Snipers are highly trained marksman who maintains close visual contact with the enemy and engages targets from concealed positions without being detected. Originating from the verb to snipe, the word was used to describe a hunter skilled enough to kill the elusive snipe by soldiers in British India in the 1770’s.
The term sniper was first attested in 1824 in the sense of the word sharpshooter and in today’s United States (US) military, there are fewer than 300 snipers in the US Marine Corps, less than 1,000 in the US Army, and less than 50 in the US Navy.
It is no surprise that with small US Military sniper community there is a certain level of competition between services on who fields the best snipers.
The US Marine Corps was one of the first to push the science of modern American long-range sniping during the Vietnam War where Carlos Hathcock made a record shot at 2,090 m (2,286 yd) in 1967 (a record that held for over 35 years). Hathcock later went on to establish a school for training United States Marine Corps (USMC) snipers known as the USMC Scout Sniper School located in Quantico, Virginia.
This lead some to point to US Marine Corps snipers as being considered the best snipers in the world due to access to some of the most sophisticated training available.
However, the US Army established its own sniper school at the Infantry Center at Fort Benning, Georgia, in the 1980’s, and claim to produce their own would renowned top-notch snipers that can trace their linage back to the riflemen of the Revolutionary War.
To add fuel to this healthy, top-sniper grudge match, the US Navy SEALs also claim to hold the mantle of the The Best in the World.
So who has the best US snipers?
According to Brandon Webb, a former US Navy SEAL and former Naval Special Warfare Sniper Course Manager, he sees the US Navy SEAL Sniper as the quintessential 21st Century Sniper due to his capability to be a “mature, intelligent shooter who leverages technology to his deadly advantage”.
This, Webb claims, is most evident in the Somali Pirate incident in the Red Sea in 2009. Unlike the US Marines or US Army sniper, Webb sights that the US Navy SEAL snipers are the only men alive who can fly across the Atlantic, parachute with full gear into darkness at 12,000 feet, rendezvous with a US Navy ship under cover of darkness, and then on a moonless night, shoot from large ship to a small moving lifeboat, hitting all three targets with only three shots.
The skills of the US Military sniper are undeniably devastating when used on the battlefield.
Unfortunately, besides for private security, range instruction, or law enforcement occupations, a Soldier, Sailor, or Marine sniper does not have may places to use his skills once back at home.
But what if that devastating battlefield asset was repurposed in another way?
What if US Military snipers could be recruited to take on the ultimate shooting competition in the world?
An event so exclusive and competitive that the United States has never placed even near the top-five since the sport was established by the International Olympic Committed (IOC) in 1960.
Surprising, there are actually six Olympic sports the United States has never medaled in. The Star Spangled Banner has never been hoisted to celebrate overall glory or even a top three finish in badminton, table tennis, handball, rhythmic gymnastics, Nordic combined, and — most importantly — biathlon.
The skiing sport that requires precision shooting.
A skiing sport with shooting?
Yes, you read that right: shooting!
Biathlon has so vexed American athletes for over 50 years that the best finish ever was when Jeremy Teela finished 9th in 10 km sprint race.
Ironically, in 2012, Tim Burke from Paul Smiths, New York, placed 4th during the IBU World Cup in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia. This is after Burke opened the 2010 Winter Olympics by finishing 47th in the 10km Sprint race and finishing 46th in the Pursuit.
One might think that Burke is an up-and-coming biathlete. He claimed that after the 10km Sprint race during the 2010 Winter Olympics was, “the most unfair competition” he had ever raced in, after he blamed his poor performance due to the a storm of wet snow that hit the venue after the race had started, but before his start time.
Wet snow that hits a venue in the middle of the race does impact the outcome. A dry course is faster than a wet course, making the skiing times much faster for those who benefit from a drier course.
Snow may have had an impact on his placement. But it is difficult to blame snow entirely when the young athlete struggled with his primary discipline: his shooting!
Burke shot so badly that he had to ski five penalty loops in the same race. Snow or no snow, you have to shoot well in biathlon.
It is the same need for precision that his a critical success factor maintained by most US Special Forces. The same skills that makes a US Navy SEAL sniper deadly, is the same skills needed to get US biathletes on the Olympic podium.
You cannot keep a lead, or gain on your competitors, if you spend all your time doing penalty loops due to missed shots.
World Cup wins are encouraging, but it is the Olympic Gold Medal in Biathlon that still eludes the United States to this day.
With all the talent in shooting coming home from their tours in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere, it does not seem far fetched that a Soldier, Sailor, or Marine sniper could be the one to win a Olympic Gold Medal in Biathlon in the 2018 or 2022 Winter Olympics.
Physically fit and trained to adapt to their conditions — to include alpine travel like skiing — it may only be a matter of time before a Nordic coach discovers that a US Military Veteran is built to be the first to break the top three within Olympic Biathlon.
Shooting should be a sport that American’s dominate — albeit against skeet or on skis.
What biathlon coach will be the first to see his or her US Veteran win gold in the Olympic Biathlon?
Who will be the first American to make the host country hoist the flag of the United States of America to the top of the podium, and force them to play Francis Scott Key’s epic Star Spangled Banner for all other countries to hear?
It will be the one’s that turn snipers into biathletes, and claim a long deserved American victory in the sport of Biathlon.