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Irish Defence Forces 27th Infantry Battalion & ARW sniper teams at the US Army International Sniper Competition 2023

As the top placing teams in the Defence Forces 2022 International Sniper Competition, 27th Infantry Battalion and the Army Ranger Wing (ARW) secured the Irish Defence Forces Sniper’s most highly coveted prize, competing in the US Army’s International Sniper Competition (USISC) in Fort Benning, Georgia. Conducted annually at the Army Sniper School, the USISC is the world’s premier sniper competition. 35 3-man teams from around the world are tested in every aspect of the sniper skillset with events focusing on navigation, stealth infiltration and exfiltration, observation, target positive identification (PID), team communication, fire control, physical endurance and long-range shooting over distances ranging from close quarter combat to 1200 meter engagements against static and moving targets. This competition is conducted non-stop over a period of 72 hours, during which teams will engage in numerous events by day and night, with the added physical and mental strain of minimal rest and quick turn-around times to consolidate and reorganise, and go again.

In January of this year, the 27th Infantry Battalion team consisting of Team Leader Cpl Colin McQuaid, Sniper Cpl Kyle Erasmus and Spotter Cpl Mark Fitzpatrick began an intense training programme designed and overseen by their coach, Sgt Stephen Flanagan. Based heavily off lessons learned from previous Irish army sniper teams experience, with additional contributions from sniper instructors across the army, each training evolution was meticulously planned to ensure the team arrived ready for any scenario that the US Army Sniper School instructor staff could devise. 

 Arriving at Fort Benning late on 3rd April, the team along with colleagues from the ARW, fresh from their participation at the US Army Special Operations Command (USASOC) Sniper Competition, began an intense 3 day work up on the base’s incredible ranges, familiarizing with US weapons and equipment under the watchful eye of two of the original Sniper School founders and legendary stalwarts of the international Sniper Community Jim Harris and Butch Cady. In addition, the teams acclimatized with morning physical training sessions, as temperatures were 25 degrees higher than the average in Ireland. 


USISC 2023 began at 0300hrs on 10th April with a stealth infiltration to conduct a close target reconnaissance (CTR) on enemy forces located in an urban training facility. Surveillance drones and enemy hunter forces, equipped with thermal imaging devices made movement and infiltration incredibly difficult, slow, and exhaustive, with most teams compromised by enemy aerial surveillance. Both Irish teams successfully gathered the necessary information and extracted from the area without being detected, during the 4-hour task. Following this event, teams moved onto 3 further events during the day, “boys in the lab”, testing the team’s ability to solve problems, target identification and create firing solutions. “Know your limits” required teams to engage targets at various distances and make the difficult decision to stop and bank scores, or gamble and continue with increasingly difficult targets, at the risk of losing everything should they miss. Daytime events on day 1 concluded with the “puzzles” event, team leaders (TL) were required to complete increasingly difficult problems to reveal target locations, which the TL would guide shooters on to, at distances up to 1200m. Weather conditions on day 1 were favourable, however a gusting wind created difficulty at stages. 

 After a hot meal, a reorganisation of equipment for night operations and zero time to rest, day 2 began at 0030hrs with 2 night shoots. Beginning with “Minute of angle”, a multi target quick engagement scenario simulating a compromise by a large enemy force, teams engaged from within buildings located on the impressive Burroughs Range training facility. The second night shoot “Airport Lounge” required teams to engage rifle targets at ranges of up to 800m, after which the team moved to and engaged close-in pistol targets. During daylight on day 2, there were 3 further events beginning with “Group In”, during which the team completed a 2.2 mile run carrying all equipment. Teams could decide to carry additional weighted ammunition boxed of up to 30lbs each, each ammunition box carried would afford the team 1 x round of ammunition in the competition’s final shoot. Both Irish teams completed this task in blistering heat within the allotted time and secured the maximum of 4 rounds of ammunition available. The excellent “Two Gun” event was a solo run by the TL, requiring him to transition between his primary (rifle) and secondary (pistol) weapon systems on a close quarter battle range. Our 27th Inf Bn TL, Cpl Colin McQuaid recorded an impressive result as the satisfactory sound of rounds impacting steel targets rang out across Killing range as bleachers full of spectators watched on! To finish day two, teams completed the “Know your offset” shoot, a combination of very close and long-range engagements by all 3 team members and “Mystery box”, during which the Shooter and Spotter engaged long range targets enabling the TL to close with and engage close in pistol targets with each successful long-range hit. 


 The 3rd and final day began once again with 2 night events, “Retro”, requiring teams to move to an urban complex and engage multiple steel targets at long range finishing with a close-in pistol engagement by the TL and “Exfil”, during which teams extracted from a “safe house”, engaging multiple close in targets simulating an advancing enemy after which teams were hunted by an enemy force as they moved through a number of checkpoints to the safety of a pickup point. The final competition event “The General” consisted of multiple moving targets utilising the impressive, robotic Marathon target system. Teams had to identify a high value target using the rounds they had won during the “Group in” event.  

 Despite extreme temperatures, little to no rest, unfamiliar environments, and foreign weapons, the 27th Infantry Battalion team placed 2nd best International team and 11th overall, with the ARW team placing 16th out of 35 of the best Sniper teams from around the world. Their team spirit, communication, enthusiasm, and comradeship they brought to each event was the talk of the school instructor staff throughout and at the closing banquet event hosted by the Army Sniper Association. Irish Defence Forces participation at the USISC once again highlighted the world class shooters produced by the Irish Army, and the Defence Forces on the International Stage.