The Sniper Mind: Eliminate Fear, Deal with Uncertainty, and Make Better Decisions

The Sniper Mind: Eliminate Fear, Deal with Uncertainty, and Make Better Decisions

by David Amerland

Hardcover

$25.19 $27.99 Save 10% Current price is $25.19, Original price is $27.99. You Save 10%.
View All Available Formats & Editions
Use Standard Shipping. For guaranteed delivery by December 24, use Express or Expedited Shipping.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250113672
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 11/07/2017
Pages: 432
Sales rank: 324,195
Product dimensions: 5.70(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.50(d)

About the Author

David Amerland is a business journalist, author, and international speaker. He blogs about social media and search engine optimization; writes for a number of prominent websites, including Forbes.com; and advises corporations on their social media crisis management techniques.

Jonathan Cowley is a British actor based in Los Angeles. He has received AudioFile Earphones Awards for his narration of The Science of Evil by Simon Baron-Cohen, The Tower, the Zoo and the Tortoise by Julia Stuart and The Angry Chef's Guide to spotting Bullsh*t in the World of Food by Anthony Warner.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

Seeking a Competitive Advantage: Develop a Sniper Mentality That Makes You Controlled, Analytical, and Effective

The valley of Musa Qala is at the central western part of the district by the same name in Helmand Province in Afghanistan. At an elevation of 3,422 feet (1,043 meters) above sea level it is an inhospitable, mostly dry place, whose rough terrain is boiling hot in the summer months and freezing cold in the winter. During the Taliban resurgence it was also the place that saw some of the most intense fighting between Afghan troops, the British forces supporting them, and the Taliban.

Musa Qala means "Fortress of Moses." A Google search of it brings up images of ragged mountain men dressed in robes and turbans brandishing AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades. British troops come up, too, framed against different backgrounds. Their state-of-the-art vehicles, body armor, and modern equipment is in stark contrast to the ancient, often dilapidated places captured in the images behind them. There is a sense of desolation associated with Musa Qala. There is a faded, washed-out look and feel to the place that is the clearest indicator of how far removed it is from anything we are familiar with in our Western, urban lifestyles. The very name makes it destined for a starring role in either a first-person shooter video game or the kind of mythology military regimental history is made of.

For British Corporal of Horse Craig Harrison, both analogies apply, equally. It was a November morning in 2009, two years after British forces had driven the Taliban from the area and the newly formed Afghan army was being taught how to take control. The usual patrol would be a few dozen Afghan soldiers on foot, backed by a handful of British troops in armed patrol vehicles. Sometimes they would be overwatched by a sniper, his invisible presence adding an extra multiplier to the power of the punch a modern military force can deliver.

In modern warfare, overwatching is a force protection tactic: one small unit or military vehicle supports another unit as that unit executes fire and movement tactics. The overwatching, or supporting unit takes up a position where it can observe the terrain ahead, especially likely enemy positions, and provide either covering fire or warning shots.

As Harrison recounted later, it was a perfect day for shooting. It was clear with great visibility and not much crosswind. Positioned in a crumbling old wall on a hill, he was a good mile and a half away from where the British troops and the Afghan forces, which they were supporting, were deployed, dug in with his spotter right beside him.

He'd watched the troops for some time as they made their slow, painstaking way across the treacherous ground. Although there was little obviously amiss that day, Harrison knew that Afghanistan was never predictable. Days have a way of turning into nightmares very quickly in that region.

Any ambush worth its name has to happen with as little warning as possible. If Musa Qala is hard to navigate on foot, it is even harder to navigate through the crosshairs of a sniper scope that is situated more than a mile away. Under the clear light of an unblinking sun, the nondescript background of the region leeches contrasts out of the scoped image and creates a homogenous backdrop that appears to blur with the passage of time. Shadows thrown by the changing light of the sun's movement tire the eyes and make the terrain feel uncertain. Deep gullies weathered by time offer impenetrable darkness. Static objects acquire moving shadows. Like much of Afghanistan the landscape reveals itself and hides in plain sight at the same time. It offers up everything to look at and still gives you nothing of substance to see.

When the ambush came Harrison almost did not notice it at first. The Taliban had chosen the spot with care. The Afghan army soldiers and their British escort were overlooked by hills. They were at the farthest point of their sweep from base and nearly one and a half miles away from their sniper overwatch.

As muzzle flashes started to register and bullets started to rain on the metal hulls of the British vehicles, Afghan and British soldiers alike melted frantically into the landscape. They tried to make themselves seem inconspicuous. Invisible. Harrison, from his sniping position, had a clear eye view of the ambush site and things did not look good. He was galvanized into action.

A layperson conditioned by a lifetime of exposure to Hollywood films has an imperfect and flawed understanding of a sniper and what he does. Films, out of necessity, focus on the equipment. There are the weapons, the crosshairs hovering over a target, the bullets being slowly loaded into the gun, the rifle sights being set. The scope that magically brings a target that's far, far away into sharp relief, almost as if he is standing in front of the camera (which in Hollywood films, he is). They build up a picture that projects almost omnipotent power. They lead us to believe that the moment the crosshairs align on a target a sniper can't miss. It's not quite like that, as we shall see.

