JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- Breathing heavily and hands shaking, a Soldier squeezes the trigger, and a round fires from the chamber of his M2010 rifle. His fellow sniper tracks the round’s path with a spotting scope, as it pierces the brisk Alaska air before connecting with a seven-by-seven-inch target, dead-center more than 700 meters away.
For Specialists Arturo Dominguez and Eric Haugh, snipers assigned to the 1st Squadron, 40th Cavalry Regiment (Airborne), 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, U.S. Army Alaska (USARAK), this is just another day at the office, as they conduct stress shooting.
Haugh, a native of Graham, Washington, and Dominguez, a native of Okeechobee, Florida, are snipers gearing up for the 10th Annual Czech Republic World Sniper Competition April 23 through 27.
“They’re going to put us through a lot of challenges and courses to challenge us both mentally and physically,” Dominguez said. “What we’re doing today is stress shooting, which incorporates physical training and gets our heart rate up, making it tougher to hold steady while shooting, simulating a stressed environment.”
Haugh and Dominguez had been deployed to Forward Operating Base Gardez, Afghanistan, for nearly six months when their leadership hand-picked them to represent U.S. Army Alaska in the marksmanship competition.
“Shooting regularly is very important because it’s a perishable skill,” said Sgt. 1st Class Tyler Virgin, non-commissioned officer in-charge of the Sharp Shooter Program, assigned to the 1-40th. “You can learn it in a week and not touch your gun for the next two months, and then have to relearn everything. So, we’re trying to close that gap and allow these guys to perfect their craft.”
After being selected, Dominguez and Haugh returned to JBER and began dedicated sniper training, where they’ve been shooting every day for six weeks.
“This is one of the most rigorous trainings we’ve had in a long time,” Dominguez said. “It’s awesome that Haugh and I get to come out here and learn from two shooters with different experiences and background. It’s really helping us refine our skills and get ready for this competition. We found out some U.S. Soldiers stationed in Italy were going to be there too, so it’s going to be awesome to compete against our fellow brothers.”
The expert marksmen first met at United States Army Sniper Course at Fort. Benning, Georgia, a seven-and-a-half-week-long course that educates snipers to be adaptive Soldiers – critical and creative thinkers armed with the technical, tactical and logistical skills necessary to serve successfully at the Sniper Team level to ensure mission accomplishment without compromise.
“Wars are won at the team and the squad level,” Virgin said. “The more capable you are on the battlefield, the more you expand a commander’s capabilities. So, we replicate everything you would see in a hostile environment, refining these two guys into the best marksmen they can be and increasing their lethality on the battlefield.”
Snipers operate most effectively in small teams, making them less likely to be detected. Ideally, one sniper shoots while the other spots for him. Working together as such a team is relatively new for the sharpshooters.
“We’ve been in the same section for almost three years, but we’ve been on different teams,” Dominguez said. “I had my own spotter/shooter, and he had his own spotter/shooter. We always work together when it comes to a field environment, but we’ve never gotten to call each other’s shots or wind, until recently when we got sent back from Afghanistan. It’s new because everybody has their own different dialogue. Eric has his way of communicating which is different than mine, so this gives us an opportunity to mesh our styles and better signal one another. We’ve been giving each other feedback and functioning well.”
The duo will be relying heavily on each other as they work together to perform land navigation during the day and night, fire their weapons from varying positions and conditions, including from helicopters, and work to de-escalate a hostage scenario.
“It’s such a blessing and an honor to be invited to this competition,” Haugh said. “It’s definitely a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. In the austere conditions we operate in, sometimes you miss, and sometimes God allows your round to hit the target. We’re going to go out there and do what we do, and represent USARAK and the nation as best we know how.”