FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- Sgt. Josh Hall lies on the ground, peering carefully down the scope of his M110 sniper rifle. His body is as still as a rock and his face calm and expressionless. Slowly he inhales, pauses and moves his index finger back ever so slightly, explosively launching a small metal cone out of the weapon system's suppressed barrel at 2,570 feet per second. A second passes and then -- clink -- the sound of the metal hitting a target half a mile away.
That was one of the several thousand of rounds Hall will send down range in the next month, while preparing to represent the 10th Mountain Division (LI) at the 12th Annual U.S. Army International Sniper Competition in Fort Benning, Ga. -- a grueling, 72-hour series of events where the best shooters in the nation come to test and exchange their skills.
Hall grew up in Cabot, Ark., and enlisted in the Army in 2008. Shortly after he arrived at his first unit, 2nd Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment at Fort Campbell, Ky., he tried out and was selected for the battalion's reconnaissance platoon.
While Hall always knew he wanted to be in the Army, he never thought of being a sniper until his first deployment in 2010, during which he served on a sniper team in Zharay District in southern Afghanistan. Upon returning, Hall and his team attended the Fort Benning Sniper Course, where he learned the advanced techniques and theory that would take him to the next level.
Earlier this year, Hall arrived at his new unit, 2nd Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment, at Fort Drum. It wasn't long before he had distinguished himself as an extremely capable shooter, promptly being selected to represent the division in the International Sniper Competition at Fort Benning, Ga., along with his teammate, Pfc. Karch Chancellor, of 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment.
Beginning Nov. 2 and culminating Nov. 5, the 14 separate events of the competition will include exercises that will challenge both the body and mind. The competition is designed to test not only the snipers' long-range shooting ability but also the vast collection of other skills required to do their jobs. These skills include everything from communicating with their teammates, to the incredible patience it takes to approach their targets undetected.
"The primary mission of a sniper is actually to serve as the reconnaissance asset," Hall explained. "We are the eyes and ears of the company commander, providing detailed, up-to-the-minute battlefield information."
One event of the competition, called "Know Your Limitations" will force competitors to choose between one-, three-, and five-inch targets; each is assigned a different point value based on difficulty. Another, known as "the Stalk," will give competitors three hours to build an elaborate camouflage net known as a ghillie suit and then attempt to move through nearly a mile of terrain without being seen.
"I am excited and looking forward to it," Hall said. "This is an opportunity for us to see how our skills measure up against the best in the world."
The other 35 U.S. teams will include snipers from Army Special Forces, Rangers, Delta Force, Navy Seals and Marines, as well as law enforcement and FBI SWAT teams.
Regarding Hall and Chancellor's performance, their coach, Staff Sgt. John Brady, is confident.
"They are our top team," he said. "The chain of command from battalion to division level has been very supportive of us. Leaders understand the time required (to prepare) for an event of this nature, and division has given us over 12,000 rounds to use."
That preparation includes not just the snipers themselves, but also their weapons systems.
Although each M110 sniper rifle is manufactured the same way, each is unique on a minute level that causes them to shoot very differently. This means a sniper must spend countless hours at the shooting range "truing" his weapon, a process that involves continuously calibrating the scope and muzzle velocity to match his own individual shooting style.
"The most important thing in shooting is ownership of the fundamentals," Brady continued. "There is no 'high speed' anymore. Slow is smooth and smooth is fast."
After the competition is complete, scores will be tallied while competitors spend the next two days participating in social events such as the Sniper Symposium, a networking conference that Brady refers to as "the deadliest gathering on the planet."
"These next two days are crucial, because they allow the competitors to open up and exchange their individual techniques with one another, since each team's techniques are closely guarded secrets before and during the competition phase," he continued.
"If nothing else," he added, "these next six weeks will increase the lethality of the 10th Mountain Division when we go downrange."