What is Blackbird? Blackbird has been the unofficial (non SOI) call sign for our sniper team for the past two years. Our team consists of myself, Sgt. Mel Ewing and Spc Morgan Witt. We are both B4 qualified (U.S. Army Sniper School Graduates) snipers for a Mechanized Infantry Company. Yes, you read that right, we are Mech, M2A2 Tread Heads (Though we both hate the Bradleys). I am a former 11B, but our unit converted to Bradleys about three years ago. Spc Witt was formerly with a Force XXI (21) unit, and has since joined us in a “Real” infantry unit. Though we both wish we were light infantry, we do what we can as snipers in a Mech unit. I have been the team leader for about 18 months now, and Spc. Witt has been my team mate for about a year now.

Snipers in a Mech Unit?

Yes, every mechanized infantry company in the U.S. Army is suppose to have one complete sniper team. But you might wonder what good a sniper team is with mechanized vehicles? Its a valid question, but one that has an answer. For one, TC (Tank Commanders) make GREAT targets! And best of all, the sound of the tank (or APC) itself drowns out the sound of our M24 when fired. All they know is that their TC is dead. Another benefit to waxing TC’s is that they generally are high ranking. In a recent exercise our team eliminated 4 TC’s in one engagement. Among those TC’s was the Company Commander, a Platoon Leader, and a Platoon Sergeant. Effectively we eliminated a HUGE part of their chain of command…in one battle! And they never knew where the shots were coming from. Another use for snipers in a mech environment is the fact that we are an EXCELLENT means of Long Range recon for the company specifically. The cav scouts are a battalion asset, so there is a rare chance of getting them to conduct recon on a company level, and there is no way it would happen if all the companies in the batt. made a request for the scouts…in step the snipers. (Granted we tend to have to walk wherever we need to go, unless we get some air assets) Snipers are a combat multiplier, capable of many jobs, all that needs to happen is the CO has to know how to use the team, and allow the team to conduct its own training, separate from the rest of the unit, because the tasks are so specialized. Anyway…I’m working on a document on the use of snipers in a Mech Infantry unit…maybe I’ll post it when finished.

Blackbird at National Training Center (NTC)

In July of 1998, 1st Battalion of the 163rd Infantry made the trip to the Mojave Desert as the infantry of the 116th Brigade (Cav). The operation name was Desert Avenger (la de da). Of course, there was the standard bull involving check out of equipment etc etc. Then the UN mission came, where we tried out a few new things, involving shooting from a hovering UH-60 Blackhawk. (A little more tricky then one might think). As you can see from the pic above, we had no ghillies on, this is do to the average temp being 126 degrees. It was a scorcher. We made good use of rocks, shadows, and good hide positions. Here is one of the positions we occupied.

Sgt. Dey, former USMC Scout Sniper

This picture was taken after our defensive engagement, our assignment was to overwatch the road, which was on the backside of a hill behind our units main fighting positions. Sgt. Dey was attached to us for additional security/firepower if we needed it, which we did! The OpFor moved about 30 vehicles up that road (Which of course Higher up said they wouldn’t do….) We waxed 1 TC with the M24, and eleminated 3 BRDM’s (Scouts) with a couple vipers (Rocket launcher). Then all the tanks rolled through, so we stayed low and reported on the radio.

Here is a pic of us planning for the final engagement

Spc. Witt with a map and our M144 spotting scope

Our unit was in the rear to be the follow on reserve, so a little map recon was necessary. The final engagement was an offensive against an established defense. We were to occupy Hill 1141 during the night, and use it for recon and call for fire during the engagement. The mission got scrapped. (So we got to ride in the back of a bradley during the fight, and yes, we died in the back of a bradley during the fight! LET THE GUYS IN BACK OUT!)

Here is a pic of a fire team we were attached to during some of the missions.

Sgt. Keniff Sgt. Phillips Spc. Witt Sgt. Ewing

Final Thoughts

Well, I have bored you enough with this stuff, so I’ll leave you with some final thoughts. NTC was a decent experience, but I really didn’t think it was all it was hyped up to be. “The Superbowl of Training” just wasn’t really as intense or as fast paced as I would have liked. We did gain some valuable knowledge and experience, especially about Mech Operations. Heck we as a sniper team had more confirmed VEHICLE kills then a lot of the Bradley crews! (I imagine more then some of the M-1 tank crews also! he he he) Anyway, it was worth attending, even in the heat…and there is rumor that our company might be heading back as OpFor augmentees as an air assualt unit…. No Bradleys!!! yah hoo!

Drive On – and shoot straight

Sgt (Former) Mel Ewing
Sniper Team Leader  Co C. 1-163rd InBn
Creator, Designer, Programmer, Maintenance Man, and Financial Investor of this Homepage.