Outside of 2014′s “American Sniper,” featuring a fake baby and Bradley Cooper as slain Navy SEAL marksman Chris Kyle, there aren’t very many pop culture samples that delve deep into military sniper culture. As a result, the internet is, predictably, full of myths about this hallowed profession — namely their kill shot skills and bathroom habits.
In order to set the record straight, Observation Post caught up with former Vermont Army Guard sniper Kyle Hinchliffe to ask all the questions you’d actually want to know about being a military sniper.
What should people thinking about becoming military snipers really consider before setting their sights on it as a career, and what are some the essential skills you need?
Basic, basic rifle marksmanship, without a doubt. Everyone thinks you need to do all this crazy math to shoot far away, but honestly, the basics are the most important, as well as patience. So much patience. Honestly, training with a scout platoon is the first go-to, just to see if being with a specialty platoon is for you, because it’s way different than being on the line. And well, enjoying shooting is a big part of it.
How did you first learn to shoot, and what led to precision shooting?
I grew up hunting in rural Vermont and it was always a part of that. I guess that’s really where it started. I just kind of fell into it, too. I didn’t mean to be a sniper, it just kind of happened.
What really differentiates combat sniper training from other types of training?
I think the energy. Everything else is so high energy, you’re always go-go-go. With anything precision rifle, you need to be able to maintain calm on a different level, really be able to maintain your composure and such. I’d say the amount of training you get is a big part of it. There are different types of trainings, like your KIMS games, stress fires. We do a lot of different small trainings at once that can really help you try to remember everything you do, no matter what’s going on.
What do you think about the fact that one of the most frequently asked questions about being a sniper is about your bathroom habits. Do snipers wear diapers?
It is the most common question! I hope not. I really hope not. I can confirm right now, I have never once pissed myself. It’s different times though, you know? Vietnam-era, things were a little different. Now, there’s not as much having to crawl on the ground for days on end without moving kind of a deal. So, no.
What’s it really like to don a Ghillie suit?
Dirty and itchy. Whenever you see Ghillie suits in pop culture, 90 percent of the time, you have like the giant Chewbacca suits — but those are not it. They usually give you a base, and you have to cover it with leaves and [vegetation]. You never see that part in the movies.
What else does pop culture get wrong about snipers?
Two things. It’s always like a single guy out there or a team of snipers [...] a lot of the time, at least when I was in, we had three-man teams versus like the single lone sniper crawling around. You have your shooter, your spotter, and you have a security element with you as well, usually a third individual, whether they’re on the radio, they usually have some kind of high-firing weapon or shorty saw [...] something like that. But yeah, we usually are just like a small team out in the middle of nowhere. The other thing is that it’s usually not a one-shot kill. It’s the second shot. Your first shot is always a cold bore, and it’s not exactly great. A lot of the time it’s the first shot and then a correction.
Sarah Sicard is a Senior Editor with Military Times. She previously served as the Digital Editor of Military Times and the Army Times Editor. Other work can be found at National Defense Magazine, Task & Purpose, and Defense News.