Analysis- Scout Sniper Basic Course Failure Rate Part One

The Marine Corps Times (not associated with the Marines) has highlighted an issue that hasn’t entered the public domain in firearms news as of yet, but has really been smoldering at the surface for many years now. The basic premise of the issue is this: The operational active-duty infantry battalions in the Fleet Marine Force aren’t getting enough school trained Scout Snipers and it is hurting their ability to maintain peak effectiveness within the FMFScout Sniper platoons. Reasoning behind this? Not enough Marines are passing Sniper School while there are plenty of Marines that enter it. The problem? The majority of candidates in the school are failing the Scout Sniper Basic Courses taught at Camp Geiger, NC, Camp Pendleton, CA, and Quantico in northern Virginia. Currently, the rate at which classes are passing is 44 percent, which means essentially half of each Basic Course class is dismissed before going on to the advanced stages.

Unlike most articles, even about the Marine Corps from the Marine Corps Times, this one is relatively spot on. I’d like to point out that this is the same publication that made front page headlines out of a single forum post in 2010 about whether non-Infantry MOS’ deserved to wear crossed rifles on their insignia. Essentially blowing some non-issue scuttle-butt into epic proportions it should have never gotten to, to begin with.

As reported by the Times, the Ground Combat Element deputy infantry advocate of the Plans, Policies, and Operations command has announced the following solution to get the same quality of scout sniper while increasing the graduation rate of the 79 day Basic Course-

Starting this spring the Corps will experiment with breaking up the training into two parts. Between the two parts, those Marines would be assigned to an operational unit, a Marine Corps official said.

“Traditionally, there’re two areas that challenge our students: one is stalking and the other is marksmanship skills,” the Marine Corps official said.

“The intent is to give a sniper student the basic skills they need to join their unit under seasoned scout snipers,” the official said. “Then they will be doing on-the-job-training in operational environments and performing certain skills, holding certain billets at a lower level in their teams to gain experience and be mentored and coached under the senior scout snipers prior to going to the advanced course and hopefully having a greater chance of success.

So essentially the Marine Corps is looking to accomplish what the Platoon Leaders Course does, in that it splits the same training regime over two different time periods in order to accomplish larger time schedules and operational goals. Thus, a candidate from a Sniper platoon will attend half of the Basic Course, provided he passes, goes back to his Fleet platoon, gets more experience, then returns to hopefully complete the other half of the same course.

Although this might sound like a solution, in theory, I don’t believe this is going to be an actual workable solution for a number of different reasons that I’ll go into in depth.

The Real Problem

The Marine Corps Scout Sniper Schools are the best combined precision marksmanship and observation packages in the United States Military, Period. I don’t say this because I’m a former Marine Infantryman, or because I myself was in a Sniper platoon, or even because I attended the Basic Course (and subsequently washed out). I say this because what the Marine Corps offers as a Scout Sniper puts anything any of the other services have to dust. The biggest reason is that the capabilities that we offer aren’t offered in the same package elsewhere. The Army, the SEAL teams, even MARSOC each have their own sniper schools, but none of them offer the scouting package that the Marine Corps offers. They offer an excellent shooting package, but not to the extent that the Marine Corps goes in teaching snipers how to act as FOs for artillery/CAS, stalking, patrolling, and observation, they don’t come close. As an example, the class that I was a part of had several MARSOC guys, and the class before me had three SEALs, two of which failed our Basic Course. Much of the education that the Marine Corps offers is a direct result of bloody lessons learned in the jungles of South Vietnam.

The problem however, is that the reputation of the 0317 community hasn’t changed with the times. As an example, stalking is still being taught to this very day, and is one of the hardest and most failed portions of the school. Many question the validity of stalking, possibly being more useful in Vietnam than in the cities of Iraq, and the mountain valleys of Afghanistan. However, what few realize is that the patience and perseverance, in addition to the utility of camouflage that allows a student to successfully pass a stalk lane against a watching instructor, are the same skill sets that are drastically important on today’s battlefield. Our Scout Snipers practice a sort of art form that doesn’t really exist anymore in the conventional forces of today.

