There is no shortage of popular culture lionizing snipers. From movies to books, legendary exploits are laced with evocative imagery. Alone, unafraid, heroically holding back enemy hoards with only a bolt gun. This captivation is not without good cause, but Hollywood’s depictions often fall short of capturing what it truly means to be a sniper. Those hard lessons learned from the Marine Corps’ Scout Sniper School have been ones that have profoundly changed who I am and stayed with me for life.
Brilliance in the basics. In the military, firepower is everything, but often there is a common misconception about what that means. Most think that increasing firepower means to increase the number of rounds per minute. Snipers believe that increasing firepower means increasing the number of hits per minute. With this infectious mentality, accuracy becomes supreme. “One shot, one kill.” In this way, a single sniper could feasibly provide more ‘firepower’ than a squad of machine gunners. It is no surprise that accuracy is the cornerstone for snipers, but it is attained by adhering to a simple maxim: “brilliance in the basics.” By mastering the seemingly simplistic fundamentals of marksmanship, snipers effectively change the battlefield. Snipers offer a long-range precision that prevents enemies from being shielded by distance or imprecise area weapons. It is profound that something so minor found in ‘the basics’ can change the way warfare is conducted. The same way this logic applies to the battlefield it applies to the classroom, office, or wherever you might find yourself. Mastering the basics changes the game making you more effective.
Dedication. Many service members are professionals — clean rooms, inspection-ready uniforms, excelling at their day jobs. Sniper school students don’t aspire to a mere occupation, to be a scout sniper is a way of life. The job doesn’t end with the fallout of formation or weekend liberty; it is brought home and lived. In the evenings at the barracks, snipers can be found studying the physics of ballistics, adjusting their gear until it is perfectly balanced or hand-sewing patches in their ghillie suits. Discussions of techniques in fieldcraft are shared over meals and debates about guns, optics and tactics rage into the nights. This dedication extends throughout the sniper community. The ‘community’ is an abstraction, with only about 300 active duty scout snipers, it is a small circle where everyone knows everyone else, separated only by a degree or two at most. This community makes it easier to remain sharply focused and dedicated to the craft. Sniper school taught me that the level of dedication necessary to master any vocation requires actively living it.
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