You might not have known this about me, but I’m a certified sharpshooter. Truth. This is a story about the life lessons learned at sniper school during my civil service. It lasted for 3 weeks in total, consisting of both good and bad moments (mostly the latter).
Outline of The Story
In retrospect, it taught me a lot about myself and expanded my understanding of what we’re all capable of doing. The time spent there definitely not only influenced my outlook on life but also improved it.
What follows is a pretty long coverage of the whole experience totalling in over 5000 words. By reading it all you’ll be able to grasp the story much better. However, there’s also the possibility of skipping it all and going to the end where the concluding thoughts and lessons learned are listed. Despite that, I would still recommend you take the time and go through the entire piece for one hell of an adventure.
We’re in the Army Now…
High school had just finished and like many of my friends, I enrolled in the military. It’s compulsory for all young men in my home country so I decided to get it over with right away. The last 12 years of my life had been spent studying and my wish was to experience something different. Something that would completely throw me out of my comfort zone and make me adapt.
My designated service lasted for 8 months in total starting in October. After arriving at the battalion we didn’t know what to expect. The first week was filled with a lot of marching, running, formations, mockery, sweeping the floors, cleaning the toilets etc. Basically, everything that would help us settle in with our new home.
Having spent the entire summer training, the physical aspect of it didn’t scare me. However, as I soon found out, it the mental part was equally as important.
Us, the newest recruits were at the bottom of the food-chain. At first, we didn’t even have proper name tags for our uniforms but colourful duct tape letting everyone else know that it’s okay to give us commands and make us squirm.
Once We Settled In
A lot of time could be spent talking about the rest of the service because there were a lot of things learnt about myself and life in general. But the sniper school was probably the most profound experience of it all – so we’ll stick to just that.
After 3 months of basic training, we had to pick our profession – what would our occupation be in the company – or at least state our desire because most guys didn’t have much choice over this option.
Being drawn to snipers I chose the sharpshooter. Our instructors were talking a lot of frightening stories about them – they never sleep in the tent, they’re constantly on the move, the swamp is their second home, waist deep in mud, they have to steal their food from the enemy’s camp etc. After I was selected, my fate was sealed – with no clue of what it was the right decision had been made.
In our company, there were about 150 men out of whom only one squad of sharpshooters was created. There were 8 of us in total. Our leader, the driver and 6 marksmen. Being selected as one definitely felt like a privilege because there were a lot more applicants.
To Sniper School and Back Again
After the holidays when I and my new squad had returned to the battalion – the rest of the 7 sharpshooters with whom I would have to spend every day for the rest of the service with – were assigned to leave to the sniper school.
This program was quite new in the military system. We were only the 3rd class to enrol and receive this type of training. The course included deployment from other garrisons and divisions as well – there was about 50 of us in total.
The first day was expected to be basic training all over again – yelling, humiliation, all that good stuff that would remind us of our place and rank. However, this wasn’t the case. The instructors here were a lot more reasonable – they spoke to us like normal human beings.
They were all seasoned veterans of war – having fought in Iraq, Afghanistan or both. All of them were snipers – the silent killers from afar. Because of that, they were the perfect candidates to educate us on becoming sharpshooters. By nature, there aren’t a lot of differences between the two professions just one is a notch higher in abilities and firepower. In fact, a sniper has to carry a lot of extra equipment with him, whereas a sharpshooter has adequate fire reach but is still very mobile.
Military service sometimes resembles a lot an ordinary school. There is a lot of theory to be learned before it all can be put into practice. Our introductory class indicated that the knowledge we would acquire will benefit our company a lot.
We were supposed to become the eyes and ears – the ones who would venture behind enemy lines to either gather information or to cause havoc in the rear where they are most vulnerable.
The company commander would only give some guidelines on what he expected – the rest was up to us. He would only tell us: “Put your eyes on it,” – a crossroads, an object, or the enemy cohort. Those words would start to haunt us for the remainder of our service because we never knew for how long we would have to conduct our observation.
Back to school
The first few days were all theory – ballistics, familiarising ourselves with the scope, calculating the wind factor, marching etc. Basically, everything you wouldn’t expect.
I remember talking to some of my friends back in my home battalion about becoming a sharpshooter: „Oh, that’s so unfortunate! You’ll be spending the rest of your service out in the forest with no shelter. I heard you have to go hunt for your own food with a knife.“ All these things were frightening but didn’t scare me away.