The rigid standards that exist at the schools today have been in place since the 1970s and 80s, essentially closely guarded by generations of Scout Sniper Instructors. However, the operational requirements of today, are not the same as they were in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s. They are much higher with the deployments on MEUs, Black Sea Rotations, and dreaded Okinawa. During OIF and OEF there was a massive surge of enlistments. So although there were more Marines the force-wide overall, more students at the Basic Course, the standards were able to stay the same. Also bear in mind that the school houses have gone through numerous changes over the past decade to accommodate this need for more graduates, but none so drastic that the graduation rate is essentially being cut in half.

During OIF and OEF there was a massive surge of enlistment and re-enlistment throughout the years units were deploying overseas. So although there were more Marines force-wide overall, thus more students at the Basic Course, the standards were able to stay the same. Also bear in mind that the school houses have gone through numerous changes over the past decade to accommodate this need for more graduates, but none so drastic that the completion rate is essentially being cut in half.

From the Marine Corps logistic point of view, there needs to be more Scout Snipers. From a budget point of view, it’s impossible to increase this number without adding more schools or more preparatory training which both cost money. But most importantly from the Scout Sniper Instructors, they won’t decrease their standards to produce a sub-standard Scout Sniper. Unless of course that is what the Marine Corps wants overall, but I gravely doubt this.

Thus, from the viewpoint of an admin officer, apparently splitting the course in two sounds like a surefire way to maintain the same quality of Scout Sniper while generating more 0317s.

The Time

From a simple time line perspective, it is very hard for me to see this working out. Let’s do some simple math here, so bear with me. So the majority of Infantry Marines have a four year contract, let’s break that into months, which is 48 months. Minus 5 months for Boot Camp/School of Infantry is 43. Now the average Infantryman these days usually sees two deployments per term of enlistment. Each deployment is 7 months, plus about a month of combined leave, that makes 16 months total of either being deployed overseas or on leave. Now we are at 27 months in the Fleet, doing good so far. However, each unit will conduct a work up for that deployment that is usually 5-6 months long prior to deploying. During this period, units have to stay together to build up that inherent teamwork. So we’ll subtract 10 months from that 27, leaving us at 17. Now, Seps/Taps is the Marine Corps’ outbound separation program, which usually requires 3 months (90 days) of a Marine’s time prior to his EAS date, dedicated for him to be checking out of his unit, turning in gear, etc… So now we are at 15 months of training time. It looks like we have a lot to work with here, 15 months in the Fleet to go to Sniper School, what’s the issue?

The issue is that no Sniper Platoon is going to send a Boot to school (PC word=New Join). It does happen, but rarely and almost never works. A spot in the Basic Course is highly coveted in Scout Sniper platoons. Think of it like this: Each school serves an entire coast, with Quantico taking up the slack from both coasts when spots aren’t available at the Gieger or Pendleton schools. So if we take Geiger where I failed out of, essentially we have one school house, that can only take around 30-40 candidates per class, serving three Infantry regiments. Broken down, 3 regiments have 3 battalions, each have their own Scout Sniper Platoon. The math equates to around a combined total of 200 Marines in these platoons (roughly 20-25 eligible Marines in each platoon). We’re going to double this number for one year to 400. This is accounting for guys leaving the platoon, incoming Boots, casualties, etc…

So, a Basic Course is roughly 3 months long, including the several weeks delay between each course, so that makes for Basic Courses that a school can support a year, sometimes three. If you do the math, for every spot available in those 3-4 Basic Course classes, you literally have anywhere from 10-16 Marines vying to get into one spot. Of course, these numbers are somewhat smaller at the platoon level, but the facts remain that there is a very high demand and very little supply of available class slots. In addition, there are only 3-4 Basic Courses per year on whichever coast you pick. Of course, if you’re the Chief Scout of a platoon you could try to send a guy across the country to Pendleton when at Lejeune, or vice versa. But is your battalion really going to fund that when it could send an NCO off to become JTAC qualified for a cheaper price on base, and a higher graduation rate? Probably not.

 

To be continued in Part Two



Miles

Infantry Marine, based in the Midwest. Specifically interested in small arms history, development, and usage within the MENA region and Central Asia. To that end, I run Silah Report, a website dedicated to analyzing small arms history and news out of MENA and Central Asia.

Please feel free to get in touch with me about something I can add to a post, an error I’ve made, or if you just want to talk guns. I can be reached at miles@tfb.tv


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  • Showed things so realistically in this artice.