THE IMPOSSIBLE SHOT

The history of sniping, in contrast to Hollywood lore, has consistently delivered a pattern of exceptionalism in many of its feats. Snipers have always managed to do more with less. In sniper history, across the ages, a scenario repeats itself. Working under pressure, against the odds snipers manage to transcend the realms of the ordinarily human and enter into a different plane altogether.

The pattern that often repeats itself across history, cultures, and countries, has distinct moving parts. There is no underestimating the enormity of the task facing a sniper. Becoming familiar with just five of the variables that make up each shot, however, helps us understand it a little better. In many cases they appear all at once. In others only a couple pop up, but they are at their most extreme:

Impossible conditions — The weather's too hot or too cold for your average battle conditions, placing the human body under instant, physical stress. There are crosswinds or updrafts. There is glare or the visibility is poor. Nature is simply refusing to play ball. The terrain is too flat or too mountainous. Its colors are monochromatic, making it difficult to spot movement from a distance.

High stakes — Lives are about to be lost. Friends are in danger. Comrades are under attack, besieged from all sides and, sometimes, wounded and running out of ammo. The sniper himself may be coming under fire or he may be behind enemy lines, operating on the fly, without a spotter. The myriad calculations of each shot now resting only with him.

A ticking clock — Time is never on the sniper's side. The situation is always tense. Anxiety levels are always high. It is only a matter of time before a position is overrun and colleagues are killed or captured. A high explosive device is being placed in the path of an unsuspecting patrol or a machine gun that's pinned down friendlies needs to be silenced. There is never enough time for the careful deliberation and planning we see in the movies.

Changing variables — As if having to calculate all the variables that can affect a shot isn't enough, the variables themselves keep on changing. Targets move. The wind changes. The situation on the ground becomes worse. The sniper who lingers too long over his calculations risks never getting off a shot that will do any good to anyone.

Distant targets — The universe has a sense of humor. It doesn't matter how powerful a sniper's rifle may be. How high energy the ammunition being used is. When the crisis hits the sniper will always have to take a shot that's beyond his weapon's effective range and somehow still make it work.

If this were a Hollywood set piece, all of this would add up to the scene titled "The Impossible Shot."

Being a sniper in these circumstances is not only not glamorous or punctuated by the kind of tense deliberation that Hollywood films make out but, as any gamer who's into first-person shooters will attest to, adrenaline and excitement alongsidethe tension of the game create overreactions that force obvious mistakes. A sniper attempting a shot that's against the odds has to battle a combination of all the difficult conditions the situation throws up to his face, plus his own human nature.

There is a Rudyard Kipling poem called "If —". It was written in 1895 and its opening stanza goes:

If you can keep your head when all about you Are losing theirs ...

In his autobiography Kipling left clues that it had been inspired by Leander Starr Jameson who was to become the tenth prime minister of the Cape Colony in what today is South Africa and the man who led the failed Jameson Raid that sparked the Boer War. Kipling might as well have been thinking of snipers. "If —" is an inspirational poem about enjoying a natural competitive advantage through discipline of thought.

On the morning of November 2009, as his comrades came under attack, Craig Harrison may not have been thinking of Rudyard Kipling. His brain, engaged in its calculations, had little capacity to think of itself and the situation he was in, in terms of poetry or Hollywood films. He was, however, about to exhibit exactly the extraordinary type of mental discipline and concentration that Kipling's poem celebrates.

As he watched the ambush unfold through the lens of his sniper scope, he did indeed, keep his head. His training coolly took over and he started doing what he had been conditioned to do. Over the course of three hours Harrison used his long-distance and elevated position to harass and suppress as much of the enemy as he could in an attempt to create opportunities that would help his fellow soldiers escape. It was at the end of that three-hour stint, when human concentration levels begin to flag and mental and psychological fatigue kick in, however, that Craig Harrison made shooting history.

The Taliban had managed to set up a two-man machine gun in an elevated, well-covered position on a hillside. From there it started bringing down a hail of fire on the exposed British soldiers in the plain below, pinning them down in the open. The British unit that Harrison had been protecting up to that point was suddenly threatened with being overrun.

Through the scope of his rifle Craig Harrison could see the men behind the machine gun, lying prone on the ground. He knew that he did not have a lot of time to do something to help the troops pinned by the machine gun's withering fire. The problem he was facing, however, was one of distance. The L115A3 long-range rifle Harrison was using is designed to achieve a first-round hit at 2,000 feet (600 meters) and harassing fire out to 3,600 feet (1,100 meters). British snipers have recorded kill shots with it at 5,000 feet (1,500 meters). The machine gun Harrison was looking to silence that day, however, was positioned more than 3,000 feet (900 meters) beyond that range.

As he recalled in The Longest Kill, the book he wrote about his time in Afghanistan: "All the evidence said that it couldn't be done; that this shot was impossible. It was far outside the recognized range of the rifle."

