How Sniper Experience Helped Develop My PI Skills Part 1

A younger (more handsome) me when I served with Tiger Force Recon holding (my favorite beast sniper rifle) the .50 cal Barrett.

A younger (more handsome) me when I served with Tiger Force Recon holding (my favorite beast sniper rifle) the .50 cal Barrett.

During my first enlistment with the Army I was stationed with 101st Air Assault Division in Fort Campbell, KY.  It was during this time that I had the honor to work my way into the most decorated platoon element in the Army known as Tiger Force Recon.  It was during this time that I spent countless hours studying, performing "stalks", and what I would consider arts and crafts by creating better guillie suit tops for my environment.  I think I would get a few laughs out of private investigators today, but you bet I still use my recon/sniper equipment and training in private investigation work today.  I had the honor of deploying for 15 months with this unit and I am still in contact with many of the men that I served with and have served in Tiger Force.


I realized that after conducting a few surveillance operations in the southeast region of the US that I saw how applicable my skills in a sniper platoon were.  Sure, there is plenty of area you can camp out in a car, but lets not forget there is a ton of area that is still in the woods.  There are a ton of areas that are simply impractical to think you can sit in a car due to being in the country.  

This is where I'll conduct some area recon and find a suitable drop area.  This comes with knowing where to park a car with a partner in case I need a quick pickup.  If I'm monitoring an individual over a long period of time or several times, I have found it better to get dirty rather than risk blowing my cover.  

In situations like these I found that, just like setting up a sniper hide site, I was doing the same thing gathering footage on cheating spouses or insurance fraud.  The same aspects of this kind of surveillance operation was in a lot of ways, set up the same as a military operation.  It required me to have good infiltration and exfil areas, extra batteries, water and food to last me, camo and all required camouflage kit items (snippers to keep fresh foliage, guillie top, etc).  It also required that I stay alert the entire time because the window of opportunity to gather such intelligence was extremely short.    I had multiple communication channels with a partner to alert me of anything or in case I needed a dead drop for more supplies.  

I came to the realization that I do not think there are many private investigators that do this either.  Personally, I love the aspect of getting dirty out in the woods to get the evidence I need.  Getting to tap into those skills is very nostalgic for me and a particular skill set that I am very proud to have.  I learned a lot during my time with Tiger Force, and continue learning even today.  

What are some of the things I bring out?

A guillie suit (top, bottom (depending but always the top) and a boonie).
Sony Digital Camcorder w 60x zoom.  
Water and Food (Only the Essentials) 
Snippers or durable kitchen scissors (to cut foliage that I tie into my suit)
Camouflage netting.
Cell Phone (with extra batteries)
Radio System (with extra batteries) 

I'll note that I do use a ultra flat earth colors krylon spray paint to carefully camouflage my equipment so that there are no shiny colors or reflections. This can be acquired at Walmart for a few bucks. 

The crucial point I will say is the infiltration and exfil part of this, which is generally at nightfall but can be accomplished during the day if it's a low traffic area.  It is this point that movement techniques are extremely important.  Not to mention good noise and light discipline.  It wouldn't make much sense to have your buddy drop you off and there is a bunch of chatter or the car lights were on.  There are different techniques as well such as a rolling stop (tuck and roll buddy!).

I will also recommend to do a lot of recon of the area before the surveillance even takes place.  There is a lot of planning that really goes into it when you start to think about it logistically speaking.  I also capture a ton of surveillance footage from google maps and my own recordings, all the while considering the best spots for capturing footage based on range, security, and concealment.  It's important to be able to have good enough equipment to get clear pictures and video of people coming in and out of the building. 

For those that conduct recon, it's a good idea to get intel on what happens in the neighborhood.  When does the bus come through to pick up kids in the morning? When are people generally leaving or coming into the neighborhood.  Where are the retirees at that sit at home and monitor their neighborhood all day?  When does the mail and trash run? etc.  Yes it's all important.  Maybe you can't simply park a car in the side of the road for this neighborhood but it is a neighborhood surrounded by a patch of woods.

Know your trespassing laws.  If I see a no trespassing sign, I am very respectful in regard to not use that property to conduct my surveillance operation in.  Not unless I have that owners consent (usually written consent I just prefer everything on paper).  

In conclusion, I would say conducting these types of operation sets me apart from most.  It's being willing to sit in the freezing cold or hot all day (while getting assaulted by bugs) and get pretty nasty in order to catch minor amounts of footage.  However, it's that footage that makes a winning case for the client and that is all that matters to me.  Winning results.

A Tiger Force group photo Bayji, Iraq 2007-2008

A Tiger Force group photo Bayji, Iraq 2007-2008