This profession was the right choice for me – I always preferred being out in the field rather than in the barracks. There was just more freedom away from the instructors and in the midst of the deep woods.
There was something very heroic in being a sharpshooter – the one who gets put on the most dangerous tasks and is of highest performance. I wasn’t after the glory of being a sniper but the ability to be able to persevere and endure through any adversity.
Basic Training’s Over
Luckily, we were up for a lot more than just theory and ballistics. Even though sitting in a warm classroom is nice and cosy, I and my teammates were eager to go outside the next day as were the instructors. The actual learning happens in the real world.
Despite us levelling up and going outside we didn’t leave the vicinities of the garrison. The only difference was that now we were lying in the dirt with rain pouring down on us while doing the same things as inside – calculating, making observation maps, drawing sectors etc. Apparently, it was just necessary for us to go through.
Remember how reasonable the new instructors were? Well, it was the truth but not all the time. During one of those outside classes, some of the recruits had forgotten to take necessary equipment with them. Being infuriated by this, one of the teachers immediately came up with a punishment – not for the ones responsible but for everyone else. While those misfits were fetching their stuff, the rest of the bunch had to wait in a push-up position. Being quite fit I didn’t find it a problem quite the opposite – it was a great way to get warmer.
„One down, two up. 1….2…..1…………2……….1……………………. Basic training is over!………………Sharpshooters need to be strong as well…………2.“
Minutes passed and only some of the recruits had returned. Eventually when they all did the instructor made them run around the perimeter as well. Everyone was squirming and the arms were shaking. Some couldn’t take it any longer and gave up which granted them a lot of yelling and shaming.
Time passed like a snail as were those running. Finally, after almost a quarter-hour of being in the push-up position, we were allowed to rest. Lying in that dirt never felt more relieving. In retrospect it was very amusing – the guy was just so funny when he said those words to us: “Basic training’s over…”. He was alright but just wanted to make our life more miserable and prepare us for the future.
When the Snow Falls Down
The course was designed to last for 3 weeks two of which were in the vicinity of the garrison and the last one was meant to be a shooting camp out in the field.
After the first few days, we spent the majority of our time outside. Starting with the morning’s physical training which became more and more difficult – not because of the exercises but because a lot of snow had fallen down. And ending with our daily classes.
The temperature was about -20 degrees Celsius – in Fahrenheit just below zero. Running in such conditions was extremely dangerous. The road was as smooth as glass and resembled glaciers. It was hard to maintain balance yet alone build up speed. One of the recruits broke his ankle and had to be removed from the course. We never heard from him again.
Moreover, our bedrooms were quite far away from the diner – a heaping 2 miles which we had to walk for breakfast, lunch and dinner, back and forth. This totalled up to 12 miles a day. Some of the recruits were joking about how we’ll get hungry again on our way back. It was somewhat frustrating with all of the wind blowing in your face but at the same time it made a lot of sense and built up our endurance.
The weather had no influence on the training. All of the classes were still outside and actually increased in intensity. Everything learned was now being put into practice. Our usual assignments consisted of drawing observation maps of large open fields as well as buildings. The point was to create an image that would resemble exactly what was in front of us. We didn’t have to be artists but the picture had to be as realistic as possible.
When that was done we would scan the same landscape and search for anything suspicious. This meant everything that shouldn’t be there – flashlights, helmets, weapons, everything that could be associated with the enemy. This was quite difficult when there was only an open field with a few trees and bushes covered in white snow. Using our binoculars was the only possible way to distinguish the objects from their background and even then it was very hard.
For example, there was a camouflage stick taped to the branch of an oak and a Kevlar buried under the snow with only a small part of it peeking out. Most of the time the instructors were playing a joke on us and testing our hawk-eye abilities. They would always say.: „I just threw a bit of snow on it…” seriously…
Time is of the Essence
During winter there isn’t much daylight. After 4 PM it’s pretty much pitch black. Therefore, everything had to be done quickly and efficiently with no time wasted. When the sun had disappeared we were forced to go inside. This was always a relief because we would be able to get some warmth back into our bodies. Our faces and fingers would remain red and stiff even after spending some time indoors. But this didn’t mean that the training would stop.
The only leisure time we had was after dinner. Before that, we would have to keep drilling whatever we could. Even though we couldn’t be outside there was plenty of time and opportunities to practice.