  • Drew Remington

    Not enough Marines graduating is a bit of a stretch. The Marine Corps doesn’t want to identify the real issues that plague our community.

    The real issue is retention. The problem with an 0317 who is in a victor unit is that it’s a dude with an awesome skillset who is employed in the wrong capacity, participates in all the reindeer games, gets s hlt pay, more responsibility, and not senior in rank or bullet to those that SUPPORT him.

    That’s the problem.

    • Ron

      I have to caveat his from being a non-SS, but instead as a former Commander and having knowledge of what commanders have said and reported. Those reports and sentiments has made its way up to HQMC in Commanders’ Operational Advisory Group. There is the belief the SS community does provide a capability, but they sell significantly more capability than they can actually provide and as culture they don’t seem to listen to the commanders and what commanders have stated they want. And this directly tries to the formal training process, which is often seen as more selection and indoctrination than training.

      • Drew Remington

        Ron,

        Absolutely. What’s the difference between a PIG and a HOG? I might piss off some 0317/8541 types here, but some of the best snipers I’ve met were PIGs. I fully understand that they’re not formally recognized as snipers, but when two rounds drop two taliban fighters, the third will not be too concerned about whether or not the shooter is school trained. Some guys spend a year in a plt and know more about stalking and ballistics than school trained counterparts from around the world.

        You couldn’t be more right. The school needs to be revamped. Would it help with creating the desired attrition rate? Idk. I’m of the crowd that believes a desired attrition rate can lead to the wrong person slipping througj. I’m also realistic and understand numbers are needed.

        I don’t know what your feelings are on this, and I know it’ll never happen, how about a Scout-Sniper Plt who’s plt sgt is an e8. Plt commander is a seasoned 0203 and SS employment officer. Three teams, chief scout is an e7. Team leader’s E6, assistants team leader’s E5. SDA pay to encourage men not to leave. It’s not hard to see the benefits this would have.

    • Justin

      Retention is a problem in almost every field in the Marines. I was a POG in the IT field and when you realized that a 300 PFT and rifle range were more important to getting promoted or sent to training then knowing your job it became somewhat easy to jump ship and move into the civilian workforce at 5x the pay plus less hours and BS. I saw the same thing in other fields that required a large about of knowledge and or training to be proficient.

      I know every Marine is a rifleman but considering I touched a rifle for a week every year and a keyboard the rest of the time it got a little old. I would still be in if I had a chance of actually making a career of it and not just doing my 20 and getting out.

      • Ron

        The simple fact is the Marine Corps is built on a low retention model, we historically we have retained only 17-20 percent of first term Marines enlisted Marines. We do this one because of the pyramidal rank structure and to save money because human capital is our largest expense, and it is cheaper to access and training new Marines and discharge them after four, five and six years than it to keep them and eventually their families until retirement.

      • Drew Remington

        Justin,

        The Marine Corps has unfortunately become a beuaracratic, political machine. A good ole’ boys club at the top.

        I think it’s people like us that realize the organization was once truly an amazing fighting force. Everyone was a rifleman. Unfortunately its been lead astray. I’d argue some riflemen aren’t truly riflemen.

        300 pft? Check? High expert? Check? Promotion photo? Check. That’s great… but? Is he proficient in his job? It would seem our promotion system is flawless. Three-quarters of the sncos I’ve met would leave me to believe otherwise.

        Along the lines of what you’re saying of course, we have Sgt. Rob Richards (I refuse to call him corporal since I don’t believe he deserved to be stripped of rank) who led a team who pissed on some unconstrained enemy. Even if they hadn’t just blown up a fellow Marine the day before, strung his body parts from trees, the Taliban is still the Taliban, an unconstrained enemy. Rob was praised by the commandant just prior to this. Post incident, they want to throw the book at him.

        Marines in WW2 rarely took prisonsrs. Sometimes for their own safety, sometimes out of frustration. Marine Raiders have a great picture of themselves with a bunch of Japanese skulls.

        Thsee events transpired within 70 years of each other. So, yes, I wholeheartedly agree. We do not have our priorities straight. We burn our best and recycle the trash. If you look good on paper, you’ll pin a rocker.

