Bein Willing

Spec Ops Shooting

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In John Wayne's final movie role, that of aging gunfighter J.B. Books in The Skootisi, he recited a memorable line that perfectly expresses the gun-fighter's credo: "It isn't always bein' fast or even accurate that counts; it's bein' willing."

My greatest disappointment in Special Forces was witnessing a stateside friend become a coward in Vietnam. And a bastard coward he truly was. But at Ft. Bragg he'd seemed the epitome of a Green Beret—a lean, mean, fighting machine, witty, scoring high in tests, and so on. He could have modeled for recruiting posters. But within it all, he was a self-centered egotist whose every exertion, in retrospect, actually had been intended to bring himself recognition, including the beret cocked jauntily on his head. As we said back then, he was "90 percent show, 10 percent go."

How can you identify these types? I think attitude mirrors the soul, but the key in assessing attitude is watching what a devoted man does, not what a braggart says. Acts, not words, have true value.

Will he go on when others are quitting? Does he put his mates ahead of himself? Will he endure pain and discomfort to succeed? Does he actually give of himself, or does he only take? Will he risk himself, will he take chances? And, ultimately, will he follow orders and take the shot?

Unlike most soldiers and lawmen, it's tough to know if a sniper will engage a target that's distant and no immediate threat to himself. He may even have time to study the target and notice how much it looks like his Uncle Ralph. I've never, ever known of an incident in which a police officer or soldier found he could not shoot at a nearby bad guy who was shooting at him. The marksmanship may have been poor, the draw slow, but no moral pangs or societal taboos affected the good guy.

But something happens when a sniper looks in that optical sight and sees a pair of real eyes. It's the eyes that distinguish a living human from a target.

I've been unable to come up with a means to determine who would not take a shot, so until it actually happens, you can never be sure who's "willing." And this underscores the criricality of training realism, of making a sniper's targets so realistic that the real thing won't seem much different. Especially ensure that his targets have eyes.

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