The exercise consisted of us lying down and aiming at the wall. Our partner would place a coin on the gun barrel. We had to pull the trigger without offsetting the balance and making it fall to the ground. The key was to be as smooth as possible. „Imagine that it’s like the rose-button of a woman,“ said the same instructor who came up with the push-up marathon – he just kept coming up with these puns. It wasn’t difficult at all but nevertheless, we were forced to train. The point was to embed the motion into our psyche as much as possible as well as test our patience. This is what we did every evening – hundreds of blank shots with the occasional sound of metal landing to the floor.
Going to the Field
After 2 weeks we reached the last part of the course. The only thing separating us from our certificates was 5 days of shooting camp. This meant that we would go out of the garrison and into the field.
The site was located at a mining district. The military uses its empty shafts to carry out exercises with live ammunition. Because of its desolate location, it’s perfectly safe to use mortars, grenades and, in the case of us, scoped rifles.
Meanwhile the weather conditions hadn’t improved – instead, they got worse. It was the coldest time of the year and the temperature was at -30 degrees Celsius which is -22 in Fahrenheit or simply put – INSANELY FREEZING. Spending time outside for a long time was actually dangerous not to mention the fact that we would go camping.
To get there we had to drive for several hours which wasn’t pleasant either. We would pack our bags and jump into the back of our trucks like we normally would. There was nothing but a light cover separating us from the winter gale. When we got too cold we would overcome it by creating blood flow in our bodies – this meant either moving our fingers and toes or isometric holds tightening all of our muscles. It worked only to a certain extent but prevented us from completely freezing over.
During one of the pit stops, we would get off the trucks and do some sort of exercise. Sprinting, push ups, jumping – anything to bring a bit of life into our bodies. It was actually incredibly important – if we hadn’t done it then our limbs would’ve surely fallen off.
One of the recruits actually almost would’ve. When he went to take a piss on one of those breaks he accidentally fell into a small pond covered with ice. His boots became incredibly soaked and he made the biggest mistake imaginable – not changing them for dry ones. Combining the low temperature with moisture enhances its effects and makes it lethal. Like a moron, he didn’t tell anyone about this accident either and continued on in the back of the truck. When we got to the camping site his toes had literally turned blue – he probably didn’t even feel them anymore. The instructors examined his feet and decided to send him away to a medical facility. If he were to stay, he would have surely lost his feet to amputation. Luckily it didn’t happen as he managed to get warmth just in time but he never returned to the camp.
The Cold Winter Nights
Having reached our destination, we looked at the place that would become our home for the next 5 days. It was quite a miserable sight. The mining district consisted of a series of shafts into one of which we settled down. The ground was solid rock and very moist with some ponds nearby. The mounds hid us from the piercing wind but at the same time, the temperature was a lot lower than at the top.
Daylight was starting to vanish and we were in a hurry to set up our tents. Because of the incident that had happened earlier, the instructors didn’t want to take any more risks concerning our safety and therefore told us to heat up the ovens and retire for the night. Those orders didn’t have to be said twice.
After the sunset, the temperature dropped. The oven had to be constantly kept burning in order for us to have enough warmth for the night. We would always joke that the metal had to turn into the colour of a strawberry – then it was just enough.
To say that the firewood wasn’t good would be an understatement – it was frozen and quite bad. In order for the timber to pick up some fire, it needed to be chopped down into miniature pieces. Bigger logs could only be added once the blaze had increased in size and the oven took up its red colour.
When night had fallen we were simply sitting in our sleeping bags and talking to each other. Inside the tents, it was actually quite cosy. When the door was opened even for a second you could feel the wind creeping in making everyone inside to shiver. The temperature was so low that the water in our canister and the food in our tins would freeze and had to be melted down.
However, we didn’t get to spend the rest of the night inside the tents. Not being surrounded by the walls of the garrison a patrol had to be put out. There was a lot of live ammunition to be guarded and the instructors’ oven kept warm. The schedule consisted of 30-minute shifts with 2 people o the post, as any longer would’ve been dangerous.
The most difficult thing wasn’t the cold per se but to be woken up in the middle of the night inside a warm tent knowing that you would have to go out there. It was quite miserable but nothing could’ve been done about it either.
Usually, the sky was completely clear with a full moon – exceptionally beautiful. Everything was quiet with the occasional sound coming from one of the tents. The weather wasn’t kind to us – it was extremely cold. I and my partner would just walk around the camping site and often do push ups. The conversations held weren’t very interesting. Either consisting of speculations about the temperature, the time or whether or not we should go to the instructors’ tent.
