USS IWO JIMA, Red Sea --
It's not easy to hit a small target bobbing along in the current as your helicopter shudders around you 200 feet in the air. Add the pressure of international competition and things can get really difficult.
Two snipers from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit's sniper platoon participated in, and won, a sharpshooting competition against two British Royal Marine Commando snipers while aboard USS San Antonio, February 5.
Both forces were in the Gulf of Aden supporting anti-piracy operations when they took the opportunity for this good-natured professional contest.
It is unclear who's idea it was to have the competition, the U.S. Marines or the British Royal Marine Commandos, but both groups were more than willing to participate, said Gunnery Sgt. Jeffery Benkie, sniper platoon sergeant.
"There's two stories to it," he explained, "one is the Brits challenged us and then the other story is the Admiral challenged the Brits. So, I never was able to get a solid answer on that one."
The shooters fired on several different targets from a helicopter, each target floating at least 200 yards away and 200 feet below in the current. "The size of the target was probably about a five gallon paint jug," Benkei said.
Each shooter had 25 rounds, Benkie continued, which they could fire from a weapon of their choosing, and the shooters could use any position or support they wanted to while inside the helicopter. Shooters earned two points if the round struck within a foot of the target, five points for a hit and 20 points if that hit sank the target.
"It's a little different shooting out of a helo than it is shooting on the ground," explained Cpl. James Gosney, the Marine spotter during the competition, "because you've also got the rotor wash to take into consideration. Nobody really knows what effect that has. So you have to make your corrections based off the first shot."
Gosney and his teammate, Marine sniper Cpl. Adam J. Harb, came out on top 38 to 30.
Benkie explained that after the shooters were done firing they got a chance to meet their challengers when the British Royal Marines landed on the San Antonio for a brief meeting and congratulatory handshake.
Gosney said his favorite part of the event was after the actual shoot when he had the opportunity to meet up and compare weapons and ideas with the British snipers.
"We landed after the shoot and talked for about 10 or 15 minutes and that was the best part of the shoot," said Gosney. "You know, in our work situation, we don't have a whole lot of chance to talk to people from other countries on our level and especially other snipers."
"I think they learned a few things from us and we definitely learned a few things from them," Gosney said.
"That was really worthwhile – (they're) really good guys," Benkie added. "It was very informal, but very educational at the same time."