By Air Force Master Sgt. Becky Vanshur, 124th Fighter Wing
ORCHARD COMBAT TRAINING CENTER, Idaho -- Hidden beneath twigs and weeds, the three snipers’ stomachs are flat on the ground with dirt and grime on their faces.
It’s a 90-degree day. A drip of sweat rolls down into the lead sniper’s eye, stinging and smearing the camouflage paint on his face.
The sniper does not blink amid the stillness.
‘I Have Eyes on the Target’
“I have eyes on the target,” faintly whispers Army Staff Sgt. Matt Koerner, lead sniper section sergeant. “Calling it in.”
The Idaho Army National Guard was recently tasked with forming a small sniper scout platoon, a first for 2nd Battalion, 116th Cavalry Brigade Combat Team.
“It’s our very first sniper platoon for Idaho, and one of the challenges is finding qualified individuals,” said Army Maj. Jason Gracida, 2-116 battalion commander. “Once we get them through sniper school, they can come back and teach those younger future snipers.”
The job of a sniper requires extensive training, attention to detail and complete discipline with stillness. Snipers risk exposure if they move too quickly.
The platoon, established a year ago, started with two previously qualified instructors. This year’s training coincides with the brigade’s two-week annual training at the Orchard Combat Training Center here. The two qualified snipers have spent the previous year training the new platoon.
“Our instructors have done a fantastic job training the platoon and putting them through the ringer. Those two have worked tirelessly to get them ready for their first lane today,” Gracida said. “This is the first time they have ever actually employed sniper lanes, heading toward a certain area to begin their stalk.”
Stalking is a stealthy, slow business. The sniper pays attention with an extreme amount of focus for details to remain undercover and hidden. Creeping slowly, inch by inch, can take up to two hours just to move 10 feet. Snipers wear a ghillie suit, which is a uniform sewn together with fabric resembling vegetation to blend in with their surroundings.
Hidden beneath twigs and weeds, a sniper’s stomach is flat on the ground, dirt and grime on his face. All that can be seen in the bundles of cheatgrass is a pair of steady, intense eyes.
“It’s called vegged up. We grab weeds and sticks from the environment, [then] cut them and attach them to the ghillie suit,” Koerner said.
Using high-powered binoculars and rifle scopes to scout the surrounding area, the snipers will locate the high-value target and call the battalion commander to report the target has been found. Then, the sniper will wait for further instruction.
“Today, they will go out and start their lane. It is a 2,000-meter stalk. They will ghillie suit up and basically low crawl through the dirt throughout the evening. By morning, they will have identified their target and call it in to me,” Gracida said.
Slowly reaching up with his hand, Koerner grabs a thick branch of sagebrush and prepares for the final stages of movement. The team is now in a sniper’s hide where they can conduct their reconnaissance. They keep a log of their observations and sketch the terrain, painting a picture of enemy activity, before calling it in to their commander.
“The effective sniper team has to be able to move into an area, remain undetected and report enemy activity. Get in and get out, unseen,” Koerner said.