By Brian K. Sain
First in, last out; that is
usually the way it goes for the SWAT sniper. He
deploys covertly, either with a teammate or alone and as
soon as possible, starts providing real time
information to his teammates andcommand post. He is usually
there providing protective over-watch before the entry and perimeter teams
begin their operations and he remains there until the last man is safely
accounted for. He may be in position minutes, hours or days. He may not be
relieved at all and therefore must be as totally self-sufficient as possible.
Circumstances dictated by the suspect may force him to have to fire his rifle.
However, relaying accurate, real time information is what the job is mainly
about. To do the job properly for extended periods of time requires more than a
little forethought and planning on the part of the sniper.
Since the inception of
police snipers into modern law enforcement, we’ve gotten smarter. We have
realized that police snipers, like their military counterparts, need to operate
in two-man teams. We have also learned that even two man teams need to be
relieved if possible and that a man can only peer through a telescopic sight
for so long before his performance starts deteriorating.
Authors note: Some agencies
still deploy their snipers alone and under certain
circumstances, this may be unavoidable. However, to
make it a general practice is unsound doctrine.
The American Sniper
Association and the National Tactical Officers
Association are clear on their positions regarding two-man
sniper teams. This is because two men best handle
the duties of the sniper.The two-man team can carry
more gear and stay in position longer and more
effectively than a man deployed alone. While one
man is on the rifle, the other can handle
communications and note taking while giving his eyes a rest from
the riflescope or stretching cramped muscles.
The two can trade off as required, thereby increasing
their efficiency. Furthermore, two heads are
always better than one and decision making can be
shared as well.Situations sometimes occur, where time
is compressed and a sniper or sniper team is suddenly
forced to fire their rifle(s). It should be
reassuring to a commander that if deadly force is used (or
not used) by his men, that two reliable operators in
the same position are more likely to have seen the same
things and come to the same conclusions about what
was seen or done.
Deploying one man alone can
also have other repercussions. One example
involved a sniper in the northeastern U.S. who on what was to be the
last call out of his career, was forced to deploy alone. He and his team were
called out on a barricaded subject that was armed with a scoped rifle. This is
one of the worst case scenarios for a sniper because the suspect has a rifle
with the same capabilities as the sniper himself. The well-camouflaged sniper
set up in a field to gain concealment. The sniper was forced to assume a
sitting position in order to see over the weeds and to provide cover for his
teammates. The sniper stayed this way for seventeen hours as the operation drug
on. The sniper’s back began hurting him hours into the incident but he remained
in position. A relief was sent to him
later but the relief sniper was inexperienced and
arrived in a standard, patrol uniform. Furthermore, by the
time the relief arrived,the damage had already been
done. The sniper could not leave prior to his relief
arriving and after the relief did arrive, the
sniper knew the suspect would easily spot the uniformed
officer. So the sniper stayed at his post the
entire time and subsequently incurred irreparable damage
to his back from the forced positioning. This
exceptional sniper’s dedication to his teammates
also effectively ended his law enforcement career and
required extensive medical attention and therapy that
continues to this day.
To remain in position for
hours on end, the sniper needs to choose equipment
and gear that will provide him some margin of comfort.
It has been said that fatigue makes cowards of us
all. I believe that this is an accurate statement.
Sniping, whether military or police is not for the weak
and if some item is available that will help
accomplish the mission easier and safer, it would be
foolish not to take advantage of it.
There seems to be two
schools of thought on what a police sniper should carry
on any given deployment.Some snipers bring
everything with them but the kitchen sink and wind up
burdened with gear that they do not need. Others travel
light and sometimes suffer without things that they do
need. A sniper never knows where the callout will be or
what the callout might entail so I suggest having
various types of gear for many eventualities. Try to
anticipate what you will most likely need on a
callout, tailoring your gear as the mission dictates. A lot
of this just comes with experience. I suggest having
a small pack (preferably Camelback compatible) with
basic gear, and a sniper vest and uniform ready for
an “overnighter” in the event one must grab it and
go. All a sniper has to do is fill the Camelback and
grab some fresh Powerbars and he is set. Just remember
that whatever you choose to bring; you will have to
carry it wherever you deploy. Make sure that your
gear enhances your performance rather than
There are many items of gear
that a sniper needs to perform his mission.
