Learning in Unexpected Places
Quick snapshot as to the purpose of this post. Craig has brought up some points in a couple of previous posts that I’d like to answer, or at least expand on. I try not to be the guy who puts his own spin on what other people say and regurgitates it as new information, so we’ll see how this goes, especially since this is my initial entry into blogging. Craig was pretty generous the other day in talking about the “Sniper Training Program” that I and some friends ran for a National Guard Brigade last month. I am extremely appreciative of what Craig stated about the course, as well as all the other recognition that came out of it.
Normally, I don’t care that much for interviews or having to deal with media, but I will say that it satisfied the shit out of me that our story in Business Insider out-trended a story about Jay-Z releasing his newest CD. I’ll take that any day of the week. Having said that, I think the program that we ran was significant for a couple of reasons. In order to explain why, I’ll have to give you a little background on what it is that I do now.
After the completion of my tour as an instructor at U.S. Army Sniper School in 2015, I PCS’d (re-assigned) to Camp Atterbury, IN, which is a very small joint maneuver training center for the National Guard. The very, very small battalion that I'm assigned to, is an OC/T battalion that covers a wide range of light and mechanized units. As I got used to my job, I was happy to see that our main focus seemed to be on light infantry tactics at the platoon and company level. Another thing that I noticed rapidly was that each one of our partnered National Guard units had a sniper section that was being “overlooked,” to put it nicely. Luckily for me, I went to work for a guy with whom I had a common background and common friends, and I was allowed to run amok trying to focus on around 10 different sniper sections.
Having been active duty my entire career, I am used to operating a certain way. Generally speaking, it has always been easy to get schools and resources to train with. If I didn’t know what I was doing, there was usually a guy somewhere on whatever installation I lived at that I could go ask. I discovered immediately that this is almost never the case in the National Guard. The problems that National Guardsmen face are many and in some cases, quite large, but they almost never have anything to do with lack of motivation or desire to complete the mission.
Especially in sniper sections. In the Guard, snipers are faced with the following three major problems: lack of opportunity to go to Sniper School, lack of resources and training time, and few truly experienced Snipers who excel at training management.
On average, less than 25% of Snipers in the sections I advise have been to Sniper School. The reasons for this vary, but usually involve the unit not allocating school attendance funds for their guys. Every now and again we will hear something about only being able to send guys to school in Prep Year 1. Now, I understand the reasons for this, and I get that the school is only a baseline, but we have to do better.
On average, National Guard sniper sections train about 40 days a year, counting their AT in the summer. That doesn’t sound that bad. Even though it’s not much, these sections should be able to get a fair amount of training done. Now let’s prove that false. After 350-1 training, military balls, battalion functions, and medical readiness operations, let’s cut that number in half. Now we’re at 20. Then we’ll assume that half of their Annual Training event is used to have them conduct non-sniper related tasks, i.e. squad STX lanes. Now we’re at 13. Without any other limitations, like weather, ammunition or land availability, or personnel issues, we’re averaging one day a month. It would be hard for a seasoned vet to maintain proficiency at that rate. With guys who are just learning and haven’t been to school, it’s damn near impossible.
The last major problem is that even if we have guys who have been to school, they haven’t necessarily been taught how to be team or section leaders. Unlike the Marine Corps, the Army has no course that serves as continuing education for our Snipers. We have to rely entirely on having people in our units with experience. In the National Guard, sometimes that’s hard to come by with the change in the Army’s culture and the lack of extensive combat deployments.
As a result of these factors, I decided to call in a few favors and try to change the way the National Guard trains their Snipers. For 10 days in June, myself, John Brady, and Terrol
Peterson conducted a course for 30 National Guard Snipers. We had four sections from one brigade, with guys from as far away as Puerto Rico. Although we started with some pretty green students, I’ll be honest—I was blown away by the professionalism, motivation, and thirst for learning that these guys displayed. When I say they were literally chomping at the bit to begin training every day, I mean it. Active or Guard, I’ve never seen anything like it. And the learning curve was pretty intense… we only had 10 days to train, so the fire hose was turned on full blast the entire time. But the results were incredible. One of the sections we were teaching had guys who literally had no idea how to read or use a TMR or H58 reticle on Day 1. By Day 5, one of those same guys had a first round hit on a 1000 meter target with no help or previous engagements at that distance. I can honestly say that I’ve never had a class that good, even at Sniper School.
The point I want to make is this. Craig and I talk a lot about continuous learning and cross-talk between members of the community being the only way to stay proficient as a Sniper, and I stand by everything we say. No one in this job knows everything. No one. The minute that you think you have the market cornered, you’ve been passed up by the guy who is constantly digging for a way to get better. This is especially true for me. Although I think I’m pretty damn competent, I can give you a list a mile long of guys who know more than I do or have more talent. The only way I can stay in the same ballpark is to learn as much as I can, wherever I can. That’s the attitude that my National Guard students embraced to the fullest extent. They didn’t care who they learned from, they just wanted to learn. Granted, they asked us a million questions, but the remarkable part is they learned just as much from working with each other.
The moral of the story is this: don’t be afraid to pick a guy’s brain. Even at the level Craig and I are at (or at least that I’d like to think we’re at) our hallmark is still trying to glean information from everyone we work with. And if you’re the guy not sharing information, you’re part of the problem. Unless you’re in the middle of shooting an event at a competition, you have nothing to lose from sharing information. The better we all become, as a whole, the more lethal we’re going to be and the more respect we’re going to garner. And that, my friends, is how we make life better for the guys that come behind us. One Shot, One Kill. - Joe