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National Guard Sniper School
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To the naked eye, a six-foot man standing 628 meters away in front of a tree line is little more than a figment of a soldier’s imagination. Killing that man with the first, cold-barrel shot from a high-powered rifle with a telescopic sight would be the ultimate test for the specialized soldiers that the National Guard trains on the open ranges and in the woods of central Arkansas, a few miles north of Little Rock.

The National Guard Sniper School, established in 1993 at Camp Joseph T. Robinson, has come of age in one important way. The U.S. Army accredited it last December. It will soon get the chance to train active Army soldiers in the deadly art and science of deliberately stalking and killing the enemy without remorse and from distances that are hard to fathom.

“This is a dream come true. It will be a prestigious thing for us to run soldiers through this school so they can get their B-4 sniper certification,” observed Army Guard Sgt. 1st Class Ben Dolan, 35, the chief instructor. He is a thoughtful, soft-spoken sort who has completed Marine Corps and U.S. Army sniper training. He knows, but does not publicly share, some dark stories about the business of being a sniper.

Active duty soldiers from the 7th Special Forces Group will undergo sniper training at Camp Robinson in May, said Lt. Col. Carlon Smith, the National Guard Marksmanship Training Unit’s chief of operations. Citizen-soldiers from the Army Guard’s 29th Infantry Division who are slated to serve later this year in Bosnia will train in July. The school will also conduct two pilot courses in counter-sniper tactics for the Air National Guard’s security forces this year.

“Run” is a key word. The Guard infantry soldiers who have passed the two-part course that is modeled on the Army’s five-week sniper school at Fort Benning, Ga., know it as a test of their physical and mental endurance.

Oregon Army National Guard PFC Darren Buchholz (right) and PFC James Pomeroy from Texas get close to a .50 caliber rifle during National Guard Sniper School training at Camp Robinson, Ark.

Official DOD Photo by MSgt. Bob Haskell

There is a lot more to the training than shooting at targets more than a quarter of a mile away, even though a recent class expended more than 9,000 rounds of 7.62mm ammunition in two weeks.

Students must score 70 percent on the Army Physical Fitness Test to get in. Six-mile runs in the morning, countless pushups and sit-ups, and forced marches with 60-pound packs are part of the drill. Only the strong survive.

Twenty-one reported for the first two weeks of marksmanship training in February. Eleven graduated and earned the right to return within the next year for two more weeks of field craft -- the skills in camouflage and stalking that are required to see and perhaps kill the enemy without being seen or killed themselves.

That’s a typical attrition rate, said 1st Sgt. Jim Green, who made it through the course when he was 52. “It darned near killed me,” he added about the school that is meant for the young.

Approximately 48 men make it through the two phases each year, said Smith who estimated that “with the proper funding and staff we could probably fully train 100 people per year.”

“The second phase is a lot more stressful than Phase I,” offered Nebraska Army Guard Staff Sgt. Kenneth Winn, 25, another former Marine who has recently completed the Camp Robinson course. “You and your partner are carrying your weapons systems and 65-pound packs, including the [camouflage] ghillie suits. You’re out on field problems for two days at a time. You have to have a sound mind and body.”

So why do we still need snipers during this era of high-tech warfare?

Most light infantry battalions have three two-man teams -- snipers and observers -- who serve two basic functions. Their primary purpose is still to kill enemy soldiers, and instill fear in many others, from long distances. The secondary mission is to evaluate an enemy’s strength and movement as their commander’s forward eyes and ears.

The second function has become as critical as the first, observed Staff Sgt. David Broseus, one of two instructors from Fort Benning who monitored February’s training at Camp Robinson.

“We need snipers more than ever to infiltrate enemy positions and gather information and to take out targets with no collateral [or unnecessary] damage,” he said. “Collateral damage has become a big concern because of the Army’s peacekeeping missions.

“Sometimes it’s best to put a sniper in a visible position to act as a deterrent -- as a force protection over-watch,” Broseus added. “Every time you have troops on the ground, you should have a sniper over-watching them.”

However, FM 23-10, the Army’s “Sniper Training” field manual, makes no bones about the primary purpose. “The sniper must be able to calmly and deliberately kill targets that may not pose an immediate threat to him. ... The sniper must not be susceptible to emotions such as anxiety or remorse.”

The work is not nearly as exciting as Hollywood would have people believe, said Broseus.

“A sniper team is more likely to have to take out a machine gunner to slow an enemy’s rate of fire,” he added. “You will not be looking for people like Saddam Hussein.”

How well does the National Guard school prepare people to do that duty? Very well, maintained Staff Sgt. Tom Dow, the other instructor from Fort Benning.

“The intensity of the training is the same as it is at Benning,” he explained. “These Guard people put in the same number of hours and days during their two two-week phases as we do in five straight weeks. We take the weekends off. They don’t.”

And the Camp Robinson facility is equal to the task, he added.

“I’m amazed at how large this place is,” marveled Dow who has become a frequent visitor. “It was definitely a surprise. This is not the little National Guard armory operation I was expecting.”

Building 4901 on Camp Robinson is a modest metal structure, with just two windows, that houses the Army’s only accredited sniper school besides the one in Georgia.

The class’s motto “Without Warning -- Without Remorse” chalked onto the blackboard in February could also be the National Guard school’s motto. It offers the students few second chances.

You can’t score 70 percent on your PT test? You’re gone. You can’t estimate the range to your targets? You’re history. You can’t hit 14 of 20 targets 300 to 600 meters away during day or night record fire? Good-bye.

Ben Dolan and the half-dozen other instructors know that lives are at stake and that sniper teams can wind up in the darnedest places when the weather is at its worst. They may even have to put up with snakes.

“We’re teaching a unique skill. If the students can’t handle it for two weeks at a time here, they can’t handle a real-world mission,” Dolan insisted. “We train as if we’re going to war the next day. I’m not giving anyone a certificate I wouldn’t want to go into the woods with tomorrow.”

Above Article by MSgt. Bob Haskell, National Guard Bureau , Published by DOD Press



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