A soldier made history by becoming the first active duty female to pass the Army’s sniper school and qualify for service in the elite role.
U.S. Army Sgt. Maciel Hay, who serves as a cavalry scout with the 173rd Airborne Brigade, passed the Army’s sniper course last month at Fort Moore, Georgia, according to a brigade release. Her accomplishment marked the first time an active duty female had passed the rigorous course, coming after a National Guardsman from Montana became the first woman overall to earn the elite qualification.
“My nickname growing up was ‘Sniper,'” Hay said, according to the release.
Her desire to live out that nickname led her to the Army, where she made it through basic training while qualifying as an expert on the M4 rifle. She then passed through the Army’s Airborne School, serving with the 173rd before finally getting her opportunity to attend sniper school.
“I grew up shooting, mostly rifles and handguns, on my family’s ranches in Rocklin, California, and Medford, Oregon,” Hay said. “But the nickname came from the fact that I could find things really fast, similar to how a sniper does target detection.”
Given the rigors of Army training and especially its sniper course, Hay recalled that some had doubts about her dream along the way, which she used as motivation.
“A close friend of mine told me I’d never make it in the Army, and there’s no way I could become a sniper,” Hay said. “Needless to say, that person is no longer part of my life. But now that I look back at it, I really do appreciate the motivation.”
But the road wasn’t always easy. Hay noted the amount of practice it took to qualify as an expert on her M4. Nevertheless, leaders recognized Hay’s potential early on and helped her reach her goal of becoming a sniper.
“Sgt. Hay is just an incredible noncommissioned officer that comes to work every day with the intention of making not only her team better, but also the entire organization,” Hay’s platoon sergeant, Sgt. 1st Class Antwon Jones, said, according to the release.
Her leaders eventually helped prepare her for sniper school and its strict selection process. Hopeful candidates are typically experienced soldiers who have demonstrated superior marksmanship skills. There are also strict standards for physical and mental fitness, with snipers facing some of the most grueling tasks during Army operations.
Once selected, Hay went through rigorous training on multiple weapons platforms and sniper skills, including stalking, concealment, intelligence gathering, land navigation and survival skills.
“The rapid target engagement and intelligence reporting were two of the toughest areas for me,” Hay said. “I also struggled with the very last test where we had to engage long-distance targets while sitting on our rucksacks. That position threw off my balance.”
Nevertheless, Hay powered through to graduate and qualify as a sniper, a moment that was made even better when her family traveled from their home in California to attend the ceremony.
“Due to COVID travel restrictions, they weren’t able to make it to my basic training or advanced individual training a few years ago,” Hay said. “Then, I went straight to Germany to join my unit. So it was really nice to see them and I’m grateful for their support.”
Her next assignment will take her to Anchorage, Alaska, where she will serve with the 1st Squadron (Airborne), 40th Cavalry Regiment, though her goals won’t stop at sniper school. Hay said she is now setting her sights on becoming a jumpmaster, while others have encouraged her to attend Ranger School.
Along the way, she’ll continue to have the admiration of her current platoon sergeant.
“It’s great to hear stories about paratroopers doing great things,” Jones said. “But especially when it’s a female defying the odds and proving women are just as capable to do anything when they have the motivation and drive to win.”