Ft. Hood – The exercise – run 50 yards at breakneck speed, drop down and do 10 pushups as quickly as possible, vault a concrete wall, and squeeze off 5 rounds of military match grade .308 caliber ammo – the venerated cartridge known as the .30-'06 - at a stationary target representing a hostage taker, within 10 seconds after assuming a prone firing position.
The objective – put a round through the bad actor's eye, or somewhere in a triangle formed by his brows and the point of his chin, thus quietening him for eternity, canceling his ticket, cleaning his clock.
Try your best – your very best - to get the job done with one round while squeezing the shot off with an elevated heart rate and a respiration cycle peaking at its top parameters.
Those are real time conditions.
Jeff Dwyer is an 11-year veteran of the Austin Police Department's SWAT operations, an Army veteran with combat experience, and a trainer bent on honing the reactions of snipers who must make a split-second decision when only split seconds stand in the way of the life or death of a victim.
He's running an exercise of 14-hour days at the Elm Knob Sniper Range at this fort, the largest on American soil, a venue between two bluff mesas near the tank range, where Bradley fighting vehicles and Stryker motorized cannon prowl the prairies. The firing line overlooks a field of fire that slopes downward and away; it offers target selection between 100 yards, and up to a mile and a half.
The experience of firing through barriers – solid objects as diverse as auto windshields and jetliner windows – while distorting conditions of difficult visibility complicate matters such as flashing emergency lights of red and blue or the blinding glare of shifting helicopter beacons, is unique to each situation. It is something that cannot be replicated in any way, other than by doing it.
But the conditioned techniques of body geometry - a solid rest, breath control, an integral cheek weld between rifle stock and face, and the ultimate silky squeeze of finger on trigger - is only part of the skill set.
Knowing when to take the shot is something left entirely up to the police officer or soldier tasked with the job of solving the problem.
No on-scene commander, no supervisor, no citizen review board – no one else - can tell the trigger man when to take the shot.
It's a matter of judgment.
“If I feel someone is going to cause death or serious bodily injury, I have the power to make that decision,” said Officer Dwyer, as he briefed media and police, soldiers and commanders.
That's where the “Brave Rifles” of the 3rd Cavalry Regiment come in. They need that expertise, and they have a need to hone that same skill set.
“We're reaching out to our community,” said Maj. Adam Weece, public affairs officer for the outfit.
|Maj. Adam Weece|
It's all part of a lesson learned during multiple deployments of commanders and their men over 10 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Standard Pentagon and War College doctrine, they seek to instill the state of the art acquired during the past one-and-a-half wars in returning veterans and men who are looking to be employed in the Army's sniper program – or carry their skills to a civilian employment with the same set of considerations and practicalities.
It's called decentralized leadership, and it emphasizes maintaining control in one's own “lane of influence.”
The chess board has shifted shape.
“Kings no longer make all the moves,” Maj. Weece explained. “Let the dukes and earls make decisions, too.”
Cavalry objectives are as simple and straight forward as the cops'.
A placard on the firing line is as terse and military as “forward march,” or “left face”:
“Be able to engage targets up to 300 meters and stop all bodily function with one round.
“Be able to engage targets at 750 meters with a first round hit.
“Be able to engage targets at 1,000 meters with no more than two rounds.”
It's done on a day to day basis, on battle fields and hostage situations worldwide.
It's a two-man job. The spotter has a 40-power scope; he lets the shooter know conditions at the target. The breeze might be doing something entirely different at that lengthy distance from the rifle's rest, the shooter's roost.
The average range for a police sniper is 54 yards, said Officer Dwyer.
The average shooting range for a SWAT operation – usually while serving a warrant - is three feet, the same distance the FBI maintains is the average for any gun fight, old west, gang land, back alley, or just a plain old pure dee cuss fight on any continent, island or peninsula on the planet.
“It usually takes place in a bedroom – you know, 10 by 10, or 10 by 12...We've had as many as 8 to 10 people in an area that size,” he added.