Those were the only bearable moments of the patrols. You could go inside and put a few logs into their oven. You always wanted to do it as slowly as possible. Crawl inside, pick up the firewood, lift up the lid and put it in. Not only didn’t you want to wake them up but you wanted to spend as much time in the warmth as possible.
It was enjoyable but at the same time quite bad because it lasted only for a brief moment. After a while staying outside, you began to accept the cold – it didn’t seem as bad then at first. It was incredibly uncomfortable and freezing but at the same time not enough to kill us. After our shift, we got back to our own tent and woke up the next miserable 2 who would have to replace us. Sleep never felt better before even though it was quite short.
Doing as Much as Possible.
For the next five days, we would do the same things we had been doing for the last 2 weeks – measuring distances, drawing, searching for objects etc. The only difference was that now we also got to shoot with our scoped rifles. It was actually quite fun.
We would take our rounds, run to the targets, examine the results, make adjustments, take notes and repeat it over and over again for as long as we had daylight. Because it was scarce everything had to be done quickly. „Fast! Fast!“ and „The swifter you act the more you’ll accomplish!“ the instructors would often say. I don’t know whether or not it’s the sharpshooter profession or the cold, but those guys just kept those type of quotes coming all day.
It was difficult to use the pencil with gloves on not to mention pulling the trigger so I did it with my bare fingers. It yielded much better results but at the same time caused a lot of frostbites. Even many years afterwards I’m suffering from it. Whenever my hands get exposed to even a little bit of cold they turn scarlet red and bear small scars. I feared that it would stay with me for the rest of my life but luckily only recently the symptoms have started to withdraw.
All of the activities were preparing us for the exam which would grant us our certificates. A full on test had to be undergone which would consist of crawling to the shooting spot, identifying the target in the landscape, measuring its distance, adjusting the scope accordingly, aiming at it, taking the shot and withdrawing – all of that with a time limit. Because of the intense practice done beforehand, it didn’t seem difficult.
However, the weather conditions had gotten a lot worse. Because of the incident with the guy who almost lost his toes the instructors were very careful about exposing us to the cold. For this reason, they decided to postpone the exam. We would get to do it later in our own battalions.
At the end of the day it didn’t matter when we got our certificates but to be honest it was quite frustrating. We had to endure all of that and not even get to officially finish the course. Each and every one of us would have agreed on taking the exam despite the weather. We had already come this far. Nevertheless, nothing could’ve been done.
Getting the Hell out of There
After 5 days of camping, time had come for us to leave. Even though we didn’t get to take our exam we were still very happy to get the hell out of there. The winter hadn’t become kinder and being in that shaft for any longer was out of the question. We would clear the site, pack our tents and prepare for departure.
This was the point where the course would be officially concluded. We were all lined up – the 50 of us from different divisions – who now had become sharpshooters. Without the certificate for now, but nonetheless.
The instructors gave a short recap of the major events and lessons learned. Tips to remember when creating observational maps which had been embedded into our memory and why it isn’t wise to fall into a pond in the middle of the winter. They thanked us and wished the best for the rest of our civil service. The knowledge gained would be very useful for our companies.
After saying our goodbyes to everyone we got into the back of our trucks again. This time the journey ahead of us was even longer. The trip from the shaft to our home battalion took about 4 hours which we had to endure through. Because of the cold we had all taken out our sleeping bags and were lying next to each other for the entire time. The cold was as freezing as before but knowing that soon we would reach indoors kept us warm. Lying in a fetal position was the best way to preserve as much heat as possible.
After finally reaching our home battalion we were quite excited. Everyone else had already finished their speciality courses – some of them were medics, mortar teams, machine gunners etc. Everyone had a position in the company.
We got to see old friends who were surprised to see us. They thought they would never hear from the sharpshooters again but they were wrong – we were back and better than ever before. The things learned and suffered made us invaluable. We figured that after sniper school the rest of the civil service would be a breeze – which it most certainly was.
Life Lessons Learned at Sniper School
Writing this story many years later makes the experience seem even more profound and useful. A lot of things had to be endured but it was useful.
Here are a few key points to take away from this story which is most important.