        Sorry to make it so long winded, I’m just a little heated thinking about it. I just can’t appreciate the man who signed the paper 4-5, times who sucks at his job, can’t get out because he sucks, knows it, wouldn’t find a job, depends on the paycheck. We signed up to serve. Not be served. Often forgotten.

        If you read to here, thanks. Itsee definitely a rant.

        • Smedley54

          The more things change, the more they remain the same. When I enlisted in 1972, Marines in my MOS (IT) got amazing reenlistment bonuses, a bump in rank, and advanced training. When I left active duty in 1976, time in rank alone gave me more cutting score than required for promotion, except that it had just been announced there would be no promotions in my field for the third straight year. No bonuses of course, and no advanced training.

          People with any ambition at all resent being totally expendable, so unless you’re insanely dedicated to Corps and country, or lack imagination and ability, you leave. The Corps bleeds the very people it needs for elite training because it would take a little effort to keep them.

          • Drew Remington

            I couldn’t have said it better. Your last paragraph sums up the Marine Corps in its entirety.

      • USMC03Vet

        It’s quality of life issue. They treat their people like garbage.

        • I think all you hard chargers should take a look at how the British promote and retain, it’s a world apart from us. First of all, there’s a strong tendency with them to purely focus on job proficiency. Ever noticed how high British troops blouse their boots? No, because they place less emphasis on that 300 PFT, High Expert stuff as you pointed out and more on the job. After that, you enlist for a career in the British Army after your initial 4 years. If you want to get out, you have to let the chain of command know a year ahead of time, theoretically giving the MoD enough time to train up someone to take your spot.

          • Brett

            I liked the Brits and I think the core could take some lessions from them.

          • Drew Remington

            The Aussies have a similar system. Want to get promoted, you can get promted. Want to stay the same rank, stay the same rank. Nobody will say you’re a turd if you feel like you’re not ready for the additional responsibilites. At first I believed that getting promoted to Sgt. in no less than 10 years could be problematic but, then I look to the state of senior NCOs in the Marine Corps which tells me maybe we need a more thorough vetting process.

  • Nicks87

    This happens because units usually send the most physically fit guys to the course not necessarily the best marksman. This happens a lot in the military and especially with the advanced combat schools.

    • Stuki Moi

      Very high degrees of physical fitness helps support almost any field mission. Not becoming needlessly tired when events require an extra burst of effort, helps retain proficiency at almost any of the “higher” skills. As well as helps keep morale up, since little setbacks don’t seem so insurmountable when one has a bit of surplus energy.

      How “physical fitness” is measured, is more complicated. The pace at which one can run a mile, can have as much to do with biomechanical peculiarities as with broader spectrum “fitness.” Ditto for many other traditional tests. I would think the Marine Corps, after all these years, do have fairly good handle on what tests to focus on, but I’m sure there is always room for improvement.

      • Nicks87

        You are 100% correct. I just think the marathon/triathlon guys need to focus on their marksmanship skills before requesting advanced training. What pisses me off is guys that complain about us taking too long on the range because they need to get to the gym. They can go find employment elsewhere as far as I’m concerned.

      • billyoblivion

        To get a perfect score on the running portion of the PFT, at least last time I ran it, you need to run a 6 minute mile for 3 miles.

        This is *not* something that requires “biomechanical peculiarities” to achieve. Yeah, if you’re a fat body, or if your idea of physical training is to shoot HGH and bench press 400, but you never do aerobic exercise, then yeah.

        But really all you need is to do *well* on the running portion is basic aerobic fitness and will power.

        In boot camp I ran a 19:30 3 mile run. Not great for (barely) being 18 years old and weighing a buck and a quarter, but I beat *most* of my platoon, and I could live with that.

        2 and a half years later I’m on TDY to a place where I’m not meshing well with senior leadership. One of them, in particular, is riding my ass like it’s got a custom leather saddle. He’s one of those lean mean running machines. Routinely turns in 18 to 19 minute 3 mile runs.

        I’m 20 pounds heavier, and I’ve started smoking again. Because I’m TDY I have little time to PT, and don’t do it much anyway. Heck, I don’t even have *running shoes* with me. But they make us run a PFT because it’s their time to do it. Ok. Whatever.

        I’m running with this dude at the first turn, and I decide for some stupid f*king reason that he’s not going to beat me. For 2 miles we run neck and neck, and then the back spasms kick in because I’m running in Chuck Tailor High Tops, he’s got me by about 3 steps when we turn the last corner, and I reach down deep inside and *kick*.

