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We are working on a historical series about the origins of the Army Sniper Program and XM-21 during the Vietnam War.

We have pulled together some of the timing of pre-1965, the involvement of ACTIV and the decision that was made in 1967. We have also pieced together some of the “missing history” of 1966 involving Jim Leatherwood and a prototype build of the ART scope at the First Infantry Division’s HQ in Vietnam.

In 1966, Jim Leatherwood was stationed at the 1st Infantry Division HQ in Di An, Vietnam. He had worked on the ART system design and built a prototype. Word about the optic spread around and one day two soldiers approached him with a request. Two Viet Cong soldiers were using a hilltop position as an OP [observation Post], and just out of range of the nearby U.S. troops using small arms fire. Jim loaned the soldiers his scope. According to those on scene, Jim quickly showed the soldiers the ”FRAME-AIM-SHOOT” method. They fired two shots and eliminated the threat. [story by Steve Burkart].

A year later, in 1967 the Army Concept Team In Vietnam (ACTIV) evaluated the Army Sniper operations and equipment in Vietnam. Their focus was on the ATMU match-conditioned M14 rifle and Jim Leatherwood’s Auto-Ranging Telescope (ART). [source: Peter Senich’s The Long-Range War – Sniping in Vietnam].

The ART scope was the US Army Sniper Optic (M21) until 1988, when the Army moved to the M24. The ART scope still saw use in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Again, we hope you find value in this snippit of hidden history and look forward to hearing from you regarding historical contribution.

We do have an ask…if you are familiar with this history, perhaps serving in Vietnam as a Sniper, or part of the Sniper development, we would love to hear from you.

- Corbett Leatherwood
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