To prove the value of mental management and rehearsal, I would often relate a true story related to the topic. A Navy fighter pilot was shot down in Vietnam, captured and imprisoned for years in the famous prisoner of war camp the “Hanoi Hilton”. The pilot was an avid golfer back home, and to get through the extremely demanding situation, he would shoot rounds of golf in his head.
For years he would play his favorite courses perfectly in his mind. Eventually liberated and back on US soil, the first thing this pilot did was jump out of the military ambulance and onto the golf course. After explaining away his ragged looks (he was tall man and extremely skinny from malnutrition) he shot nine holes of golf at 1 under par. This was shocking to those that witnessed the event and when questioned about how this was possible, the pilot replied “Gentlemen, I haven’t hit a bad shot in 4 years!”
Phase three is the sniper portion. We spend hours in the classroom learning the science behind the shot, ballistics, environmental factors, human factors and calculating for wind, distance and target lead, later putting the knowledge to practical application on the shooting range. The students train and test with moving and pop-up targets in high wind conditions out to 1000 meters.
As part of the training we put the shooters in the most stressful and challenging situations imaginable. We look for signs of high intelligence, patience and mental maturity. Then we intentionally (often unknown to the candidate) place the shooter in adverse and unfair situations to test their mettle.
An example of this would be the “edge” shot. Individual trainees are lined up on the shooting range and are told they have four minutes to run 600 meters, set up on the firing line, and wait for their targets to appear, sometime between four minutes, one second and an hour. We always send a target up right at three minutes, usually right when the shooters are just getting set up on their lanes and identifying their fields of fire. Often times a shooter will take his eyes away for a split second to wipe sweat from his brow, then drop down on his scope to see his target disappear and his opportunity gone.
The peer pressure is intense, and shooters often breakdown in frustration at a missed shot. They eventually learn to control their feelings or they don’t move on. As instructors, we keep detailed student records and document everything. A large percentage of SEAL candidates don’t make it through the course and just getting a billet is extremely competitive. No one wants to go back to his SEAL Team a loser having failed out of the course.
However, this course is one of the few courses you can fail as a SEAL and not be looked down upon by your teammates. This is because the SEAL course is renowned as one of the toughest and most challenging courses in the world. Over three months and seven day 100-hour workweeks go into the training. It takes extreme perseverance to graduate with the title of SEAL sniper. To this day, and even in comparison to my combat tours, it was one of the most stressful events of my life.
The SEAL snipers who took those fatal shots deployed from the eastern coast of the United States, flew across the Atlantic and parachuted with full kit into darkness at 12,000 feet, into the deep warm waters of the Indian Ocean. Once in the water, they then rendezvous with US Naval forces off the coast of Somalia.
Once aboard ship, the SEAL officer in charge (OIC) took command of the scene; Then hours later under cover of darkness, on a moonless night, shooting from large ship to a small moving lifeboat, the snipers took three lives with three shots. In a split second it was over, with the flawlessness and ease that comes with prior experience, countless hours of training and rehearsal. We have a creed in the SEAL Teams that I continue to live by to this day. “The only easy day was yesterday”.
Read more: Part One