Guns and Gear

POTD: The Human Bipod – Häyha Sniper Competition

Welcome to TFB’s Photo Of The Day! Today’s selection features the art of sniping. We get to follow the 10th Mountain Division Soldiers from the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 2-22 Infantry Battalion, as they compete in the Häyha Sniper Competition, Finland, August 26, 2023. The Häyha Sniper Competition had no less than 24 shooting events and tasks to challenge the skills of snipers in team-based obstacles.

Here’s a long description of the events by the team:

On a rainy morning in the Taipalsaari Live Fire Area, Soldiers of the 2-22, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division rise to assess their equipment before moving on to the next phase of the 2023 Hahya International Sniper Competition. The Mountain Soldiers have completed just a few of what will be over 20 phases of the competition. Sgt. Branden Gonzalez-Beers, Sgt. Ian Will, and Spc. Curtis Neighbors are part of a three-man Sniper team. They have been sent to represent the Soldiers of the storied 10th Mountain Division. Beyond the standard bonds formed in the field amongst Soldiers, the connection this team feels goes further. It was, in fact, the Finnish Defense Force operating in the snowy tundra against enemy forces during the early phases of World War II that inspired American citizens to petition the Department of the Army to form the 10th Light Division, which would later become the 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry). “This tie we have to our Allies here in Finland goes way back. It’s always an honor to train with Soldiers from other countries, and to learn from them,” said Gonzalez-Beers, “this opportunity is even more so.”

Ssgt. Austin Underhill, the senior Non Commissioned Officer on ground, assigned to observe the team throughout the competition explains, “This isn’t just about training for us. While we are definitely here to do that, it’s also an opportunity to continue to learn from our Finnish Allies.” Underhill emphasizes, “We don’t necessarily do things the same. We have our own standards and lessons learned. And when we have these discussions during training, we learn from each other.”

Also competing for the top spot of Best Sniper Team are US Soldiers of the Virginia National Guard, the 11th Airborne Division, and the Marine Corps. For many of the Finnish teams, this marks well over a decade of competing in the competition. There is a German team also competing for the first time.

As the competition culminates, teams complete over 20 phases which test a variety of skills. Some of the challenges expected, others not as much. With names like, “Hide and Seek,” and “Who needs a Sniper anyway?” minds are left to wonder exactly what to expect for each one, which is intentional.

10th Mountain Soldiers placed 11th overall out of 24 teams, taking the top international spot above the other US teams, and the Germans. When asked if they’d compete again next year, Underhill responds “Absolutely. We’ll be back next year with lessons learned from this year. We’ll come back ready.”

The Hayha Sniper competition was started in the early 2000’s when the legendary Simo Hayha was still alive. The competition’s namesake, sometimes referred to as his nickname, “The White Death,” was a Finnish military sniper in World War II, during the Winter War against the then, Soviet Union. A representative from the Finnish Reserve Sports Association explains the request from the Hayha family in order to honor his memory every year.

The competition, hosted by the Finnish Sniper Guild, the National Defense Training Association, and the Finnish Reserve Sports Association, will continue to refine the phases and hopes to attract a growing international audience.

Source: All images and citations by Pfc. Kaylan Joseph, 10th Mountain Division.

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