FORT BRAGG, NC – As the sunshine glimmered off the frozen ground at Fort Bragg’s training grounds, Dec. 6, most soldiers gathered for their unit’s regular physical training. However, at the Miller Training Complex, sniper teams from all over the United States were preparing to compete in a grueling five-day competition in hopes of being named the 2010 U.S. Army Special Operations Command top sniper team.
“The competition is in its second year,” said Master Sgt. Kevin Owens, the non-commissioned officer in charge of the Special Forces Sniper Course.
Owens said his goal while organizing this year’s competition was to get snipers from all over the U.S. That goal came to light after 19 different sniper teams made reservations for this year. The teams included members from the Army and Marines, as well as the Raleigh, N.C. and Pasadena, Calif., Special Weapons and Tactics, the Department of Energy and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
According to Owens, the competition ran smoothly throughout the five days without any hang-ups. However, Owens said planning a seemingly flawless sniper competition doesn’t come without its challenges.
“There are several big challenges when organizing an event like this,” Owens said. “You have to make sure all of your briefings are perfect without any grey areas in there for competitors to exploit.”
Prior to the competition, another organizational challenge was ensuring all of the events were well-planned and thought out.
“Vetting the competition is definitely the biggest challenge,” he said. “We had to make sure and shoot the events over and over again.”
“You have to rehearse every event multiple times, so we got snipers from the 82nd Airborne Division down here to test it out,” Owens explained. “We had them run through every event a couple times to make sure the events were solid.”
“We had our instructors shoot it as well, so we could get hard times and figure out how much time each event would take,” said Owens.
Owens said the most difficult of all the challenges was ensuring the competition was the exact same for every competitor.
“You have to make sure all the competitions, especially the stress events, are exactly the same for every team,” Owens further explained. “If you have a moving target in one portion of the event, it has to be the exact same mover every single time. On top of that, you have to make sure you have redundant systems in case that mover breaks down and you need a backup.”
Moreover, the stress events consisted of a night and day event that utilized everything a sniper would possibly have to do while on a combat mission.
“The night and day stress events were extremely important to us as snipers,” said Staff Sgt. Derek Balboa, an instructor at the U.S. Army Sniper School. “They were very close to what we are going to see on a combat mission.”
Along with the challenges Owens had while organizing the competition, competitors had an equally challenging time competing in it.
“Leading into the competition, I knew this course would be challenging,” said Sgt. 1st Class Charles Zalewski, a member of the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) sniper team. “All the events in the competition encompassed multiple challenging tasks that we have to be expected to do as snipers.”
Owens said the course was meant to be extremely challenging so all of the snipers could learn from it, and the competitors did.
“To me, the best thing about this competition is it shows the weak points in your training,” Zalewski said. “It identifies what you need to train on to better the force.”
Sgt. 1st Class Sidney Abbott, a member of a 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne) sniper team, also found the competition very beneficial.
“I think one extremely important thing I will take away from this is what equipment works and what doesn’t,” Abbott said. “It helps to see who’s using what and how they have it set up.”
On the final day, everyone gathered at the Holiday Inn Bordeaux in Fayetteville for the official announcement of the first place winners – a sniper team from USASOC headquarters.
Although all the sniper teams couldn’t walk away as the winners, the most important thing is the knowledge they take back to their units, Abbott said.
As for next year’s possible competitors, Zalewski has some advice: “Come. Don’t be scared. Just do it!”