- Get comfortable being uncomfortable. (Read on how to do it) Whether lying in the dirt, sleeping in the snow, falling into swamps, working out, reading books, public speaking or doing anything that we would much rather not prefer to – it doesn’t matter. This will determine the way we handle anything that life throws at us. We’re preparing ourselves for situations that are not perfect and won’t be perished by the difficulties.
- Adversity is to be expected and welcomed. Challenges are an inevitable part of life. Moreover, they make us who we are. There is a difference in yielding to obstacles and overcoming them. The former implies to coping with reality while the latter is thriving despite it and self-empowerment. This will make you antifragile by nature – you’re not afraid of chaos because you know that it will only make you stronger and better.
- It is easier to do it the hard way. As humans, we always want to take the path of least resistance and move away from pain towards pleasure. However, this conditions us in a negative way. Without adversity, we would get too soft. In the long run having it tough will make us more able to overcome any obstacle.
- Always be prepared. Expect for the worst case scenario to happen and already come up with solutions to deal with it beforehand. Never get out of shape or unable to train. Never think that you’ve made it with financial affluence, fitness, your mindset or relationships. You have to maintain them constantly as to not take them for granted. Always keep yourself ready both physically and mentally.
- Always over-deliver. Later in my service, our company leader would give us many assignments because he knew we would always get it over with. He would usually say: “Put your eyes on it.” But we would always over-deliver and exceed his expectations. At one time, we were assigned to go out on a simple routinely patrol but ended up with imprisoning an entire enemy squad. At others, we lurked in between swamps behind the enemy lines, discovered their armoured vehicles and called mortar rounds on them. This is crucial here because any fool can endure comfort and simply grind through. It’s more important to be able to perform under those same conditions.
- We’re a lot more durable than we give ourselves credit for. A lot of the time it is our mind that gets in our own way. This applies to physical and mental activities – our maximum is always higher than we think. If we are forced to suffer freezing weather or pain with no way out then the only thing we can do is to simply adapt and endure.
- Putting in more effort will yield extraordinary results. After coming to the realisation that we’re powerful beyond measure exceeding ourselves becomes easy. It’s important to always give our best. Pushing our boundaries further will make us grow and make us better. Never have I regretted taking the extra step or rep further despite the difficulty.
- Pain, as well as comfort, are temporary. Whether we’re experiencing physical hardship or cosiness it doesn’t matter. The workout will reach its end, the weather will get warmer, the feeling of safety and dryness will soon be replaced by freezing conditions – everything will be replaced by its polar opposite one way or the other. By realising this we will be able to endure for longer as well as appreciate the comfort we’re currently in more.
- The person beyond our comfort zone is awesome. Continuing on the previous bullet point. If we put in just a little bit of effort and exceed our limitations then we begin to see ourselves differently. We are more capable and confident in our own abilities. Success and self-love become a habit.
- Take yourself amusingly seriously. You should always maintain an elusive balance between being serious about what you do and at the same time being able to laugh at yourself. We were in very harsh conditions but we always managed to find a good laugh in everything we did. The instructors’ comments were amusing as well. Work hard but detach yourself from the outcome.
- We’re all incredibly lucky. If you’re reading this, then you probably have no idea how fortunate you really are. My sniper course lasted for a month, yet it felt like an eternity. It wasn’t even a real conflict or war zone. It was just training. After graduating, I attained a new perspective on life – to not take anything for granted and to protect my family from the challenges I had to go through. I felt more obliged to start giving back more and to make the world a better place so that there would be no necessity for warfare.
- Most importantly, I understood that we should all be striving towards making the world a safer and better place for everyone. Being a soldier isn’t the best way of bringing peace. We have to leave that shadow behind. Partly, there I found some purpose of starting my work of empowering myself and others. At least it got amplified even more.
After going through that 1 month of hardship I improved the quality of the rest of my life. It increased my mental toughness to a limit where I felt invincible and independent of external forces. My mind became a citadel and I truly believe that anything else can hardly be called challenging in comparison to what I went through at sniper school.
This concludes the story about my time at the sniper school. This makes up only a small part of my civil service. A lot more stories can be expected in the future. Like said in the introduction it definitely had a major influence on my growth as a person. Not only did I learn more about myself but improved my outlook on life as well. Hopefully, this read and lessons learned will benefit you as well.
If you want to learn how to develop similar physical and mental fitness, then you should check out my free e-book called Body Mind Agoge, which is based on a similar warrior philosophy. It’s holistic personal development and high performance.