However, the intent of this article is on sustainment of
the sniper for extended periods and not on
addressing every piece of gear that a sniper may possibly need.
For this purpose, the following items are some of
those that we may choose to carry on any given
callout to help us go the distance. The following list
is certainly not all-inclusive but it is a
A shooting mat - This can be
anything from a military issue, green foam, sleep mat
to one of the more sniper specific mats as made by
Eagle and Blackhawk Industries. A mat is
indispensable if one has to deploy to a hot metal or
tarred roof, on hot concrete or on wet ground. Some of
the sniper specific mats have loop attachments for
camouflage, pockets for other gear and double as a
rifle case. Extreme heat or cold will rob you of your
comfort and strength so it is often best not to be in
direct contact with the surface you are laying on.
Any mat is better than no mat at all and soft knee and
elbow pads can also help in some situations.
Authors note: The military
style sleep mats will not reliably stay in position
without the addition of some type of anchor when used on
a common, residential, composite shingle roof. This
can result in a serious fall if the angle of the
roof is steep.
Water - Heatstroke and heat
exhaustion are two factors that must be controlled if
the sniper is to carry out his mission for extended
periods. Otherwise, the sniper becomes a casualty
and just another part of the problem. Human beings are
dependent on water and simply must have water to
survive and an immediately available supply of water
(preferably a hands-freetype) is necessary. One or
more of the fine Camelback products are the first
choice that comes to mind. However, canteens or water
bottles work as well.Simply put, do whatever it
takes to stay hydrated while deployed.
Food - Snipers need
something small and light that will still satisfy their
hunger and Powerbars of various types are a sniper
staple. If he can grab and go, a sniper can also
try and drink plenty of water and eat a sandwich or
other filling food on the way to the scene to prevent
hunger pains hours later.Hard candy and chewing gum
are also a distraction from hunger pains while deployed.
I know one experienced sniper who unwraps a
Powerbar immediately upon getting into position. He then just
sticks the tacky Powerbar to the stock of his rifle.
This way, he can break off a small piece when he gets
hungry and is never far from the trigger if need be.
Toiletries - A small travel
pack of baby wipes and/or tissues are handy in
First Aid - A small
Tupperware container works well when used as a first aid
kit. It easily fits in a BDU pocket or pack and should
contain the following: Bandaids (large and small), a
small roll of gauze, medicaltape, anti-bacterial cream
(Neosporin), sun block, a couple of sewing needles and
a pair of tweezers (for splinters and insect
stingers), lotion such as Calamine for insect bites
and poison ivy, aspirin or ibuprofen, allergy/sinus
(non-drowsy), first aid spray for abrasions, crush
capsules for ant or wasp stings and a few Q-tips. The trick
here is not to have a portable field hospital but
rather, a means of supplying a small amount of
comfort from the more commonly encountered insects
and scrapes that usually accompany a deployment. The
gauze can be positioned to stop the smaller items from
rattling to maintain noise discipline.
Clothing - Weather gear is
important and selection of clothing layers is critical
depending on what environment you will be
operating in. Gore-Tex and polar fleece items are
necessities in colder weather.Gloves and shoes are
critical as well. Hand / foot warmers can also bring
relief in frigid temperatures. Comfortable rain and waterborne gear has its own
important set of rules so it pays to do some research and make intelligent
decisions regarding the clothing you choose. Improvements in modern sport
fabrics such as Under Armour should be explored and taken advantage of. The
sniper needs to keep in mind that in addition to providing protection from the
elements; his clothing choices must not hinder his movement or shooting when
worn with the other gear he must carry.
Communications / Electronics
- Most snipers use a standard police portable
radio to communicate with the rest of their team.
