Becoming a Navy SEAL is a challenge, to say the least, only accepting the best of the best. Becoming a Navy SEAL Sniper is the opportunity of a lifetime, only bringing on the elite among the elite.
To become a Navy SEAL Sniper, you must first meet SEAL requirements, pass BUD/S training, and then pass advanced training before possibly receiving an invitation to join sniper school, a 3-month long intensive program. Just like with SEALs, a small percentage are invited into the program, and an even smaller percentage actually complete the program.
Let’s take a look at the process of becoming a Navy SEAL Sniper.
To become a Navy SEAL Sniper, you have to become a Navy SEAL. The Navy’s Sea, Air, and Land Forces, also known as SEALs, are a specialized military force that is expertly trained to deliver specialized warfare capabilities in their missions that include: direct action warfare, foreign internal defense, counterterrorism, and special reconnaissance.
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Navy SEALs are some of the United States armed forces most elite soldiers. Training is their way of life, and mental and physical fastness is critical. It takes about a year and a half from the start of boot camp up until joining the SEAL team. And then another year or more of training before their first deployment. SEALs are training and honing their skills throughout their entire career. They have to consider that they are an “unconventional warfare capability” that was ordered to be created by John F. Kennedy.
What’s the Job of a Navy SEAL Sniper?
Training to become a Navy SEAL Sniper is one of the many advanced trainings available for Navy SEALs. In short, SEAL snipers are learning the art of death. It’s the job of the Navy SEAL Sniper to plan the death, prepare for the death, and then bring about the death, followed by coping with the death. It’s a sniper’s job to be prepared for any scenario, waiting until exactly the right moment, and ensuring that they leave no trace of their presence once they complete their mission and leave. You leave a bullet casing behind during training, and you leave the program.
The Navy SEAL Sniper team, just like the Navy SEAL teams, is to successfully complete the missions assigned to them as safely and efficiently as possible. Those missions range from reconnaissance work to taking out three targets simultaneously like the pirates who held the ship off the coast of Somalia hostage.
What’s Navy SEAL Sniper Training Like?
Navy SEAL Sniper training is an advanced training offered to Navy SEALs, among many other types of training that include combat medic training, language training, parachuting jumpmaster qualification, and a variety of other offerings. There isn’t much shared about this training directly through the Navy and SEALs websites, but past SEAL snipers have shared their knowledge online, in interviews, and in books.
Brandon Webb is one of those past snipers who shares his knowledge about being part of the Teams, training other SEALs, as well as his work as Course Manager, where he was in charge of the U.S. Navy SEAL sniper course.
The Navy SEAL sniper training is typically three months long and broken down into three phases. Everyone attempting to train must qualify as an expert.
The first phase, the Field Craft phase, has to do with satellite communication, technology, and digital photography. There is a communication and digital photo course that is required before the Field Craft phase where SEALs focus on field intelligence gathering and other forms of communication.
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Field Craft is followed by Scout phase, which includes stalking and field craft. This relies on integrated photography reconnaissance work. This phase lasts four weeks and is where stalking is graded and advanced marksmanship training begins. During this phase, SEALs are trained in camouflage, learning to move undetected within enemy territory, and scouting.
The seven-week sniper phase begins next, where, you guessed it, the shooting really begins. Webb says that during this phase, SEALs are tested with moving and stationary targets, as well as testing individual skills out to 1,000 yards in high wind. The Sniper phase includes mental management training, advanced ballistics, and practical shooting and testing.
What Is the Sniper’s Role Within the Teams?
The sniper’s role on the SEAL teams is to protect their men and women, to handle (as in kill) high-value, high-risk targets in a variety of extreme circumstances that might range from urban environments to the middle of the jungle. The role is to leave no trace, ghosts taking out the bad guy and then disappearing with their team, ideally. This isn’t always the case, the quiet escape. SEAL snipers provide support, as well as a very specialized skill set that can make their work a lot more efficient and effective.
Former Navy SEAL sniper, Michael Janke, shared what it was like as a sniper. “You spend days crawling, climbing, slinking while getting bit by every bug and scratched by every thicket. Bathroom use is done while you lay on your side, looking through night vision or scopes for endless hours. Not to mention, your rest comes from sleeping in 15-minute bursts.
An additional skill that is sought out, honed, and refined is something we call “Bubble Compartmentalization” — or the ability to block everything else out for long periods of time, except specific visual and observation skills, and basically the ability to sit still, observe, and calculate without losing your mind.
The amount of practice, study, and hours spent mastering every type of environment; shooting from buildings, helicopters, ships, shooting through glass, walls, different mathematical calculations for temperature, humidity, altitude, load, etc. These SEAL missions are non-stop, high-stakes learning games.”
What Kind of Weapons Do Navy SEAL Snipers Use?
According to Chris Kyle, a former Navy SEAL sniper who was murdered after his time in service in 2013, who served four tours in the Iraq War and was awarded a variety of commendations for acts of heroism and meritorious service during combat, he trained with four main types of weapons in sniper school. Two of those weapons were magazine-fed semi automatics: the Mk-12, a 5.56 sniper rifle, and the Mk-11, a 7.62 sniper rifle. The other two were a .50 caliber that wasn’t suppressed and a .300 Win Mag that was magazine-fed, but bolt-action. Like the first two weapons, it was also suppressed to reduce the sound of the bullet as it leaves the gun and to suppress the muzzle flash.
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Kyle also enjoyed using .338 during deployment. During his time in service as a Navy SEAL sniper, he used Nightforce scopes that were durable during terrible conditions and always held their zero. He also used a Leica rangefinder while on deployments to determine how far his targets were from him. “You live all of this technical data in sniper school. You learn about how far to lead someone when they’re moving—if they’re walking, if they’re running, depending on the distance. You keep doing it until the understanding is embedded not just in your brain but in your arms and hands and fingers,” Kyle said.
Navy SEAL Sniper
Becoming a Navy SEAL sniper is a prestigious job. It sounds glamorous and it is when telling stories about it after the fact. But when living the life of a SEAL sniper, it is rigorous, sometimes lonely, and intense. You have to learn to compartmentalize hunting and killing other humans as your job. You have to be willing to take a shot to save your men for the life of another. You have to have excellent eyesight, but also incredible awareness, awareness for your surroundings, changes in conditions, as well as awareness for yourself.