I was out of adjustment in my scope and my position was appalling. Every time the rifle recoiled a little chunk of wall broke away and I had to hold the bipod with my left hand just to stop it falling off. Accurate shooting is all about the minimal transference of interference to the weapon. I was struggling with that one today.

None of all this factored consciously into Harrison's thinking. All too aware of the catastrophic scene that was about to unfold he was busy changing the settings on his scope. To make things interesting, along with the five factors that make up our staged Hollywood "impossible shot" scene we shall now add a slightly more technical sixth. It's called the Coriolis effect. Put most simply, the Earth rotates. It spins around its axis at a speed which at the equator reaches 1,040 miles per hour. When we turn and talk to a person standing next to us they appear stationary because we are both connected to the planet. We are both standing on it. So the relative speed of our friend and ourselves is exactly the same. Like two speeding trains running side by side at the exact same speed, objects with the same relative speed do not appear to move at all. But this courtesy does not extend to flying bullets.

The moment a bullet leaves the barrel of a gun it is on its own. It is not connected to the planet. Whatever momentum it carries with it from its time in the gun barrel is constantly bled off with distance while the sniper who fired it and the target he fired it toward, continue to speed, along with the planet at speeds of up to a thousand plus miles per hour.

For Harrison the problem was compounded further. The advertised muzzle velocity of his gun is 3,070 feet per second (936 meters per second). It sounds like a lot but it's not constant. With no other motive force beyond the initial velocity of its firing a bullet's reach is a factor of its weight, height, angle of elevation, air temperature, muzzle velocity, and the temperature of the bullet itself. At that speed and with no other factors to take into account, a target's drift due to the Coriolis effect is just a few inches to the left or right (depending on the Earth's hemisphere the sniper is in) and up or down (depending on his elevation). The Coriolis effect is at its maximum at the Poles and totally negligible at the Earth's equator.

Afghanistan is approximately halfway between the North Pole and the equator and the Coriolis effect can produce noticeable drift there. At the distance Craig Harrison was shooting from that day, when combined with all the other factors he had to take into account and the bullet's six seconds of flight time to reach its target, it made all the difference between scoring a hit and a complete miss.

As I am writing all this I am introducing each element sequentially, building up the picture of that day one careful sentence at a time. This is not how it happened however. The day Harrison made sniper history everything was happening at once. He was mentally and physically fatigued, anxious, pressured by time and constrained by distance and the limitations of his equipment. Because of the extreme range he was shooting at, his scope was of little use to him. The target was beyond its settings so he had to fire test shots, see how they flew there and where they hit, gauge what adjustments he should make manually using guesswork and his own knowledge and experience, and fire again, hoping his guesswork had made an improvement possible.

Yet, within less time than it's taken you to read and digest all this, he'd fired off nine shots to gauge firing conditions and find the range.

One of those shots found its mark. The bullet flew across the 8,120 feet (2,475 meters) separating Harrison from the enemy machine gun position, its flight path changed by the day's heat, the updrafts it was encountering, the temperature of the gun barrel and the Coriolis effect, and curved all the way to the man lying in the prone position behind the machine gun. It had been unerringly guided by a mind that in that moment of extreme stress calculated everything and fired off a shot into the future so that the bullet would intersect with where the target was going to be.

And then, as if this seemingly superhuman feat was not enough, Harrison repeated it a few seconds later, neutralizing the second of the two-man team who'd taken up the machine gun and cementing his name in military history with an identical shot.

How?

When it comes to snipers there is a virtually universal air of quiet confidence that goes hand in hand with the seemingly superhuman way with which they deal with problems, stress, and human limitations. Understand this: the problems we face challenge who we are. Sometimes they are technical and we are worried that we don't have the skill set, qualities, and tenacity to see them through, and at other times they are circumstantial and we are afraid they will make us fail by first showing to ourselves and then to anyone who happens to be watching just how weak and powerless we are.

This is the internal monologue of self-destruction. Problems are not problems faced outside ourselves. They are problems that cast deep shadows inside us first. If we cannot find a way to deal with those shadows, the problems appear overwhelming. They raise up fears we all secretly have that can tear us apart.

IMPOSSIBLE IS AN OPINION

One man who faced perhaps more than his share of self-doubting fears and had to struggle to master them was the late Muhammad Ali. Distilling the kind of attitude that allowed him to overcome severe practical limitations in his life and become the heavyweight boxing champion of the world three times, he had this to say on the subject of impossibility: "Impossible is not a fact. It's an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It's a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing."

(Continues…)



Excerpted from "The Sniper Mind"
by .
Copyright © 2017 David Amerland.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Introduction XI

1 Seeking a Competitive Advantage 1

2 Choosing the Battlefield 42

3 The RIght Tools for the Job 73

4 Smarts 120

5 Science 151

6 Mind 183

7 Fortitude 211

8 Preparation 234

9 Response 264

10 Structure 287

11 Feeling 309

12 Performance 335

Afterword 359

Acknowledgments 363

Appendix 1 365

Appendix II 369

Appendix III 373

Appendix IV 377

Appendix V 379

Bibliography 381

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews