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Monday, July 8, 2013

Faith of the Long Rifleman

There's recently been a spate of books by and about snipers. This is puzzling.

First, the 'name' - most prefer to be called long riflemen, with the exception of those who have attended Marine Scout Sniper training. 'Sniper', as a generic term, is Hollywood. (I may be dating myself here - the term may be more acceptable now.)

Second, the most valuable commodity to the long rifleman is anonymity. This usually carries over into private life, and writing an autobiography is...different.

But the books are a good thing, because, dear reader, they give you an idea of what is done on your behalf. It's not what you think, and these gentlemen aren't what you think they are.

The primary mission of the long rifleman is not killing. It's information gathering. These men are trained to move quietly through hostile places, observe, and remember. Many, if not most missions are completed without a shot being fired.

When shooting is part of the equation, the long rifleman is generally not an assassin, targeting specific named individuals. His job - and he works with a spotter who identifies and monitors targets, as well as providing security - is control of the battlespace. This means killing individuals who pose the greatest threat to friendly forces. First in line is leadership - officers and noncoms. Second are radio operators. Leaving the enemy leaderless and out of touch is an effective way of reducing their effectiveness.

And when shooting is part of the equation, the long rifleman is in an almost unique position. He sees, and in a sense gets to know, the people he will kill. Through the scope, he can see the face, and the expressions - fatigue, anger, a smile. For the long rifleman, the target is inescapably human.

What kind of man can do this? Not the Hollywood stone-cold killer. And certainly not the empathetic 'feeler'. It's a job for a man of solid faith.

There are two personality types that have to be weeded out in training. The killer is one - they can develop what's called the 'Texas Tower Syndrome', named after the individual who shot a number of students on the University of Texas campus in Austin in 1966. When this kicks in, the rifleman starts shooting - and doesn't stop. He has the power of life and death in his hands, with no direct authority but his own conscience...and his conscience folds its tent and steals away.

The other type is the man who identifies too strongly with the target's humanity. The label here is 'Stockholm Syndrome', named after a terrorist event in which hostages and terrorists bonded and identified with one another. While the ethos is laudable in most circumstances, it isn't part of the long rifleman's mission.

The candidates who make it through selection and training (which is almost impossibly difficult, both physically and technically) are well-balanced individuals, generally possessing both a strong devotion to duty, and a strong faith.

Because when the trigger is pulled, a soul is committed to God. And a long rifleman who disbelieved in the Almighty would soon go mad.

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