Here’s How A Direct-Action Sniper Maintains His Gear In The Field

Former Army Ranger Nicholas “The Reaper” Irving has seen just about all the ways a mission can go right, and all the ways it can go wrong. During his tenure as a direct-action sniper, Irving — whose incredible story will be chronicled in an upcoming six-part NBC miniseries produced by rapper Jay Z — executed countless missions in both Iraq and Afghanistan, many of which placed him in situations where survival hinged on his mastery of complex skill sets.

But even for elite soldiers like Irving, battlefield prowess can have its limits. Sometimes the difference between mission success and mission failure boils down to something as mundane as a dead battery or a weapons malfunction. “Always prepare for Murphy’s Law,” says Irving.

Nicholas Irving, pictured, served as a direct-action sniper with 3rd Ranger Battalion.Courtesy photo

Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong — that was Irving’s mantra on the battlefield, and it remains his mantra in his current role as a cadre member on reality TV series “American Grit.” As a sniper, Irving learned to approach mission preparation as if his life depended on it, because it did.

But you don’t have to be stalking high-value targets behind enemy lines to benefit from the knowledge and habits of an elite warfighter. Any time you “leave the wire” — whether that be on a routine patrol in Afghanistan or an elk hunt in Alaska — you increase the risk of Murphy’s Law. On an individual level, expert knowledge of your equipment is the first step toward ensuring that less of the things that can go wrong actually do. Next, because even the best equipment is prone to failure, you need to learn how to maintain it.

Here are five simple tips to help you out.

Remember your feet.

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Whether you’re trudging through the swamps of Benning, or fording streams in Afghanistan, or on a cross-country hike across Appalachia, what’s on your feet matters — a lot. But just as important as the quality of boots you wear is how you maintain them. “Simple maintenance keeps you on the mission,” says Irving. “Your boots need to be regularly aired out, just as your feet do when you take them off.” Most often overlooked, Irving says, is the integrity of the shoelaces. “Shoelaces are always the first things to go. They collect all the salt and stuff from when you sweat. Then they get all dried out and, over time, they begin to crack and fall apart. You need to pull them out and dry them by themselves.”

Streamline your kit.

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A brand new private is usually readily identifiable by the amount of excess material hanging from their kit. You can hear them walking up from a mile away. “I first came to understand the importance of streamlining your kit in Iraq when we were conducting raids with Combat Application Group,” Irving recalls. “They were so much faster than us, and I realized it was because they had gotten rid of all the snags on their kit. They were so sleek.” To minimize snags, Irving recommends S-rolling all excess webbing and material, and using either 100mph tape or a sewing kit to secure it tightly against the kit. And while staying as light as possible is crucial, there are some items, Irving says, that are absolutely crucial for shooters in the field. “Bring batteries on batteries on top of batteries. Extra lenses for your eye-pro are essential, too. And shooting gloves: That extra layer of friction-to-gun contact is important.”

Mind your magazines.

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Although often overlooked, a worn or filthy magazine is one of the primary causes of weapon jams. “Your weapon wants to eat, and it’s your job to feed it,” says Irving. “Keeping up maintenance on your magazine is just as important as the weapon itself. Make sure the springs are free to move and free of all debris. It needs lubrication every once in awhile, too. And make sure the ‘lips’ on the magazine aren’t bent or cracked.”

Treat your weapon as your lifeline.

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“If you’re carrying out in the field, your weapon is your lifeline,” says Irving. “This is what will protect you and get you back home safe to tell everyone the cool adventure you’ve had.” Weapons are designed to be rugged, durable, and take a beating, but, as Irving points out, in the field additional care is required. “The number one thing you want to do while out in the field is keep the action/chamber as clean as possible.” Coming in at a close second, Irving says, is lubrication. “Make sure to have some lubrication on your weapon’s action — dry metal on metal tends to not work as well. But don’t overcoat it. This leads to attracting unwanted globs of dust, as well as carbon buildup.”

Take care your body first.

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Of course, the most valuable piece of equipment in the field is you. “Your body is nothing more than a machine,” Irving says. “So be sure to keep up the daily maintenance it needs to perform at its peak. You get what you put in.” We’ve all heard it before: hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. But, as Irving points out, waiting until you’re already outside the wire to initiate the hydration process won’t suffice. “You must hydrate the night before. If you’re out there chugging water during the operation, it’s already too late.” Food is equally important. Irving recommends eating pasta before a big trek or mission: “It’s all about carbing up.” He’s also a big proponent of stretching. “If you’re out in the field and you roll an ankle or pull something you’re either going to be out of commission or it’s just going to suck.”

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