Ghost school. This is how the military elite are trained

The Major has little time to talk. A course for sharpshooters is in progress, and he is responsible for making sure no cog in the machine is jammed. The training is supposed to go according to plan.

– Just no names,” stipulates Major. He explains that he doesn’t want anyone to tell his child that his father is training murderers. We also won’t give either the number of participants or the courses held, so as not to reveal information about how many sharpshooters the Polish army has. However, we can talk about what the aim of the course is.

– So that each soldier who finishes it is able to protect his colleagues from the platoon – says Major. According to the old soldier’s adage: the more sweat during the training, the less blood in battle. Because this job is not about killing at all.

There used to be an artillery brigade here. A little out of the way, away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Later, when the army was undergoing a weight-loss treatment, some of the buildings were handed over by the army to the city, while the remaining ones house one of the complexes of the Artillery and Armament Training Center. The training ground begins behind the fence.

It was this vast area that made the Canadian army instructors choose Torun as the best place for training sharpshooters. Today the training ground in Toruñ hosts shooting operations with TRG-21/22 SAKO 7,62 mm caliber, kbw Bor/Alex and 12,7 mm wkbw Wilk/Tor at a distance of up to 1200 m. The Center’s press officer Capt. Tomasz Kisiel tells about its history.

– In 2008, after the experiences of 17th Wielkopolska Mechanized Brigade in Iraq, on the initiative of the then Brigade Commander General Mirosław Różański, a course for sharpshooters was established. In 2011 it was transformed into EOD Training Center. Not only the name but also the location was changed: from Wędrzyn to Toruń – recalls Captain Kisiel.

The center training riflemen gained not only access to the training ground in Toruń, but also new instructors, who graduated from one of the most difficult courses of the Canadian army – Basic Sniper Course at the Infantry School in Gagetown. Currently, seven instructors have Canadian sniper qualifications, and two officers (a cycle leader and a lecturer) have been multiple observers of Canadian sniper training and competitions.

– The Selective Rifle Training Centre is part of the Artillery and Armament Training Centre in Toruń,” explains Captain Arkadiusz Żuchowski, the commander. He ensures that the trainees are provided with accommodation, equipment and vehicles. The training is conducted by a Major and a Captain.

– The course is tough – admits the commander. On average, every second candidate for a gunner drops out.

Theory and practice

The training lasts nine weeks. Each day is described in detail. The program is arranged so that the next task requires skills from the previous one. The second week of the course has just begun, so theoretical classes prevail. Over the next two months the soldiers will learn the basics of ballistics, handling of small arms, tactics, camouflage and stealthy approaching the enemy in the field, tracking, building hiding places and accurate fire from the weapons they have. During observation classes, the instructor will have them detect objects scattered in the field, and during memorization exercises they will be asked the number of windows in a building they recently passed by.

– A soldier has a better chance of survival if he is observant,” explains the Major.

In the corridor by the wall lie in a row the course participants’ rifles – Alex, SAKO-TRG 21, FN SCAR H, most painted in green and brown camouflage patterns. Ballistics training is in progress in the lecture hall. Topic: pulling the trigger.

– We fire a shot on the exhalation – explains the Captain. He is the one who conducts both the combat ammunition shooting classes on the firing range and the theoretical ones on shooting.

– On exhalation – repeats the Captain. – Write it down in red letters – he says and discusses the most common mistakes made when a soldier squeezes the trigger: unstable posture, hyperventilation of the lungs causing dizziness, letting the trigger down too quickly. In three rows sit the students, some taking notes, others listening. There are two officers of the Government Protection Bureau among them. Next week they will check their knowledge on the firing range.

Classes on the firing range begin with shooting on accuracy and focus at a distance of 100 m. Captain explains that five consecutive shots have to be as close to each other as possible.

– We develop in the soldier the recurrence of the shot – he says. – We first set up at a distance of 100 to 600 m, and then move on to shooting at an unspecified distance. Eight targets are set up at distances from 200 to 600 m. The soldier’s task is to measure the distance and fire five shots at each target. To get a very good mark you need to score at least 36 points, to get a good mark you need to score from 28 to 31 points.

