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Rainbow Division deploys 'intel snipers' to Iraq

By Staff Sgt. Raymond Drumsta

FORT DRUM, N.Y. (Army News Service, Jan. 13, 2005)― The 42nd Infantry Division has deployed to Iraq with what leaders term a powerful, yet subtle, combat-multiplier - the sniper-trained Soldiers of the division's 173rd Long Range Surveillance Detachment, and their newly-issued M-14 rifles.

The rifles are "part and parcel" of the changing LRS(D) mission, said the unit's commander, Capt. Michael Manning.

"This is not a detachment of snipers," said Manning. "This is a detachment of highly trained intelligence collectors. We have sniping capability. Now we can acquire targets, identify targets, and destroy targets with organic direct fire weapons. That's the big change. That's what these weapons allow us to do."

Manning said LRS(D)'s mission used to be strictly reconnaissance and surveillance ― working in small groups 80 to 100 kilometers beyond friendly lines, reporting information on enemy movements and the battlefield to a higher command. The enemy and battlefield have changed, so the mission has changed, according to Manning.

"We're not training for the Fulda Gap anymore," said Manning, referring to the area in Germany that NATO forces were assigned to defend against Russian maneuver brigades. "We're fighting insurgents who operate in small groups. That drives the way we conduct operations."

Manning described the new mission as reconnaissance, surveillance, and target acquisition ― in other words, LRS(D) will be assigned to observe areas for improvised explosive devices and indirect fire activity and, if ordered by the combatant commander, eliminate insurgents with their sniper rifles. The M-14, commented Manning, has redefined the unit's mission.

"It's a tremendous force multiplier. It's a tremendous asset on the battlefield."

Equipping and training LRS(D) on the M-14 rifles was a joint effort of the 42nd Infantry Division, the 1215th Garrison Support Unit at Fort Drum, the First Army Small Arms Readiness Group, or SARG, and FORSCOM, according to Lt. Col. Richard Ellwanger, chief of personnel, 1215th Garrison Support Unit.

"Our mission is to support the mobilization of the National Guard and Reserves," said Ellwanger. "We work with the post to provide an infrastructure for the National Guard and Reserves while they're here at Fort Drum."

The M-14 rifles will increase LRS(D) Soldiers' ability to neutralize targets without collateral damage, said Ellwanger.

"The rifle gives the Soldiers the ability to engage targets out to 800 meters. Once the word gets out to the insurgents that the Soldiers have that capacity, they will be less likely to get inside the 400- to 500-meter range and engage with RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades) or medium machine guns."

The instruction of the SARG team was superb, according to Manning.

"These guys are superb marksmen. They instilled in LRS(D) the techniques, tactics and procedures that make them good marksmen. They're professional. To a man, they're first-rate marksmen."

Most of the training took place at Fort Drum's Range 21, where the sniper-trained LRS(D) Soldiers zeroed and engaged targets with their iron sights, and zeroed the scopes on their rifles.

"By virtue of going through this training, LRS(D) Soldiers now have the confidence in themselves that they can effectively operate this weapon system," said Manning. "What the 42nd Division has done, by virtue of outfitting LRS(D) with M-14 rifles, is make us the cutting edge of the LRS(D) community."

But the real edge in LRS(D)'s sniping capability are the LRS(D) Soldiers behind the newly issued M-14 rifles - graduates of the four-week National Guard Sniper School at Camp Robinson, Ark. With their M-14 training complete, the LRS(D) soldiers became trainers themselves, turning Soldiers from other 42nd Infantry Division units into designated marksmen.

"We're a combat multiplier because we can give the division planners nearly real-time information, and a picture of the battlefield," said LRS(D) sniper-trained Staff Sgt. Tim Halloran. "If we're on a mission and we acquire a high-value target, we can not only report it to higher [headquarters], we can eliminate it."

"Hopefully we can interdict the people placing the IEDs," said LRS(D) Assistant Team Leader Cpl. Wayne Lynch, who, along with LRS(D) Team Leader Staff Sgt. Thomas O'Hare, served a tour in Iraq last year.

"That's all I thought about when we were in Iraq last year: 'how do we stop these people who are placing the IEDs?' Now that we've got snipers in LRS(D), we're able to do surveillance and take direct action," Lynch said.

Deployed to Iraq with the 119th Military Police Company, Rhode Island National Guard, Lynch said he and O'Hare made it their job to find IEDs. Lynch said he hopes LRS(D) will be tasked with interdicting terrorists placing IEDs. He's been a member of the unit for nine years and loves it. He does not regret going back to Iraq.

"I'm going with a unit I've trained with," he said. "I'm honored to go to war with them."

Based in Rhode Island, LRS(D) ruckmarches to the north summit of New Hampshire's Mount Mooslacki every year. All members of LRS(D) are airborne qualified, and nine are ranger qualified. They have to do a jump every three months to maintain their airborne status.

"We train on a higher plain," said LRS(D) sniper-trained Soldier Spc. Richard O'Connor. "Most units do five-mile rucksack marches. We do 15-mile rucksack marches. Other units have 45-pound rucksacks. We have 80-pound rucksacks. We have to march farther and faster than anyone else."

O'Connor was a scout/sniper with the 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division. He's been on real-world missions to Tunisia and Liberia, and took part in the rescue of Air Force Pilot Capt. Scott O'Grady, who was shot down over Bosnia in 1995.

"Anticipation of the mission is awesome," said O'Connor. He described the job as a "rush", and said LRS(D) team members must be physically fit, mature, and disciplined, and must know each other's jobs.

Part of that job is going "subsurface"― patrolling to a location outside friendly lines, digging a hole, and living in it while observing enemy activity.

"They might live in that hole for two to four days," said Manning. "It takes an unbelievably disciplined individual to do this job."

"We're just guys with rifles," said O'Connor. "You have to have absolute confidence in everyone on your team. There's nothing else in the Army I want to do."

(Editor's note: Staff Sgt. Raymond Drumsta serves with the 42nd Infantry Division.)

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