Each year, professional police snipers from around the world make the pilgrimage to Florida to take part in one of the most important training events in the country. For 16 years, SniperWeek has been a chance for snipers to gather for four days of quality instruction, camaraderie and competition. The 2008 SniperWeek was all of that and more.
The Educational Seminar started with the announced release of the manual, “Police Sniper Training and Operations.” This is a joint effort from the American Sniper Association and is touted as the most comprehensive and relevant police sniper training manual ever written. The list of contributing authors includes the staff of ASA, as well as topical experts like Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grossman. This is definitely a must-have addition to the library of every working sniper.
The speakers this year covered an impressive range of topics. Keith Oke, a deputy from St. John’s County, FL, combined his background as an EMT with his experience as a sniper and gave an enlightening presentation on emergency field first-aid. The focus was on snipers being able to take care of themselves or their partners on an operation. The information given in that presentation has the potential to save some sniper’s life some day.
Sergeant William Byrd developed a class to explain minute of angle principles to his sniper team at Pinellas County, FL. They were so impressed with it, they recommended that he offer to teach it at SniperWeek. Byrd managed to make the topic entertaining, practical and easy to understand. Not an easy task for the most skilled of instructors. Still, for working snipers, it is a concept of which they must have a working knowledge.
Some in the audience were familiar with Linda Miller and Keith Cunningham, who made the trip from Ontario, Canada. They are the owners and lead instructors at the Milcun Marksmanship Complex, one of the largest firearms training facilities in Canada. They have recently released “The Wind Book,” a well-reviewed book on reading wind for tactical and competitive shooters. Naturally, their class was on shooting skills and fundamentals. It was a good refresher for the veterans, and it offered important pointers for the novice shooters in the audience.
Camouflage and concealment are key elements in the safety, survival and effectiveness of professional snipers. Naturally, these would be topics of particular interest to the SniperWeek crowd. Brian Sain is a detective with the Port Arthur, TX Police. He is also a member of the Executive Board of the American Sniper Association, and the author of the camouflage chapter in the ASA sniper manual. He was a natural choice to present here. His presentation covered the science behind camouflage, the history of camouflage in military and law enforcement uses, and finished with valuable tips on applying the knowledge to remain unseen and out of danger.
Derrick Bartlett, the director of Snipercraft
and the brains behind SniperWeek, recently added a program called Tactical Vision. Using a slideshow, which has to be seen to be appreciated, Bartlett spent the first half of his presentation convincing most of the audience they were blind and the second half showing them how to overcome their blindness. The presentation introduced the audience to the concepts of a problem called perceptual blindness, and it laid waste to the belief that most snipers are “trained observers.” Tactical Vision has been a part of Snipercraft’s training classes for a couple of years and is now being offered as a stand-alone course. Information is available on its Web site.
The highlights of the Educational Seminar have always been the incident debriefings. Interestingly, all three of the incidents debriefed this year involved multiple snipers taking shots.
Kevin Nosowicz and Carl Schlosser were called out for an armed subject in Miramar, FL. The subject was seated in his car, armed with a handgun, threatening to kill his girlfriend and any police officers who tried to stop him. At one point, the subject decided to drive through the police perimeter in an effort to escape. The snipers made sure that didn’t happen. Their quick actions and accurate shots ended his escape attempt.
Dan Galloway and his partner in Baltimore County, MD were forced to shoot a mentally disturbed individual, bent on “suicide by cop.” A series of 9-1-1 calls from the suspect led police to where he was waiting for them with a gun. As negotiations continued, he raised his gun in the direction of the SWAT team, leading to his death.
The most moving debriefing was also the most tragic. Sergeant Ronald Harrison of the Hillsborough County, FL Sheriff’s Office was driving home at the end his shift working a DUI checkpoint. A habitual felon by the name of Michael Phillips apparently pulled up next to him at a traffic light and fired three rounds into Harrison’s car, resulting in his death a short time later.
Acting on some suicidal death wish fantasy, Phillips barricaded himself in his home and waited for a chance to shoot it out with the police. SWAT arrived and tried to negotiate him out, but he answered with gunfire. A sniper returned fire but apparently missed him. Deputy Shawn Dugan waited patiently in the dark, and when the chance presented itself, he ended the life of an unrepentant cop killer, with a single round to the chest, justice from the muzzle of a .308 Win, as politically uncomfortable as that may sound.
The Educational Seminar is an opportunity to learn from the best in the business, make new contacts, hang with old friends, and spend time in the company of heroes. Next year, you have to be there. The Snipercraft Challenge
The Wyoming Antelope Club is a private shooting club, nestled in an otherwise quiet industrial park in Pinellas Park, FL. For the past five years, this unassuming range complex has served as the host site for the competition portion of SniperWeek.
If the Educational Seminar is the classroom, then the Snipercraft Challenge is the laboratory. This is where each sniper gets the chance to put his current level of training and readiness to the test. The challenge started with a complete briefing, laying out the safety rules and giving the 50 teams in attendance a rundown of the day’s events. After receiving their instructions, the teams were assigned to relays and sent out to begin the competition.
The multitude of ranges allows Snipercraft to run five courses of fire simultaneously. Each course of fire is designed with training goals in mind. Snipercraft makes use of actual sniper engagements from around the country to justify the positions, distances and target exposures used during the event. The underlying philosophy is if it happened anywhere once, then you need to be ready in case it happens to you next. Some teams come to SniperWeek fully aware of that and train accordingly. Others find themselves under-prepared and overwhelmed. Everyone leaves with an understanding that they need to train for the real world and get out of their comfort zones.
“Hunter-Killer” is the target ID course everyone loves to hate. Making use of mugshot-like photos, snipers are tasked with locating targets and communicating who and where to shoot, all while the clock is running. The tension is high and sometimes boils over as teammates yell at one another as time gets short.
“Douglas County” depicted an actual shooting in Oregon a few years ago. In that incident, like the course, one sniper fired from a standing position while his partner lay prone, shooting from his weak shoulder. While some teams did very well on this phase, this was a challenge for those who had never tried this in training.
“Houston” forced the sniper teams to shoot from a position call the Rice Paddy Squat. Some of the teams coming off the line said they hated it. Others found the position to be surprisingly stable. All understood how it might come in handy as a “tweener” position. Again, knowing that it had been used in a real-world situation made the lesson learned stick with the shooters.
“Ambush” was a unique handgun course that made use of a new 3-D target and glasses provided by Live Sight Targets. While skill with a long gun is a given for working snipers, this course reminded them of the need to maintain their aptitude with their sidearm.
“Shooting Gallery” featured four shooting stations, each requiring the teams to adopt different shooting positions. None of the positions were stable and ideal, much like life. And the targets were 3-inch circles, 100 yards away. This is challenging under the best of conditions. One of the things Bartlett mentioned in his morning briefing was the need for snipers to lose their range mentality. “The world is not flat. Learn to deal with less than perfect conditions.”
Day Two started with one of the toughest “Cold Shots” ever. It was a true test of whether the snipers knew their guns and their ballistics. Those who did scored points. Those who didn’t killed a lot of hostages. Since Bartlett is planning to use it again in San Diego, the details of the course can’t be leaked out yet. Sorry.
“Bullseye” was simple and straightforward. Snipers had to load and fire 21 rounds at 21 bullseye targets. Except they had to do it while wearing their gas mask and alternating with pushups.
Finally, the traditional “Bonus Round.” Snipers alternated firing shots at hostage targets with running sprints against a time limit. If one simply ignored the pressure and the physical stress, points were there for the taking.
As always, the competition was fierce but friendly. In the end, the top four teams were separated by less than 90 points. The final standings weren’t settled until the last shot of the last course of fire.
Steve Maynard and Josh Crews, with the Alachua County, FL Sheriff’s Office have been competing for six years. In that stretch, they have finished 11th, 6th, 4th and 2nd twice. Finally winning was a well-deserved and hard-earned payoff. Their training and perseverance earned them a pair of sniper rifles, provided by event sponsor Accuracy International and ballistic computers supplied by TAS. DEA agents Mike Schaeffer and Larry Rodriguez, winners two years ago, finished a very close second.
SniperWeek is without equal in the realm of police sniper training. The longevity and national popularity of the event are proof of this. All professional snipers need to make the trip, at least once in their careers. Here is a chance to meet their brothers in arms, gain new information about their trade, and test their skills against their peers and the course.
SniperWeek 2009 will be held in St. Petersburg, FL on April 1 to 4, 2009. SniperWeek West will be held in San Diego, CA on October 2 to 5, 2008. Details and registration information for both events can be found at Snipercraft’s Web site.
Devon Black is a former police officer and tactical team member with more than a decade of experience. He is currently a freelance writer, specializing in articles about SWAT and sniper issues. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.