COLUMBUS AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- To the naked eye, she was totally invisible. Even in the middle of an open field, she blended in with the sparse grasses and bushes that made up her harsh surroundings. The only sounds were an occasional rustling of a rabbit or bird flittering from bush to bush.
Nothing gave way the fact that she had been motionless for as long as two hours without flinching a muscle. Only the single retort from her weapon, a powerful M-24 rifle, gave away her position. By then it was far too late for her target.
For Airman 1st Class Tiffani Potter, a security forces specialist at Columbus Air Force Base, Miss., becoming certified as an Air Force sniper meant reaching a lifetime goal.
"You have to have the motivation to get out and actually go after your goal," said Potter. "If you have the drive to want it and the required ability, you can make it happen."
For Potter, that "want" actually reaches back to high school where she began shooting competitively through her Junior ROTC unit and quickly developed a passion for the sport.
"My dad wanted me to be in the Air Force, so I joined," said Potter. "My dad was a cop and so am I, and my dad always thought of how cool it would be to become a sniper."
The road to certification for Potter began at Fort Bliss, Texas, with the completion of the advanced designated marksman course, an 11-day training program that familiarizes would-be snipers with the M-24 weapon system. After completion of the course, and recommendation from an instructor, students return to Fort Bliss to struggle through an aggressive 19-day close precision engagement course. It's there they learn a comprehensive regimen of field techniques and tactics designed to enhance techniques learned during the initial course.
"It's not something you just say, 'Oh yeah, I want to go'," said Potter. "You're not going to get selected if you don't prove you want it."
But she said, once in, "The training is enough to make you question why you're there."
During her training at Fort Bliss, Potter and her fellow snipers-in-training learned how to make the camouflage "ghille suits," as well as techniques for hiding in buildings, lying unseen for hours on end and learning how to be both spotter and shooter, along with tactics during combat situations. Add that with the physical aspects of exertion, sleep deprivation, and a lack of any clear-cut game plan, and Potter said the challenges quickly mount.
"You have to show that you truly want to be in the training," said Potter. "They will drop you from the course if you show you don't want it badly enough."
And wanting it badly she did. Potter became only the 10th female in the military to become certified as a sniper.
Potter is assigned to the 14th Security Forces Squadron, and her commander, Maj. Joseph Ringer, believes that it all started with the preparation. "The sniper course is difficult, but she spoke with others who had mastered it, prepared accordingly and achieved her goal," he said.
"Potter is off to an excellent start as a defender," said Ringer. "She knew she wanted to be a sniper and let nothing stand in her way."
Ringer looks at the path that Potter took to get where she wanted to be and made the point that it took not only having a solid goal, but the drive and dedication to get there that set Potter apart from her peers.
"Goals provide focus to our efforts and purpose to our work," said Ringer, "but you must also establish objectives to keep you on track toward those goals. Objectives are like sign posts, they let you know whether we're headed in the right direction or not. I truly believe goals without objectives are just dreams."
While Potter feels good about becoming a sniper and fulfilling a life-long dream, she said "Now I have to find a new goal to tackle."