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Prepare for SniperWeek

Written by Charlie Cutshaw

An unusual thing occurred at the Spring 2006 Snipercraft Event. Third place went to a part-time sniper team from a small town in Alabama. Hal Howard and Kevin Jackson are the Florence, AL Police SWAT Sniper Team. They came from out of nowhere to score third place at this highly competitive training competition, rising above full-time teams from much larger jurisdictions.

Even more remarkable, Howard and Jackson are part-time SWAT, performing as street officers for the vast majority of their duty time. The Florence Police Department SWAT team trains only twice a month, and that is in the evening for a total of only eight hours. It is up to the individual team members to improve their skills, largely on their own time.

When they decided to take the opportunity to really hone their skills at Snipercraft, they knew that their success or failure would hinge on how well they prepared. The first time they went to SniperWeek, Howard and Jackson finished in the middle of the competitors, still quite an achievement for two guys who had never attended. They came home and intensified their training regimen based on the lessons they learned during their first outing.

The second time at SniperWeek, they improved slightly. The third trip brought them into the top 20. The Howard/Jackson team came back to Alabama determined to capitalize on every mistake they had made that detracted from their performance. By this time, they knew what to expect in general terms.

Derrick Bartlett changes events each year so that no team has the advantage of knowing exactly what to expect, but experience and continued intense training prepares teams for the worst that Bartlett can imagine. Howard and Jackson understood this and set up “events” of their own to sharpen their skills, training on their own time outside regular SWAT training. This year on their fourth trip to Snipercraft, the Howard/Jackson team scored third place.

The difference in the point spread between first and third place was small. The winning team of Rodriguez/Schaeffer from the DEA scored 1,713 points. Second place went to the Orange County, FL team of Batista/Eklund with 1,671 points. The Howard/Jackson score was 1,665. This shows just what can be accomplished by two SWAT officers who can learn from their experiences and apply them not only to competitive training events such as Snipercraft, but to their real-world duties.

The achievement of these two young officers proves that big budgets and full-time SWAT duties do not necessarily make for a winning combination. What it takes is skill, determination, intelligence and a willingness to never give up. Keep coming back time after time, regardless.

In Hal Howard’s words: There are numerous things we did to prepare for Snipercraft. Being a part-time team, we had to coordinate off-duty training with each other along with our eight hours of SWAT training per month. Many times, we trained “off the clock” and on our own time and dollar. The main thing that helped us this year is the way we work as a team. We have been sniper partners for six years and know how each other operates. In the areas where one is weak, the other is strong and vice versa. Our communication skills improved after the first Snipercraft. We now realize the importance of this skill and the value of working at it until it is second nature.

While we were training for this year’s Snipercraft, we knew that we had to get out of our comfort zone. This is something Derrick does very well. He forces you to face your weaknesses in the events. It would be nice to know that every time we and our fellow snipers get a call-out that our objective will be at 100 yards, and we will be prone with a bipod or bag. Unfortunately, this is not the case. We usually wind up in an obscure position in the sun or rain where you can’t use your bipod or bag. You may be standing, kneeling under a car, on an angled rooftop, or in a depression facing uphill. As Derrick puts it, “Welcome to my nightmare.” A nightmare it is.

We also had support from individuals in the community and industry. Without them, we could not afford to go or train for the events. Our SWAT team has zero dollars budgeted for training. We take what we are given and have to stretch the dollars when we get them. Everything from hotel expenses, food and even our drag bags and scopes came from individual sponsors. We are very thankful to them.

There is no way to be completely prepared for Snipercraft. Derrick changes the events each year to ensure that it doesn’t become a predictable competition. He will always throw in twists and turns to events you think you know. Just when you get comfortable, it changes. Everyone down there this year was a top-notch shooter and sniper. We were blessed with two good days of shooting.

In Kevin Jackson’s words…It helped that we had been to Snipercraft three times. It gave us a sense of ease knowing familiar faces and actually shooting in the training events previously. We had to train smart. We didn’t have a budget to work from. What we had for duty/call-out ammo is what we had to carry down to Florida. We had to be picky in how we expended our rounds. We each get our annual allotted amount (500 rounds) and automatically put back 100 rounds for Snipercraft.

We consider this our finest preparation for unknown situations that may take place in the real world. A lot of our training consisted of communication and cardiovascular training. Don’t think you can go to Snipercraft not being able to run or do push-ups.

Basic fundamentals of marksmanship are where it all starts. You have to get these down before taking the next step. We stepped out of our comfort zone and shot standing, kneeling, sitting and without our bipods. We trained for stressful situations by getting our heart rates up by cardio exercises and then shooting. Running, running and more running.

For any team that wants to learn and hone its skills, Snipercraft is the best training a police sniper can get short of a real-life call-out. SniperWeek and the Snipercraft Challenge will be April 4-7, 2007, in Tampa. For more information, visit www.Snipercraft.org.

Charlie Cutshaw is a small arms, ammunition and infantry weapons editor for Jane’s Defense Information. He served as an Army infantry, ammunition and intelligence officer before retiring in 1996. His military assignments included a tour of duty in Vietnam as an adviser. He currently lives in Alabama, where he is a full-time writer and reserve officer. He may be reached at CQCutshaw@aol.com.

Published in Tactical Response, Jul/Aug 2006

Rating : 8.0


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