Monday, April 13, 2009

Sniper Fire

There are still a number of details missing from the rescue of Captain Richard Phillips of the container ship Maersk Alabama.

What we do know as of this writing is that a U.S. Navy Seal sniper team took out three of the pirates on board the life raft. A fourth pirate is in custody because he was on board the USS Bainbridge negotiating.

At the outset we civilians need to understand this is a very difficult shooting environment. The snipers have the high ground, so to speak, since they were positioned higher on the US Navy ship.

The ship rolls and pitches depending on the wave swells of the sea. So does the little lifeboat even though in this case it was being towed in the smoother wake of the destroyer. It is still a very difficult shot.

Many years ago as a reporter for WCBS-TV, the CBS owned and operated flagship in New York, I did a story on sniper training at a regional facility in New York State. It was a privately run facility organized and commanded by a former member of the Green Berets.

I spent a few hours learning about the sniper weapon itself, the type of ammunition used depending on the target, how the sniper learns to judge the wind, the distance and the pull of gravity and then adjust his or her sites for it. To say nothing of several other important factors, including nerves, that are intrinsic to an accurate shot or as they say, a confirmed kill.

At one point in the filming of my story, I was asked by the commander if I would join him five hundred yards down field from the sniper position. There, in the middle of the field, was a four by four post, seven feet tall, stuck in the ground. On top of the post was a gray cement block.

I stood below the cement block interviewing the commander when the block exploded, and then I heard the shot. I’ll never lose my respect for sniper training and their nerves. I’ll bet Captain Phillips feels the same way.

Somali pirates still hold about 260 hostages, including nearly 100 Filipinos, on 17 captured vessels.

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