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Security forces marksmen hone skills at Alaska range

JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska (AFNS) -- (This feature is part of the "Through Airmen's Eyes" series on AF.mil. These stories focus on a single Airman, highlighting their Air Force story.)

Standing 6 feet 5 inches tall, Tech. Sgt. Jerimiah Brock looks well-suited for a career as a power forward in the NBA.

Instead of shooting free throws, the Lake Tahoe, California, native shoots bull's-eye for the Air Force -- from behind the scope of an M24 Sniper Weapon System rifle.

Brock said his parents didn't like guns and wouldn't allow him to have one. At 16 years old, he managed to get his hands on a BB gun. At 17, his grandfather, who sympathized with the teenager, got a Remington Model 522 Viper .22-caliber rifle for the budding marksman as a Christmas gift.

Brock was hooked.

The 673rd Security Forces Squadron flight sergeant said he lived in a small settlement of five homes, and could wander into national forest land, line up a few targets and plink away.

Fast forward to July 11 and Brock has progressed beyond plinking, beyond the limited ranges and hushed zings of his rimfire days. He was lining up man-shaped targets between 100 and 500 meters for Advanced Designated Marksman qualification at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson's Statler Range here.

Civilian Officer Leonard Reloza, a Combat Arms instructor, said the routine training ensures 673rd SFS Airmen retain proficiency on the M24 SWS. He then rattled off a description of the rifle, sounding like a 1950s-era salesman describing the whiz-bang features of the latest vacuum cleaner.

"The M24 is the current standard-issue sniper rifle for the U.S. Air Force," the Anchorage native said. "It's a bolt-action Remington 700 action using an H-S Precision Kevlar and fiberglass composite stock with an aluminum bedding block and a Remington 40X trigger topped with a Leupold 10x scope."

The Remington 700 action is the heart of the rifle, allowing the shooter to quickly cycle through ammunition while retaining the accuracy of a bolt-action rifle. The composite stock and bedding block ensure a tight and consistent fit with the action. According to the manufacturer's website, the match-grade trigger allows for adjustments between 3.5 and 5 pounds of trigger pull, according to the needs of the sharpshooter.

Far from the “lone wolf” portrayed at the cineplex, Brock said he relies on his spotter, Staff Sgt. Ryan Link, to hit his mark before the two switch places for training.

"The spotter is the best shooter," Brock said. "They are responsible for calling out distances. They will do all of the formulas for you while you're behind the sight, because you have fatigue behind anything magnifying. If you're high or low, they will tell you how far you are off by clicks (of sight adjustment). You adjust and take a second shot if needed."

Brock and Link worked like interconnecting cogs of a Swiss watch during training, communicating in short staccato commands in order to get steel on target.

Peering through his spotting scope, Link used the reticle pattern to estimate distance based upon the assumed size of the target's torso.

"On target at four," said Link, a native of West Branch, Michigan, indicating a range of 400 meters. "Send it when ready."

The order cleared Brock to shoot once he gained a good firing solution. He gingerly wrapped his fingers around a dial at the top of the sight. Click. Click. The sight was set for 400 meters.

The sharpshooter breathed in and firmly exhaled, eliminating any shake induced from his rhythmic breathing. The scope crosshairs hovered over the target. Brock's finger cradled the curve of the trigger and slowly squeezed, infinitesimally adding pressure until the trigger group activated the rifle's firing pin. Bang.

"Beautiful," Link breathed in a hushed tone, scrutinizing the target through the spotting scope. "Good hit ... center of mass."

In contrast to Brock, Reloza's childhood was replete with firearms and marksmanship. The instructor said he competed in riflery at Anchorage's Bartlett High School where he also enrolled in Army Junior ROTC. These experiences gave him a penchant for precision weapons fire and a yen for military service.

Reloza joined the Army as an infantryman; his first assignment was at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, with the 101st Airborne Division. He made rank and eventually became a sniper team leader before reassignment to then-Fort Richardson here with the 4th Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment.

After leaving the Army, Reloza joined the Air National Guard and is a technical sergeant and Combat Arms instructor with the 176th SFS. His Guard status mirrors his civilian duties, and he helps 673rd SFS Airmen share his pursuit of eliminating the small things that preclude precision fire--things like ammunition.

M118, 7.62 mm Special Ball long-range ammunition is designed specifically for precision rifles used by the Department of Defense. Despite being manufactured to tight tolerances, M118 ammunition is still subject to small variances. Reloza said it is important to register a lot of ammunition, manufactured in a batch at the same time, to ensure consistent results. This information and a host of other parameters, are recorded as data on previous engagement, or DOPE, in a notebook.

DOPE also includes how the rifle behaves under different atmospheric conditions.

Because the climate is so different in places like Afghanistan, and because Airmen likely won't deploy with their home lot of ammunition, Reloza said they will be assigned a deployed lot and will consequently build a new DOPE log.

Because these seemingly small factors quickly add up in the accuracy equation, Brock said it is important for advanced marksmen to become familiar with a newly assigned weapon and to maintain accurate data on how the weapon behaves in varying conditions.

"Each weapon system is different," Brock said. "They are each within a half minute of angle (1/2-inch at 100 meters) accuracy; however, they are shooter- and ammo-dependent."

Some of the sharpshooters' techniques can seem like black magic. Brock said a well-trained marksman can use a strong wind to curve a bullet to hit a target behind cover. At longer ranges with higher-caliber weapons such as the 50-caliber M107 Long Range Sniper Rifle, shooters have to account for the bullet being subject to the Coriolis effect.

"When you get into long-distance shooting, you actually have to factor the rotation of the earth, because the target won't be at the same location once the bullet gets there," Brock said.

During the course of the day, 673rd SFS Airmen engaged targets at known and unknown ranges in prone, kneeling and over-barricade positions in order to keep qualification on the M24 SWS.

For Brock and Reloza, two sharpshooters who couldn't have had more different backgrounds with firearms, it was another day on the beat. They both picked up their first rifles at vastly different ages, but time, experience and training ensures both are always ready to find their mark.