Sniper Coward or Hero
Since the invention of the firearm, skilled individuals with
specialized equipment have influenced the ebb and flow of the
battlefield. At times this influence has been so great as to
turn the tide of history. The long-range sharpshooter or
sniper has had a telling effect on the direction, drive, and
scope of battle. The sniper has felled the command structure
of his enemies, rendered their equipment useless, and driven
fear into the heart of the men. Thus, the sniper is one of the
most effective weapons on the field of battle. A true sniper
is an operative who gathers intelligence for the command
structure and occasionally takes the one, well-aimed shot that,
if done properly, will save lives. In order to better
understand exactly how snipers are valuable, one needs to
consider their mission, training, and equipment. The sniper^s
primary mission is to deliver long range, precision fire on key
targets and targets of opportunity. His secondary mission is
the collection and reporting of information. Both missions are
very specific and dangerous. To carry out these missions, a
sniper must be highly trained in marksmanship and field craft
skills to ensure maximum effectiveness with minimum risk
(Lanning 88-100). The U. S. Army Sniper School is five weeks
of intense training. Before a student can even be considered
for attendance to sniper school, he must meet stringent
qualifications and pass a mental examination. Classes are
usually small, but have a high failure rate. The first week
consists of physical training and classroom instruction,
concentrating on the construction of a Ghillie Suit, which is
a special hand made form of camouflage (Sasser 215). The
second, third, and fourth weeks are composed of practical
exercises and tests covering everything taught during week
one. Emphasis is placed on developing stalking skills.
Stalking is the term used when a sniper maneuvers into his
final firing position (Lanning 159). After the fourth week
and all the field orientated tests have been completed, the
students that are left, participate in a four day field
training exercise which is run as a real life mission. The
students form two-man teams. One is the sniper and the other
is his spotter. The spotter^s main function is to observe a
target and provide data to the shooter. The spotter must also
be fully sniper qualified and trained to carry out the
mission. The team receives an operation order, which explains
its first mission or objective. The team must then plan its
routes of movement and places for final firing positions. As
they complete each objective, it receives another mission
through its radio. For the entire four days, the sniper team
is on the move, completing a series of missions. This series
of real missions is sniper school^s version of a final exam.
Graduation is not the end of the sniper^s training process.
The sniper must constantly practice and update his skills !
(Lanning 159 - 161).
Ultimately, all sniper training begins with an orientation of
sniper weapon systems (Lanning 159). The sniper uses either
a bolt-action rifle or a semi-automatic rifle. Most snipers
use the bolt-action, since it is extremely dependable,
accurate, and simple to use. The spotter uses a semi-automatic
rifle with a grenade launcher and a handgun, which is better
for close-range combat. He usually has two types of field
optics, binoculars and a spotting scope (Eric n.p.). Ernest
Hemingway once pointed out: "There is no hunting like the hunting of
man, and those who have hunted armed men long enough and liked it,
never care for anything else thereafter" (Henderson n.p.). Thus, it
takes a special kind of person to be able to carry out sniper
missions. Performing most of his work behind enemy lines, a sniper is
a force multiplier whose abilities should be praised and not
condemned (Mel n.p.). Any consideration of the level of courage
necessary for a sniper begins and ends with Gunnery Sergeant Carlos
Hathcock. The book, Marine Sniper: 93 Confirmed Kills, by Charles
Henderson, covers the exploits and life of Hathcock and allows the
reader to relive the dangers and victories of this famous Marine
(Henderson xi - xiv). The book^s clearest picture of the courage
necessary to be a sniper is found in the description of Hathcock^s
stalk of a North Vietnamese Army [NVA] general (Henderson 186).
This particular stalk covered over 2000 meters of flat ground with
nothing more than two feet high grass for cover and concealment.
Carlos Hathcock crawled inches per minute and yards per hour for two
days and three nights to cover a distance that could be walked by a
man at normal speed in ten minutes. The entire time Hathcock was
moving into his final firing position, enemy patrols were walking all
around him. One NVA soldier even brushed Carlos^s leg as he walked
past the sniper hiding in the grass. On the morning of the fourth
day, without having eaten any food and having had very little water,
Carlos finally made it into the right spot, some 800 meters from the
target area. Carlos Hathcock then killed the NVA general, and
successfully exited his final firing position to escape the furious
search for him. A coward could not have accomplished this mission;
only an extremely skilled and very brave man could have done such a
thing (Henderson 186-202).
Snipers can be extremely efficient. In Vietnam, the average
soldier used 200,000 bullets per kill. The average for a
sniper was 1.3 rounds per kill. However, snipers suffered
tremendous casualties during World War II. The Fifth Army
snipers in Italy lost up to 80 percent and the Twenty-fourth
Marine division had nine snipers alive out of it original
twenty-four at the end of the battle of Iwo Jima (Sasser
21). However, it was reported by the U.S. News & World
Reports, that of the 600 snipers trained by Carlos Hathcock in
Vietnam, only one was killed in combat (Laning 203). The
sniper has special abilities, training, and equipment. His job
is to deliver discriminatory, highly accurate rifle fire
against enemy targets that cannot be engaged successfully by
the regular rifleman because of range, size, location, fleeting
nature, or visibility. Sniping requires the development of
basic infantry skills to a high degree of perfection. A
sniper^s training incorporates a wide variety of subjects
designed to increase his value as a force multiplier and to
ensure his survival on the battlefield. The art of sniping
requires learning and repetitiously practicing these skills
"Eric." Sniper Information Page. Online. AOL.
http://www.angelfire.com/ma/sniper312/snipeinfo.html. (2 Feb. 1999).
Lanning, Michael Lee. Inside the Crosshairs. New York: Ballantine, 1998.
Henderson, Charles. Marine Sniper. New York: Berkley, 1988.
"Mel." Mel^Òs Sniper Page. Online. AOL.
Http://www.imt.net/~mel/index.html. (2 Mar. 1999).
Sasser, Charles W., and Craig Roberts. One Shot-One Kill. New York: Pocket Books,