Exclusive interview by Frank Jardim
Caylen Wojcik was a U.S. Marine Corps scout sniper for eight years as a trainer and warrior. He served as the chief sniper in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom II, conducting 100 sniper missions until he was seriously wounded during Operation Phantom Fury. He returned to training duties during his recovery and now works in the private sector for Magpul Industries as its director of training of Precision Rifle Operations. He is a man who knows what it’s like to be behind a sniper rifle in battle. I had the opportunity to ask him a few questions.
Frank Jardim You’ve spent a good deal of your life preparing snipers for battle and being a sniper in battle. What do you think is important for people to know about snipers?
Caylen Wojcik It doesn’t take long for commanders to identify the extreme effectiveness and lethality of a well-trained and equipped sniper on the battlefield. I think with the duration of our current conflict that snipers will ultimately benefit, for many years to come, as their effectiveness on the battlefield is solidified, without question. It’s important to understand that not everyone can become a sniper. Snipers aren’t cut from a “sniper cloth,” nor do they magically acquire skills with an application of “sniper dust.” Being a sniper requires more than just marksmanship skills. Snipers are highly intelligent, extremely resourceful, incredibly disciplined and above all, undeniably passionate about the science and art of sniping. Those traits cannot be cultivated. The skills, however, can be cultivated and honed through effective training. It’s important to remember that snipers’ continue to be effective problem solvers on the battlefield.
FJ How do you explain the relative celebrity of present-day snipers compared to those from previous wars, when they remained virtually unknown outside of their units and the shooting community? (I don’t recall anybody making a movie about Carlos Hathcock.)
CW In terms of factual events, the only movie I’ve seen (or know of) about a sniper besides American Sniper is Enemy at the Gates, which was a rendition of the Soviet sniper Vasily Zeytsev, who was a Russian hero of WWII, and was incredibly lethal during the Battle of Stalingrad. Snipers pride themselves on being silent professionals, as their passion for the job is enough for personal satisfaction. Very few snipers, if any, will actively seek out recognition for their accomplishments, as it usually finds them.
FJ Were snipers used as effectively as they could have been in the units you fought with? Did commanders understand how to deploy expert riflemen?
CW Sniper employment is a steep learning curve for both the sniper and the commander, especially if it’s their first time around in combat. Commanders in the past had very little, if any, training in how to employ snipers on the battlefield. Young snipers, learning sniper employment on a fundamental level at the Scout/Sniper Basic Course, need to be excellent communicators of their capabilities and limitations with their supported unit commanders. In my experience, once we got the major bugs worked out and both the commander and sniper understood each other, things went smoothly and effectively. Having been at war for the past 13 years, there are many seasoned commanders and snipers who are passing on those lessons learned to make both sides run more smoothly.
FJ Have the current infantry rifles and training helped or hurt basic combat marksmanship among typical soldiers?
CW I’m not currently on active duty, nor have I been since the Marine Corps adopted the ACOG as their primary sighting device on the service rifle. Several of my peers are now Marine gunners who are directly responsible for the development of that system and they speak highly of the increased average qualification scores. The addition of requiring Marines to qualify on combat marksmanship is also a huge step forward from my time when only known distance rifle qualification was scored. More emphasis on close-quarters marksmanship and weapons manipulation was definitely required to adapt to our modern battlefield. ASJ