
Swedberg said he's noticed another advantage to training snipers in this environment: "They're already in a combat frame of mind."
Though the sniper school is a five-week course at Fort Benning, the mobile course is about a week shorter, Swedberg said. However, the students will be taught everything they would learn if they were taking the course stateside.
The sniper school is not just about shooting, either. The sniper candidates spend time in the classroom and in the field. They learn about reporting intelligence information; calling in close air support, mortars and artillery; and watching over whatever element they are assigned to, Swedberg said.
"One of their biggest assets is in their ability to provide information from reconnaissance and observation," said Master Sgt. Alec Lazore, master gunner, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division.
Bringing the sniper school to Baghdad also serves to replenish critical warfighting skills, Lazore said. He explained that in six months here, the unit has lost trained soldiers as they've moved on to other assignments or left the Army.
By replenishing snipers who are trained to operate in this environment, 1st Armored Division will be able to support its forces for the remainder of their deployment here, he said.
The sniper candidates' training has gone beyond simply learning to handle environmental conditions in Iraq. As they went into a range in the desert outside Baghdad Oct. 22, the snipers found themselves looking through their scopes at the remaining most wanted members of Saddam Hussein's regime, including Saddam himself.
The sniper instructors placed wanted posters of the 55 most wanted former regime leaders on the targets the sniper students were to use for zeroing their weapons.
"It's a good thing," Lazore said. "It serves two purposes. The picture squares are perfect for the trainees to use to get a tight shot group. And it gives the soldiers a chance to see the most wanted (enemies) through a scope. Maybe one day these guys will get out there in the real world and see someone from that list through their scope."
(Army Spc. Ryan Smith is assigned to the 372nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.)