19 teams take part in USASOC International Sniper Competition on Fort Bragg
By Jaclyn Shambaugh | The Fayetteville Observer, N.C. | Published: March 30, 2014
Late Tuesday morning at Fort Bragg's Range 74, past the mock village that looms at the entrance of the range, two men were peering out across a vast section of hilly terrain.
The spotter, hunched behind a range finder, rattled off directions.
"You hit low on the right arm, so I need you to go higher and put a little left into it," he said.
His teammate, stretched out flat in front of him, fired off a shot.
"Too much left," the spotter called.
The pair was one of 19 teams competing at the fifth annual USASOC International Sniper Competition, held Monday through Friday at Fort Bragg.
Two-man teams representing different Department of Defense units, government agencies and foreign military services competed over five days in 19 events, including day and night competitions.
On the second day, Range 74 was set up with weapons that are unfamiliar to most of the competitors, like the M21, a gun used from the 1950s until it was replaced by the M16 during the Vietnam War.
Throughout the competition, marksmen were faced with time, distance and weapons systems.
The competition is designed to test every aspect of the competitors' training, said Tim Gozelski, a retired Special Forces soldier who is now a civilian instructor for the Army Special Forces Sniper Course. He was overseeing the events at Range 67 on Tuesday.
"It's a mixture of everything they could ever encounter," Gozelski said. "Unique to this year's competition is that the teams are self-briefing themselves. They get in a van, following a written set of instructions, coming out to an unknown location and executing courses of fire."
That's a change from previous years, when teams were briefed at the same time but executed the course by taking turns, giving some teams longer to strategize. That's no longer the case, Gozelski said.
"There's no gaming," he said. "We're looking at your skill set."
For the sake of competition, and because of the sensitive nature of their jobs, the men in this pair are known only as Team 18.
Some teams can be better identified. After Team 18's exit, a team from the U.S. Army 7th Special Forces Group takes the range.
Although not all the teams are clandestine, they are all elite.
Master Sgt. Jason Brown is the noncommissioned officer in charge of the Sniper Course.
"During the competition, they'll be shooting at targets anywhere from 25 meters to 1,200," Brown said. "Some of the best snipers in the world, they have to be able to get that shot at the time. All of the events are tailored to what we've seen overseas."
The time constraints of the competition can be the biggest challenge. It's what can best gauge a team's readiness.
"It's understanding the task at hand and performing right then on the spot," Brown said. "When that timer goes off, they've got to perform that task. They don't get any redo. They've got to be ready to go."