A photo from Army ghillie suit testing shows a sniper maintaining his discipline even as a snake slithers across his barrel. It's awesome on its own, but it's also a great illustration of a lot of the stresses that snipers have to overcome to do their jobs.
It's no secret that being a sniper requires a lot of discipline and a high tolerance for discomfort, but one photo of a sniper taking this to an extreme level is making the rounds because the sniper maintained position so well that a snake slithered across his barrel.
Thankfully, an Army photographer was there to capture the moment.
A Japan Ground Self-Defense Force scout sniper prepares his ghillie suit in during exercise Forest Light 17-1 at Somagahara, Japan, March 10, 2017.
(U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Isaac Ibarra)
The photo was actually taken in April during a test of the Army's new ghillie suits, special camouflage clothing created to mimic actual vegetation on the ground rather than just mimicking the colors. If you're not familiar with the term, you've likely still seen the suits. They're the ones that make marching soldiers look like swamp creatures.
During tests of the new suit at Eglin Air Force Base, Army photographer Staff Sgt. William Frye was taking photos of Army National Guard Pfc. William Snyder when a southern black racer snake slithered up and over the weapon's barrel like it was a fallen branch.
The photo is pretty great, and is actually a good, single image that shows a lot of the traits necessary for a sniper to be successful.
A southern black racer snake slithers across the rifle barrel held by junior Army National Guard sniper Pfc. William Snyder as he practices woodland stalking in a camouflaged ghillie suit at Eglin Air Force Base, April 7, 2018.
(U.S. Army Staff Sgt. William Frye)
They have to be well camouflaged, avoiding observation at long distances but also staying secret enough that patrols walking by can't spot them from just feet away. Marine sniper Carlos Hathcock killed an NVA officer in Vietnam after crawling closer to the officer's base for days. During the days of crawling, multiple patrols passed Hathcock at ranges so close that Hatchcock has said he could've reached out and touched them. If a snake can't tell that you're not a fallen log, you're well on your way.
The fact that the snake felt bold enough to crawl over the human implies that the sniper has sat still for a protracted period of time, at least a couple of minutes, if not longer. Anyone who has worked with snipers knows that they have to endure long periods of waiting without moving. A sniper who reportedly held the range record for a sniper kill from 2009 to 2017 prepared himself for sniper school in part by setting up portable DVD players and watching entire movies through his rifle scope without moving.
U.S. Army Sgt. Clinton Scanlon fires an M107 sniper rifle during the 2018 International Sniper Competition at Burroughs Range on Fort Benning, Georgia, Oct. 17, 2018.
(U.S. Army Sgt. Michelle U. Blesam)
Snipers also discuss the need to endure discomfort, sometimes staying in stressful positions for minutes or hours to not give away their position or screw up their ability to take a shot if it suddenly presents itself. That necessity includes physical discomfort like cramps, but it also encompasses psychological discomfort, like staying completely still as a snake suddenly moves within inches of your face, possibly too fast for you to ascertain whether it's likely venomous.
(Southern black racers, like the one in the photo, will often strike humans and emit foul smells in the presence of predators, but are not venomous and are not a physical threat to humans.)
So, the photo is sweet and will likely show up as an illustration in some sniper training classes if it hasn't already, but it isn't surprising that a sniper would end up with a snake slithering across their gear. It's actually much more surprising that an Army photographer, a profession that typically does not require as much discipline and discomfort, sat still enough for long enough to get an image he couldn't have predicted.
Kudos to Snyder the sniper, and thank you Frye for getting the shot. We're pretty sure some people have a new computer wallpaper thanks to you.
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