Story by Petty Officer 1st Class Melissa Leake
There are few things more fearsome on the field of battle than the report of a sniper’s rifle. Able to engage their targets at ranges exceeding 800 meters, the Army sniper is a valued asset for any commander, a potent weapon, a guardian for his allies and a terror for his enemies.
Since the Revolutionary War, the deployment of precision marksman has changed the scope of warfare, and now, that same cost-effective force multiplication has the ability to be applied to maritime operations within the Coast Guard.
Petty Officer 1stClass Jesse Pitrelli, a maritime enforcement specialist stationed at Special Missions Training Detachment in San Diego, and Petty Officer 1stClass Peter Purcell, a maritime enforcement specialist stationed at Tactical Law Enforcement Team South in Miami, have become the first Coast Guardsmen in history to graduate from Army Sniper school at Fort Benning, Georgia, while on active duty.
“Precision Marksmen provide critical capabilities that help commanders, boarding teams, boat crews and aircrews reduce considerable risks associated with the 21st Century operational environment,” said Mark Quinlan, the Tactical Law Enforcement and Advanced Interdiction program manager for the Coast Guard. “For this reason, they are an essential component of Coast Guard law enforcement, security and military operations.”
Pitrelli and Purcell’s graduation from Army Sniper School represents a watershed moment for the Coast Guard’s PM program.
“The lessons learned and experiences gained will not only help us bolster and advance our PM program, but will assist us in determining what skill sets are required to train and qualify new PM observer teams,” said Quinlan.
Pitrelli and Purcell both agreed with Quinlan’s assessment of their experiences at Army Sniper school. They understood the importance of this opportunity and how critical it was for the Coast Guard to learn from the most established sniper school in the military.
“There is a vast amount of trade craft here that the Coast Guard does not have organically,” said Purcell. “So getting that information, and being able to implement that for the program was the most beneficial aspect of this training.”
During the seven-week course, both graduates learned a uniquely valuable skillset, which will be immediately drawn from during the full stand-up of the precision marksman observer team on the west coast. These teams operate like traditional sniper-observer teams in support of either a defensive posture, or in support of a direct action mission.
The graduates learned a diverse array of talents to aid them in the execution of their tasking, from stalking across the battlefield, to the construction of the famed Ghillie suit, to working alongside their teammate in isolation to achieve their goals.
“One of my favorite parts of the school was stalking, which is the ability to move under enemy observation to an objective point, set up a final firing solution, take a shot from a concealed position, and then be able to evacuate all without being detected,” said Purcell, who works in the Airborne Use of Force Locker at his unit.
Pitrelli highlighted the valuable tactics gained from the instructors in the classroom and the new policies, which will help him execute his mission for the Coast Guard.
“The instructors are experts in their craft, and many of them have had actual experience overseas executing their mission, so they stressed that life and death can depend on the crossroads between preparation and opportunity,” said Pitrelli, who is a qualified PM-OT member at his unit. “People think that these situations can’t arise in the Coast Guard, but Coast Guardsmen put themselves in the path of dangerous people on a daily basis. This kind of training is essential for the Coast Guard to match the growing threats we continue to face on a day-to-day basis all over the world.”
In the summer and fall of 2015, Coast Guard PMs were invited to participate in a joint services methodology improvement project alongside operators from all five Armed Services to include cadre from the United States Marine Corps Scout Sniper School.
“The JSnipIM team put together a data collection event focusing on all the services’ snipers,” said Purcell. “We worked alongside Air Force snipers, Army snipers, Marine snipers, SEAL team snipers and just spent two weeks shooting and exchanging ideas. This valuable experience was the catalyst for the Coast Guard’s invitation to attend the Army Sniper School, and proved the concept of inter-service collaboration.”
This invitation from one of the most prestigious organizations within the military was a lucrative opportunity for the Coast Guard’s developing PM program, and Quinlan said the value of this relationship of inclusion was further bolstered by Purcell and Pitrelli’s outstanding performances.
“The exceptional showing of the Coast Guard’s PM program and Deployable Specialized Forces community has left a lasting impression on the Army as to our commitment to excellence and dedication to serve,” said Quinlan. “The Army, as well as other services who have witnessed this level of ability and professionalism by our DSF members, have openly invited us for vocational exchanges and to attend specialized training courses in the future.”
The Coast Guard now enjoys open seating in Army Sniper School. Quinlan said the graduation of Purcell and Pitrelli has enriched the Coast Guard, the PM program, and the nation as a whole, and both Coast Guardsmen were humbled by the generosity of the Army instructors.
“Having the opportunity to attend Army Sniper School was an incredible honor for both of us,” said Purcell. “It shows the good faith and forward leaning leadership in the Coast Guard to strive toward excellence in developing the PM program. I have been so humbled by this amazing experience, and I have so much admiration and respect for the instructor cadre at sniper school. They demonstrated a professional dedication to developing the first two potential Coast Guard qualified snipers, and it is my absolute belief that this integration between services will lend to the successful development of the Coast Guard’s PM program.”