Typically, a patrol officer may be issued one battery and
possibly a spare. If he is not careful, the officer may
allow the batteries to develop a “memory” and the
batteries will not hold a charge for as long as they
were designed to. This can be disastrous on an
operation because a sniper that cannot communicate is almost
useless. A good supply of fully-charged portable radio batteries are an
absolute necessity for effective tactical operations. Unfortunately, they are
often overlooked until someone’s radio malfunctions and then that person is
scrambling to get back into the game.
Many of the items snipers
rely on are battery-operated.
Flashlights, range finders, windmeters and illuminated
reticles all rely on batteries to function. Whenever
possible, a sniper should avoid battery-operated gear for the simple reason
that batteries eventually do fail. However, it is impossible to totally get
Many teams have a rack of
portable radio batteries charged and ready in the
command post and this is good for the entry, react and
perimeter elements because these operators are often
going to and from the CP.The snipers however, are
usually deployed in covert,static positions and traffic
to their positions for re-supply may compromise
their hide site. Therefore, snipers should keep a good
supply of batteries (for everything battery-operated
that they use) on their persons because if something
can fail, it almost always seems to do so on an
operation and at the worst possible time.
Authors note: A military M16
magazine / grenade pouch also works well for holding
several portable radio batteries and a pair of
Surefire Spares lithium battery / lamp holders. The
pouch has a cover with a Fastex buckle for weather
protection and ALICE clips to attach it to a belt or
pack. When used this way, the sniper can usually carry
enough batteries to communicate with his team
and operate his equipment through even the most
extended police operations.
Radio headsets - Trying to
talk, write, or hold a rifle, while cradling a
standard portable radio is difficult at best, therefore
a hands-free headset is almost a necessity for the
sniper. These aren’t cheap but they are necessary,
especially if the sniper is forced to deploy alone. Most
companies will allow sample headsets to be sent
out to agencies for testing and evaluation. Again,
research on what is available pays off in performance.
Weapon/Scope maintenance -
A small cleaning kit(such as the Otis brand) is
nice to have in case a sniper rifle is compromised
by dirt or foliage on a deployment. Special care
must be taken with the coated lenses on the riflescope.
Riflescope lenses are comparable to those found on
fine cameras and a lenspen, pre-moistened lens
tissues and Q-Tips are necessary to clean them
without causing damage. A sniper absolutely has to be
able to see and sometimes a sniper is forced to make
do with what he has available at the time.
However, rubbing the lenses of a seven to fifteen hundred
dollar riflescope with a dirty shirt cuff is not a
good idea if it can be prevented.
Binoculars - Snipers often
spend a large amount of time looking through a
riflescope. Anyone who has done this for as little as ten or
fifteen minutes at a time are aware of the headaches
and fatigue it can induce. Riflescopes are more properly identified as
telescopic sights and are not designed for extended periods of observation
(although we often use them in just this way). A riflescope often has a limited
field of view and a police sniper is better served doing the majority of his
observation over the rifle or through a pair of quality binoculars. Most police
snipers operate at short to medium distances and choose a small pair of
binoculars that afford good light transmission, good field of view, and
waterproof and rubber armored construction.
Packing these items is an
important detail in its own right. The sniper should
take care where and how he packs these items so he can
find them with minimum movement and in the dark. It
is smart to discuss how and where you and your
sniper teammates pack their gear in case a teammate must
retrieve a piece of gear while the other sniper is on
the rifle. Needless to say, dumping an entire pack
out to look for a small item in the bottom is not a
These are just a few things
a police sniper needs to consider before attempting
to endure extended sustainment on a deployment.
The items need to be checked intermittently and
replaced if necessary but most of all, they need to be
packed and ready to go before the pager goes off.
Brian K. Sain
is a detective and sniper
with the city of Port Arthur(Texas) Police Department. He has
been a peace officer for fifteen
years and is a member of the NTOA, TTPOA, ASLET, IALEFI,
PMA, NRA (life) and is a charter / advisory board
member of the American Sniper Association. He can
be reached at 409-983-8643 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Reprinted Courtesy of Police Marksman)