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Snipercraft's Sniper Week 2011

Written by Devon Black

For 19 years, Snipercraft has been a leading voice in the police sniper community. They have provided training, support and inspiration for generations of working snipers nationwide. In addition to providing a variety of training materials and offering sniper schools around the country, Snipercraft is the host of the most famous annual sniper event of its kind.

Each spring, police snipers from around the world have made the pilgrimage to Florida for SniperWeek. Recognized as the largest and longest-running, police sniper training event of its kind, SniperWeek is without equal. This is the place to hear the most current and pertinent sniper information, see the latest in sniper equipment, and then to have a chance to put martial skills to the penultimate test of competition among peers.

Although economic realities have limited many teams in their training options, teams from all over the world continue to make the trip to Florida each spring to spend a week completely immersed in the sniper community. The conference returned this year to Clearwater, Florida.

Every year, the cast of conference speakers is outstanding, and cover a wide spectrum of special operations topics. This year’s event started with a dynamic three-hour presentation from Lt. Col. Dave Grossman. It is hard to find anyone in law enforcement who hasn’t had the opportunity to hear Grossman at least once. Still, he never fails to excite and inspire his audience.

Snipercraft Director Derrick Bartlett opened the afternoon session with his State of the Sniper Community Address. He highlighted news and events of interest to the sniper community. He announced the release of the 2011 Edition of the Police Sniper Utilization Survey Report from the American Sniper Association, and spent some time pointing out some of the statistical trends it revealed.

He also addressed ongoing problems around the country with certain teams. This was interesting, because many in the room may have been unaware of incidents like these occurring in other jurisdictions. His segment ended on a somber note as he talked about three current or former SWAT officers who had recently fell victim to fatal injuries. One was suicide, while the others came at the hands of fellow SWAT officers.

A quick aside here in reference to the Police Sniper Utilization Survey Report. The American Sniper Association has now produced four editions of this excellent document. The Survey Report is a comprehensive and up to date analysis of police sniper operations over the last 25 years.

The ASA has established an impressive database of sniper shootings, which provides teams with an understanding of what snipers are actually facing in the field. It is highly recommended that every professional sniper, currently working, purchase copies of the surveys. Information about the surveys and ordering them can be found on the ASA website.

Captain Todd Edwards, of the Warner Robins, GA Police, has taken his sniper program to a new level. He talked at length about using his snipers to do pre-raid surveillance and intelligence-gathering for most of the warrants served by his agency. This proved to be an effective way of expanding the use and versatility of SWAT snipers, taking advantage of their skills and equipment, and making them more valuable to their agencies.

In addition to explaining the procedures used by his team, he was able to validate the effectiveness of the program with solid statistics. Being able to show their incredible success rate, coupled with the low injury and complaint numbers resulted in many attendees contacting him later in the day to obtain more information.

Everyone in law enforcement is familiar with the horrific tragedy that occurred in Lakewood, Washington a couple of years ago. Officer Brian Markert was part of the official review committee, and was on hand to give a detailed after-action report of the incident. His report corrected some of the false information which had circulated through various e-mails and forums. There were lessons to be learned, and hopefully some of what was shared will keep other officers safer in the future.

Ed Gross is the Director of Crosshairs, and the Vice-President of the American Sniper Association. His presentation was directed primarily to team leaders and supervisors, as he pointed out a number of controversial issues dealing with training, equipment and deployment.

What was interesting is how many of those issues have been addressed repeatedly by ASA in the past. A great frustration is the institutional resistance to change that infects law enforcement special operations. Nothing changes without sustained effort, and Gross encouraged everyone in attendance to continue to do their part to push the sniper community forward.

John Simpson has been involved in the professional sniper community for nearly thirty years. His experience and background have led him to teach sniper classes around the country. He has written scores of articles and finally authored the well-received Sniper’s Notebook. One of “Simpson’s Laws” is “If I can’t show you the math, then it is just my opinion.”

He used his segment to address three operational areas of sniping. In covering moving targets, wind calculations and compensation, and finally camouflage, Simpson showed the math (and science) to dispel the myths associated with each of those topics. He then followed up with equally substantiated arguments for the correct ways to approach them. Truthfully, more sniper instructors should be so thorough.

The classroom portion of the conference closed with a firsthand debriefing of a sniper shooting, supplied by Sgt. Jerry Burns from the Lake Havasu City, Arizona Police. His team was called out for a subject who was armed and barricaded in his home. Negotiations went south quickly, and the subject surprised the team by exiting his house with a rifle. Sgt. Burns alertly spotted the subject and was able to fatally wound him before he was able to fire at entry team personnel who were close by. Outstanding work on his part in protecting him team from harm.

