We had been awake since 0600 the previous day, and went to sleep right after the debrief and cleaning up a bit, which was at about 1100. At 1600 or 1700 we woke up hungry. Dinner was chicken fried steak, mashed potatoes, and these rolls that are served hot and basically self digest on contact with the mouth. That was a food coma to contend with the most decadent Thanksgiving meal. Come to think of it, this was exactly one week after Thanksgiving. On top of all that, we dined in the “Winchester Room” which was adorned with classic lever actions and Winchester regalia.
By that time there was some kind of ice precipitation falling from the sky. We just get regular snow up where I live, and it is generally cold enough to be dry and powdery until it compacts into ice. This Texas stuff was more wet on the outside, but harder on the inside. It was beginning to accumulate on the ground, which had me worried about driving 2000 miles home, through the Texas panhandle, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho in my front wheel drive Chevy sedan.
We still had a few things left on the list, urban hides, vehicle hides, and some shooting and a final zero check which we were planning to get done on Friday (the following day). For the rest of Thursday evening we set about the difficult task of digesting all the food we ate, washing it down with some beer and conversation before turning in again.
Friday morning we woke to still more of the ice falling from the sky. The doors to our barracks were pinned shut at first. I decided in my mind that if I didn’t get started towards home I probably wouldn’t be getting out any time soon. I didn’t want to miss out on the additional course material, but I needed to be home to get back to the day job, so I started packing stuff and took a load to the car. That turned out to be the decision that everyone made.
At home I can usually brush the snow off my car, or defrost the light coat of ice from the windshield pretty easily. In this case my car was fully encrusted in a quarter inch coat of ice. There was really no where to grab the doors to pry them open. I found a spot missing ice on the rear passenger side door, and luckily I had a wooden door stop in my bag to use as a wedge to get the door cracked open. It was a lot like breaking into a locked car (don’t ask), except the only lock was ice. I finally cracked the ice enough to get the door open, and the rest were much easier from the inside. I ran the car for about an hour straight before it was in any condition to be driven (all windows and lights exposed). It took me about that long to be ready to move out anyway.
Time to leave meant time to say goodbye. These were all such great people. I couldn’t find words to express my gratitude in having such a good bunch to spend a week with, and for Russ to extending the invitation to an opportunity that so few people get to experience, and even for those people comes along so rarely. Russ is definitely the real deal as a shooter, a warrior, and a man. Allen, another instructor, is just as much the real deal, but was very reserved and held his viewpoints back a bit as “just another point of view”. He’s humble in comparison to his abilities and experience. Chris, the third instructor was younger, and just extremely technically adept and on top of the cutting edge of technique and equipment. The other trainees were just a great bunch of guys- fun, but very professional and capable. Matt, my “sniper partner” for the week, is a very sharp guy with a lot of integrity and promise in whatever he decides he wants to do in life. As we were all driving off I realized that we didn’t get a group photo.
As I drove away I found the roads to be well within my capability as a winter driver. This left me some mental space to reflect on what I gained from the training. I was sore enough for me to know that I had done some good work. My confidence level was through the roof. It may seem pointless and excessive to run trainees through a 29 hour cycle. Regardless of how it seems, putting it all together in a realistic scenario, without the ability to call “kings X” at a nice stopping point was invaluable. It told me that if I had to do this for real, I could get it done from beginning to end. Sure, there are some things I would need to work on to ensure an appropriate level of probable operational success, but that is just life. I need to constantly keep upping my game until success is the norm, and failure would be extremely improbable.
There is a lot of technical knowledge in the field of sniping, even non-military sniping, that goes beyond shooting. The shooting has to be there. That’s a given, but most of the things a sniper does have little to do with shooting. It’s a discipline that calls for versatility and an endless curiosity and will to improve at the craft.
This course and our field training exercise went to the edge and perhaps slightly beyond the scope of a typical law enforcement mission profile. That’s why it’s called an advanced course. It’s all about contingency planning, and I think that a lot of that was intentionally build into the course.
My gear got a pretty good shakedown. I got a lot more realistic idea of what might work and what probably won’t. I learned some things to watch out for, like uncapped, non-locking turrets moving from their zero, which was a real “duh” moment, but sometimes it takes a moment like that to bring home something obvious. I’m pretty well impressed with how well the Remington held its zero even with all the incidental abuse that it received. Even the scope was fine once the knob was turned back to where it was supposed to be. As for the cold weather, I’m putting some thought and research in how to be better equipped and prepared, which also should have been obvious to me, considering I live in a colder climate than the class was held in.
A lot of the things I learned weren’t explicitly in the course outline. Some things have to be learned by doing, and some things encountered in life may seem contrary to what the “book” says until you understand why the book says what it says, and when there are exceptions. The map is not the territory, and sometimes it takes some perspective to orient one’s knowledge of the map to find an understanding of the territory. The structure of the class left plenty of room for all of us to learn some real hands on lessons.
Russ is a valuable source of training to military and law enforcement personnel. If you fit the bill and are serious about pursuing training with him, contact me.