By Brian K. Sain
Military and law enforcement sniper teams normally consist of at least two operators—a shooter and a spotter. Often, both are fully trained snipers, with alternate roles to assist and sustain one another throughout an operation. The spotter handles communications, logistics and provides cover if a threat appears, while the shooter focuses on the primary objective. Realizing that unforeseen threats to a sniper’s survival come in different forms, the American Sniper Association decided to assist operators who may be having difficulties long after the echo of their shots have died out. It was this small team concept that prompted the acronym for the SPOTTER program. In this instance, SPOTTER stands for Sniper Post Operational Team Tactics for Emotional Recovery.
The program comes on the heels of the highly-successful Police Sniper Utilization Report, published by the American Sniper Association, in 2005, and was formed to assist snipers who have been involved in combat or critical incidents. Many snipers (both military and law enforcement) have taken shots that were absolutely necessary to save lives. However, their lifesaving success, on behalf of others, can come at an emotional cost to the snipers themselves…in the form of PTSD. PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is a normal human reaction to a highly abnormal or traumatic event and may manifest itself in varying degrees, depending upon the individual and circumstances.
The military sniper may have experienced fierce combat for months and is suddenly transported home when his tour is complete. He may find it difficult to adjust to normal life. Some return home to find their wives have left them, or divorce later when the pressures of what they’ve seen and done get to be too much and the family unit fractures. Families sometimes cannot understand what a sniper has seen through his riflescope and, more often than not, a sniper will attempt to insulate his family from the horrors of war or a nightmare SWAT callout. This can cause problems in itself if the sniper turns it all inward. Returning military snipers have told of being diagnosed as 100% PTSD casualties and have been prescribed therapy and medications by physicians. Some refuse treatment and counseling and may turn to alcohol or even suicide. Many do not wish to be stigmatized as needing mental health counseling, therapy or drugs, and may initially feel comfortable only when speaking of their experiences with other snipers.
The situation is often similar in law enforcement. The police sniper’s incident may be televised and the sniper publicly named in the media. The families of criminal suspects, neutralized by police snipers, often file lawsuits against the sniper or his department, regardless of the crime the suspect committed. Police snipers have even been sued by the families of those whose lives they saved. Irresponsible, ignorant or self-serving supervision and government officials may improperly handle the incident and place further pressures on the sniper and his family. Sometimes, the pressure is more than they can bear and, as sometimes happens with their military brethren, divorce, alcoholism and other problems may result. Professional counseling, treatment and medication are absolutely vital for recovery in many cases and should be sought out, via the Veterans Administration, Disabled American Veterans, or local Critical Incident Stress Debriefing (CISD) or Employee Assistance Program (EAP). But oftentimes, the sniper may feel that the only person that truly “gets it”…is another sniper. Unless one has been where a sniper has been and seen what a sniper has seen, he cannot relate to the sniper’s experience. Most snipers would rather face a battalion of enemy troops, than be labeled weak or in need of any type of counseling. And the self-reliance that served the sniper so well on the battlefield or callout can also be his undoing when the shooting has stopped. Sometimes, it just helps to talk about it with like-minded people who have been in similar situations.
The American Sniper Association SPOTTER program is staffed entirely by experienced, operational snipers who know these things and who have been involved in critical incidents themselves. There is no stigma or therapy associated with the program—no hand holding, psycho babble, or group singing of “Kumbaya”…just another sniper on the other end of the line that “gets it.” All information discussed is confidential and protected under 5 U.S.C. § 552 (The Privacy Act of 1974) and will not be divulged, unless a life-threatening situation exists.
Snipers face the worst enemies and criminals on the front lines of the fight, and are often highly successful due to their intense training, an incredibly strong will to survive and supreme mental toughness. However, even the best snipers discuss tactical options with their spotters to successfully complete their missions. In this case, the mission is to survive the fight and lead a good life afterward. There is no stigma associated with a sniper having a conversation regarding an operation with his spotter when debriefing a critical incident. After all, what sense does it make to survive an intense operation or months of combat only to lose one’s family or succumb to alcoholism and depression? The mission of the sniper will always be to save lives. This time however, the lives we are saving…are our own.
Anyone needing information on the SPOTTER program may contact the American Sniper Association directly, at (954) 389-0829, or via email, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All information is confidential.
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