Long-range precision shooters may be interested to hear the U.S. Army recently announced the successful graduation on November 5, 2021 of its first female soldier from the U.S. Army Sniper Course at Fort Benning, Georgia. The Army has declined to identify the soldier, a member of the Montana National Guard.
“We are extremely proud of this soldier’s achievement and recognize that this is a milestone for not only Montana, but the entire National Guard and Army,” said Montana National Guard Adjutant General Maj. Gen. J. Peter Hronek in a press release.
While a precedent for the U.S. Army, training — and deploying — female combat snipers is not new, dating back at least 80 years to World War II, when the Soviet Union fielded nearly 2,500 women snipers to notable effect against the Germans in Eastern Europe. Among them, Lyudmila Pavlichenko is perhaps the most famous for achieving 309 confirmed kills in less than a year, from summer of 1941 to the following summer. Also remarkable, she is credited with 36 enemy sniper kills, which may rank her as the most successful counter sniper in history.
Training for WWII Soviet snipers, however, was necessarily hurried, and many trainees had no pre-military marksmanship training, being simply drafted into their sniping roles as a matter of administrative convenience. Of those 2,500 Soviet Army women snipers, apparently only about 500 survived the war, which equates to a staggering 80 percent casualty rate. That illustrates the fact that marksmanship is only one important facet of a sniper’s skill set; fieldcraft and the ability to remain unlocalized even when detected is critically important to a sniper’s survival.
As an example, in his memoirs, Sniper on the Eastern Front, German Army sniper Sepp Allerberger relates an WWII incident where Soviet snipers in tree tops expertly picked off exposed German infantrymen, but their muzzle blasts disturbing the tree leaves revealed their positions. Throughout the day, Allerberger shot 13 snipers out of the trees. The Soviets abandoned the area and their dead by evening, and when Allerberger took the opportunity to examine the Soviet sniper corpses, he discovered all 13 were women soldiers. “They were excellent marksmen, but inexperienced snipers,” he wrote. He was 19 years old at the time. Allerberger’s comment underscores the need for thorough, comprehensive training of snipers, which is the role of the U.S. Army Sniper Course.
The idea of an American female sniper serves as a kind of “chauvinism check” of our national attitudes. While we generally think of men as the warriors, women combatants, too, can demonstrate implacable ferocity. Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant Carlos Hathcock, one of the most famous snipers to emerge from the Vietnam War, documented in his book Marine Sniper: 93 Confirmed Kills, his hunt for and killing of the Viet Cong “Apache Woman,” notorious for her pitiless torturing to death of American prisoners. As for marksmanship, competition shooters see women leading the pack and taking top honors in many of the disciplines, proving there is nothing gender-specific in such skills.
I asked a friend, a retired U.S. Army Ranger sniper with more than 70 confirmed kills, what he thought about female snipers in the U.S. Army. “I don’t know what to think about that,” he said, “I have mixed feelings. Is it because it’s ‘equal opportunity employment’ or because of other reasons?”
“The soldier met every standard required to graduate the United States Army Sniper Course,” said Capt. David Wright, Battalion Commander, U.S. Army Sniper School, in an official statement. “She arrived prepared for training and physically conditioned to succeed. We are proud of the results of her efforts and the quality training provided by the Sniper Course cadre. We wish her luck as she heads back to her unit as a U.S. Army Sniper Course-qualified Sniper.”
Similar to the experiences of her WWII Soviet sniper antecedents, the unidentified Montana National Guard soldier has less than a year’s experience in the Army, having enlisted in December 2020. The U.S. Army has not indicated she will actually be deployed as a sniper, but if she is, she will have earned the achievement of being America’s first female professional combat sniper.
Photo: A M110 Semi-Automatic Sniper System (SASS) is ready for use as soldiers from the 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, prepare to qualify at Grezelka Range in June 2013 during a five-week U.S. Army Mobile Sniper School. The M110 SASS will soon make way for the lighter, more compact M110A1 CSASS, which should be completely rolled out by next year. (Photo courtesy Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson Public Affairs/DVIDSHUB.net)
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