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The Killing School

Brandon Webb with Joihn David Mann
The author, Brandon Webb, was a sniper in the US Navy SEALs and was then one of the individuals tasked with redeveloping the SEAL sniper program; as such, he is well-qualified to write a book on sniping in the modern era! The book looks at different snipers’ experiences in recent years and how and why the SEALs rewrote their own sniper program.

Webb does not rely solely on his own experiences to tell the story but uses those of a US Marine in Iraq, a SEAL in Mogadishu, a Canadian sniper in the Shahikot Valley and a Ranger sniper in Helmand. Each individual story takes the reader through how each man became a sniper, from their life before joining up, their basic training and initial soldiering through to their selection, training and deployment as snipers. It shows the pressures, often physical but predominantly mental, in the training and then how these benefitted each man on operations.

The portrayals of operations are, in a sense, very familiar but from a very different perspective: that of a specialist who selects his target with care and then applies force in a very precise way. Each story is brutal in its own way: be it taking shots at over 2000m in the Shahikot; being pinned by opposing snipers and seeing your rescuers being badly wounded in Helmand; the difficulties of taking shots in COIN with restrictive ROE in Iraq; and having to decide if the children picking up the RPGs in Mogadishu are a threat. There are a few moments when you grind your teeth (eg smoking in a hide) but it’s never wise to second-guess too deeply another man’s experiences! That said, all these stories show each individual’s drive, determination and ability to function under pressure (be it the actual fighting, coping with the temperatures and sleep deprivation and the responsibility of keeping other soldiers alive).

Webb’s description of why the SEALs changed their sniper program from one with a very high failure rate to one with a very high pass rate with no change in standards is both honest and impressive. His further explanation of how they did it is worth reading by anyone who has to coach and mentor individuals and is very much worth further examination. This is covered further in Webb’s book The Red Circle (which I have not read) but I am tempted to get to a bookshop which stocks it.

An excellent conclusion is describing how individuals have dealt with their experiences of calmly and deliberately killing other humans. It also covers how they deliberately avoided killing people and went out of their way to do so. This is a neat endpiece that lets you understand that these individuals are not just mindless killing machines but responsible individuals who understand their actions fully.

I really enjoyed this book and recommend it to a wide audience. Those with an interest in sniping, and combat in general, will find it an excellent insight and it also includes some rarely-heard experiences of fighting in Mogadishu, Iraq an Afghanistan. This is worth being on anyone’s bookcase.
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