Private Rafał K. came from the 12th Brigade:

– I have always been interested in marksmanship, I have read a lot about it. During the course I confront theoretical knowledge with practice. During marches with compass in the field he was perfecting map handling. When he passes the course, he hopes to be useful in the brigade as an instructor, for example during the classes at the shooting range. However, he does not think about it yet, because tomorrow the classes on camouflage clothing start.

Each student gets a small book – a handbook of a sharpshooter. It is not only a compendium of knowledge, but also a logbook with a record of shots fired. All soldiers enter their results here.

After a short break, the next training begins. The Sergeant enters the room. The topic: distance measurement. The sergeant orders a class. He wants to check whether the soldiers have mastered the knowledge he has given them so far. The lecturer gives the data needed to calculate the distance to the target: the height of the target and its angular height. Time to complete the task: four minutes. Not everyone has calculated correctly, and in a few days the first shooting classes.

– Each of you can see where you are at,” the instructor concludes.

– Stealthy approach to the target is the most difficult exercise to pass – admits Major.

– We are grading the difficulty. The first exercises take place in a wooded area, where it is easier to hide. Observers, 150 m away, look through binoculars for camouflaged students. The major recalls a soldier who had an exceptional talent for camouflage, a kind of seventh sense. However, he was so accurate that he didn’t fit into the allotted time. He dropped out, but came back for correction.

The Catcher in the Rye

A localized sniper is a dead sniper. That’s why camouflage is so important. During the course, soldiers learn that it must be adjusted to the season, vegetation and terrain conditions. The camouflage outfit must be supplemented with vegetation from the area where the shooter is moving, such as clover, grain, grass, and leaves. The major admits that it is a difficult art. A soldier who shoots well but masks poorly will live a shorter life than one who masks well but shoots less well.

The course does not end with an exam. From exercises, which instructors give them to do, soldiers must pass at least half. Otherwise they drop out. Sometimes through no fault of their own. This is when a positive review from the Major saves their skin in their home unit. Like, for example, the soldier who was detected by an observer and failed the exercise because there was a broken bottle in front of him, which he did not see, and the sun reflected in the glass gave away his position.

The captain compares the training to driving a car: on the first day the trainee learns to turn the steering wheel, on the second to operate the pedals, and on the third to look under the hood. These activities are seemingly unrelated, but each skill is necessary.

– During the course’s final two days of tactical training, we put the trainees in a car and tell them to go to town and put everything they’ve learned together,” explains the captain vividly. They operate in the field as a section of sharpshooters: they are given a task, they move around, set up observation posts, and relay information to the command post,” explains the Captain.

– Passing the course, however, is the beginning of a shooter’s journey, the Major believes. A soldier must develop the acquired skills. – I have 24 years of service and I am still learning and gaining new experience – he says.

The devil in the sights

The Major does not understand why in the Polish Land Forces there are only sharpshooters and no snipers. 90% of the work of both consists of observation.

– In fact we train snipers, who are in the subdivisions of mechanized and motorized battalions, in the team of sharpshooters – he says.

Candidates for marksmen are chosen by commanders.

– They have to be sure if the soldier has the right predispositions and character traits, which are important in the service of a sharpshooter – explains one of the instructors of the Selective Rifle Training Series in the Artillery and Armament Training Center in Toruń, who also wishes to remain anonymous.

What qualities should a sharpshooter have?

– Like a sniper, he must be patient, stress-resistant and observant, the Major and Captain agree. His job is long hours spent observing, in constant tension, focus and sense of danger. Sharpshooters see more, shoot further and more accurately than a “normal” soldier. Physical, but also mental resistance is important.

– A sharpshooter cannot think about who his target is, if he has a family, where he lives. Otherwise he will go crazy, because just shooting a person is a huge burden,” stresses the instructor.

Some people think that marksmen and snipers are lone wolves. Others see them as members of a team, who like a guardian angel support their colleagues from a distance. There are also those who see them as devilish. It is not without reason that the hallmark of the Selective Rifle Training Series is the devil, whose face is in the crosshairs of the rifle scope.

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