Sniper Selection

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Frederick Russell Burnham, the American explorer-adventurer who led Britain's scouts in the Boer War, described his scouts as "half wolf and half jackrabbit." What a fining description for the sniper—and how fining that Bumham said this. For Burnham's most accomplished recon soldiers were Scots of a Highland regiment known as Lovat's Scouts; 16 years later, these phenomenal woodsmen became the British army's first sniper unit. Yes, a sniper is a bold tempter of fate, but he also must be a wise practitioner of discretion: "He who shoots and runs away, lives to shoot another day."

This contradictory nature—as well as concerns that sniping can attract some unsuitable elements

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—requires care in selecting snipers. To this must be added reliability. "It's the only element that we tell just two men to go out and execute a mission," says Lt. Col. Michael Phillips, former chief of small arms training at the Army's Ft Benning, "I think because so much is demanded of them, we must ensure that only those who are truly capable receive the title 'sniper.'"

What to look for in sniper candidates? Since sniping involves a triad of skills—marksmanship, fieldcraft, and tactics—I believe a sniper candidate should have experience, interest, or a demonstrated aptitude in at least one of these areas. Training solidifies this foundation and rounds him out in the other skills.

It's foolish to think you're recruiting trained men; rather, the selection process is geared to identifying men with the best potential, whom you then train to standard. I'm most interested in the candidate's artitude and perspective, not necessarily his knowledge, which can be expanded with training. Is this man worth training? That's the real question.

The World War II British army directive creating sniper teams placed proper emphasis on attitude as well as skill, requiring that the candidates be "picked men, and fit men, and proud to be such; the best marksmen, skilled in fieldcraft, confident in their self-reliance, possessed of great courage and unrivalled patience."

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