In addition to being a venue for information sharing and networking, SniperWeek is a chance for product vendors to connect with their customers. Many companies take advantage of the conference to display new equipment targeted for the sniper community. Any vendor of ammunition, rifles, optics and other sniper gear would do well to be here in the future.

Snipercraft Challenge

What sets the Snipercraft Challenge apart from nearly all other “sniper competitions” is its commitment to being real-world training. Every course of fire has a foundation in operational skills. Many courses bear the name of the person or agency responsible for the scenario facing the competitors. As the teams go through the morning briefing, they are given tactical rationales for what they are being asked to do. Then they are given a chance to do it. “

The Challenge is designed to be a competitive test of a sniper team’s operational readiness,” Bartlett said. “Snipers in the real world don’t assume a comfortable position and shoot bullseyes at their leisure. They are expected to make lifesaving shots, into tight spaces, on demand and under pressure. That is exactly what they are asked to do here, over and over again. This is where we separate the snipers from the target shooters and gamers.”

The morning started off with a Cold Shot course, which no one was allowed to prepare for. Teams literally had to dash from the briefing area, to their cars where they retrieved whatever necessary equipment they could under the time constraint, then run to their assigned areas on the range. A hostage-rescue shot truly tested the teams in their ability to shoot accurately under stress. An alarming number of teams failed to accomplish this mission.

Teams were then split up and sent to their various assigned courses of fire. There was the perennial favorite, known as Hunter-Killer. This is a target identification course which puts shooting skills to the test, as well as teamwork and communications. Many teams rate this as the toughest course of the competition. Judging by the scores posted, that isn’t an exaggeration. The other courses fired over the next two days didn’t get any easier.

Shooter’s Choice makes the snipers demonstrate their mastery of five different shooting positions in one course of fire. Teams have to shoot a variety of targets from standing, sitting, kneeling, seated, squatting and prone. If teams haven’t practiced, their lack of adaptability is quickly exposed.

Because a sniper seated in a wheelchair actually shot a bad guy holding a hostage from across a street, it was absolutely necessary a similar course of fire be included this year. Again, scores showed that some teams need to go back and practice.

The Snipercraft philosophy is “If it happened once, that means it is possible. If it is possible, then you need to prepare for it.” Using a partner’s shoulder as a shooting platform has occurred several times in incidents around the country, so this is a recurring course of fire at SniperWeek.

The Saturday of the training week started with another stressed Cold Shot. The exact course changes every year. The special nuance this year called into focus an overlooked component of weapon manipulation.

Even the perennial Bullseye Course is never done the easy way. This year, sniper teams had to try shooting a series of 3-inch bullseye targets, under both physical stress and time constraints, while wearing their gas masks. This will be another skill some teams will find time to practice when they return home.

After the shooting was over, the general feedback from competitors was very consistent. Everyone felt the competition was fun, challenging and definitely job-related. Most said they would be making adjustments to their training regimens to incorporate more positions, more stress and more time outside their comfort zones.

As happens every year, winning the Challenge came down to the last course of fire. Trent Kosova and Joey Smith, from the Boca Raton, Florida Police, held off a late charge from two teams from the Alachua County, Florida Sheriff’s Office. They won by the slimmest of margins.
From an objective and historical vantage point over the past 19 years, here are a couple of observations. One, over this period of time, a substantial number of top placing teams have used Accuracy International rifles. Two, most of the teams who have performed well have participated in other Snipercraft training programs. This experience seems to give them an advantage, since they have been pushed outside of their comfort zones before. They seem to understand the difference of training for the job, as opposed to training to pass the qualifications.

SniperWeek is co-hosted by the Pinellas County, Florida Sheriff’s Office. Their on-site logistical support goes unnoticed in the background, but is definitely an integral part in making the event run smoothly. Accuracy International North America and SRT Supply are the primary sponsors of the event, although a number of other high profile tactical equipment companies lend their support, as well.

In 2012, Snipercraft will celebrate their 20th anniversary. Expect the 2012 Sniper Week to be a major, milestone event. Dates and information will be on their website. Every sniper in the country should make plans to be there. Each year, SniperWeek West is held in October somewhere on the West Coast. For 2011, the location was Elk Grove, California. Many consider it a warm up for the big event.

Devon Black is a freelance writer based in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. He may be reached at devonblack@mail.com.

Published in Tactical Response, Jan/Feb 2012

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