FORT HOOD, Texas – An ear-piercing crack echoes throughout the landscape with the sound of a projectile ricocheting off of a metal target.
Silence returns, yet the source of the interrupting sound remains undetected as the wind blows through the tall grass.
The recon section with the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division allowed infantryman and scouts within the battalion to compete for spots in the sniper platoon and for an opportunity to attend sniper school.
“We are looking for Soldiers who are motivated and are able to absorb all of the information,” said Staff Sgt. Richard Uerling, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the sniper section at the Headquarters and Headquarters Company. “They need to push themselves and pour out everything they’ve got.”
The intent of the sniper section tryout is to find the six most physically and mentally fit Soldiers in the battalion and make them a part of an efficient small unit reconnaissance team. The competition spanned two days consisting of classes and practical examinations on the key fundamentals of being a sniper.
The Soldiers’ first physical test was the Ranger Physical Assessment.
The competitors conducted two minutes each of pushups, situps, and pullups. Instead of the Army Physical Fitness Test’s standard two-mile run, competitors had to run five miles within 40 minutes.
“To get through this and the rest of the competition, you have to push yourself,” said Pvt. Dominque Davis, a Bloomington, Ind., native and infantryman with Company A. “I’m going to explore my strengths and weaknesses and build off of them to help me get selected.”
During the physical test, instructors evaluated their level of motivation as they completed each event.
“I’m looking for drive,” said Uerling. “You can see who wants to be here by watching them run the five miles. I want to see them give it their all and have nothing left in the tank when they are done.”
After a brief pause for personal hygiene and breakfast, the instructors transported the Soldiers to a designated training area to teach them the fundamentals of being a sniper.
The infantryman and scouts who competed for a spot in the sniper section were afforded the opportunity to become familiar using the M14 Enhanced Battle Rifle.
“The EBR is less forgiving than the M4, so you need to focus on the fundamentals more,” said Spc. Earnest Thompson, a Wichita, Kan., native and a scout for 2-7. “I saw how a small mistake makes a bigger difference with the EBRs.”
After familiarizing themselves with the rifle, the Soldiers learned skills associated with collecting data on a battlefield.
“Reconnaissance is one of the sniper’s goals,” said Uerling. “They need to be able to report exactly what they see down to the smallest detail to their commander.”
A Soldier’s ability to determine the distance between his location and his target is one of the most common tasks for a member of a reconnaissance team. Snipers use binoculars or their weapon’s scope to determine the distance of a potential target for intelligence gathering or for taking a shot.
The Soldiers’ task was to determine the distances of five individual targets using a scope, calculator, pen and paper.
“These classes teach the skills that are in the sniper’s manual,” said Uerling. “Everything is by the book.”
In addition to determining distance, the instructors taught the Soldiers about sketching sectors. They had to conduct a battlefield analysis by drawing an accurate picture of the simulated battlefield, providing as much detail as possible.
“This is a great competition,” said Spc. Andrew Hornick, a Louisville, Ohio, native and a scout with HHC. “I’ll get so much out of it, even if I don’t make the cut. Everything I’m learning during all of these classes, I can apply these skills in my current [military occupational specialty].”
In addition to battlefield analysis and data collection, they had to learn the procedures to report details using a radio.
Soldiers had to properly describe specific details of a simulated enemy presence. They reported details, such as the size of the enemy unit, enemy activity, location, time spotted, and equipment used.
Although data collection and reporting are important, it is most vital that the sniper is not seen.
Sniper candidates learned to apply proper camouflage for the given environment. This includes applying face paint, camouflage to their weapons, and donning a ghillie suit; a garment that helps snipers to disappear into the brush.
“You have to ensure you don’t cast shadows on your face,” said Uerling. “You can use light colors on the darker parts of your face and darker colors on the lighter parts.”
With a mixture of different colored paint smeared across the sniper candidates’ faces, the lesson in becoming nearly invisible was just beginning.
“Applying the camo paint was fun,” said Pvt. Cody Foltz, an infantryman with Company A. “There is more to it than just wiping the paint on. You have to think about not leaving shadows or dark spots.”
Then the candidates had to find twigs, branches and anything else they could find to attach to their suits and rifles.
“The black parts on the weapon can give you away easily and render your camouflage useless,” said Uerling.
Ultimately, the students had to compile everything they learned in the two days of the competition. They were evaluated on their physical and mental abilities, attention to detail and patience.
All of this training was put to test in the final event - stalking.
Stalking is when a sniper slowly crawls into position from a long distance away.
Sniper candidates stalked to within 400 meters of a target, verified a displayed number on the target, and then attempted to evacuate without being seen.
“I want to experience the feeling when you can see someone through the scope, and they don’t have a clue you are there,” said Spc. Bryan Fife, a Tehachapi, Calif., native and scout for HHC. “It’s a great feeling to hit the target at an incredible distance with an incredible weapon.”
Hours passed as two spotters peered through high-powered range finders, scanning the landscape in search of student snipers.
Spotters used another instructor, called the “walker,” and by radio communication directed him to a potentially hiding sniper.
The walker gave no visual signs of a located sniper but only confirmed if there was a sniper at his feet after the spotter directed him to a certain spot.
Only a few snipers were able to successfully elude the spotter-walker team to pass the last event.
“They need to become one with the bush,” said Uerling. “This is a test where a sniper earns his pay.”