        I beat him by at least 10 steps, and immediately roll out into the grass to dispense with whatever is left of breakfast.

        My previous PFT had been around 21 or 22 minutes.

        I was so focused and in so much pain from my back that I have *no* idea what my time was, but but based on his history it was under 19 minutes.

        Yeah, he never gave me grief again. Whether he realized it was pointless, or because I got some respect I don’t know. And I don’t care.

        All you need to get a *good* running score on the Marine Corps PFT is determination. Running shoes help, but aren’t essential.

        Now, if you’re talking about being an olympic class runner, competitive marathoner etc., yeah you’re right.

        But 20 pullups, 80 crunches and a 18 minute 3 mile run? Healthy young men can do those, or close enough with discipline and focus.

  • somethingclever

    Pedagogically, having a high attrition rate for a “basic” course means that pre-selection is not accurately reflecting prerequisite skills necessary for success or the school is not teaching the skills of the course well. So either raise the standard of admission or get better at teaching/training.

    • Oregon213

      Spot on. High failure rarely will be solved by a curriculum change (or schedule shifting), unless you’re willing to reduce the quality of your end product.

      99 times out of 100, its an issue with student selection or your instructors.

    • Stuki Moi

      It can be fiendishly difficult to pinpoint what sort of innate traits are most predictive of final success, at something as complex as becoming a good Scout Sniper. Cultures that focus on singling out “prodigies” at an early age, tend to have horrible success at it, in more complex fields. (complex as in ore complex than recruiting 9 footers for basketball.)

      • somethingclever

        You seem to be arguing that putting together a selection process that will tell you whether or not a candidate can reasonably be expected to be successful is too difficult. If that is true, then there are either too many components to the training and it should be separated into discrete parts, or there should be open enrollment. Open enrollment is not a realistic option because it is too costly.

        Your comparison to early age prodigies is off point. No one is suggesting we start training them when they’re 5 or 6. I am suggesting that if there is knowledge sequencing, we have to make sure that if we teach only B, they have proven they know and can do A first. That’s not complicated if you know how to set up student learning outcomes and course sequencing.

      • billyoblivion

        If you’ve been doing it for 50 years (since the 1970s) and haven’t figure out what the core traits you need are you haven’t been paying attention.

  • Wolfgar

    We use to get our best from the back woods of America where the youth went in all ready in shape from logging,ranching,mining and farming and had stalking skills already fine tuned from years of hunting. Gaming is just not the same.

    • Stuki Moi

      Mount the sniper rifle on a drone, and watch out for the gamers……

      • Dan

        No scoping for days on nothing but doritos and Mt. Dew!

    • USMC03Vet

      Oh please. Being a city boy never fired a firearm before I joined I was smoking all the country daddy taught guys while I was in the corps. Coming into the military with “skills” usually meant you refuse to learn anything differently. I had a friend I went to coaches course with who was like this. He was an awful shot and nearly failed out and the other one did fail out on the first qualification.

      • Wolfgar

        So what you are saying is if you enter a sniper course with years of shooting , hunting and field craft skills you will be too stupid to learn any new ones compared to a virgin shooter and hunter from the city LOL? If you smoked all the daddy taught country boys and you had never shot a firearm or been in the woods before I know you never competed against any true country boys. It takes experience not daddies to become proficient in the woods. City boys can learn but nothing will replace growing up in the woods when knowing your game, environment, patience and placing your shot means everything. So please yourself but I know better.

        • Brett

          What he is saying is very true. I was the same way. I smoked avivid deer hunters. Hell, Our company High in boot camp was from a white kid from Chicago.

          • Wolfgar

            I must have touched a nerve with some city boys LOL. I have seen novices become master shooters in USPSA competition who could out shoot experience shooters in a few years. Yes some people have natural skills no matter where they live. My point is back in the dinosaur days young people grew up with a basic hard core life style compared to the average youth of today which made them perfect for the conditions required by the military. Growing up hunting and trapping instills the individual with stalking and field craft skills no city boy can match without extensive training. Some of the best snipers in history were hunters and people who grew up in rural areas. True woodsmen are becoming rarer today since the Cabelas tree stand week end hunter doesn’t count and they don’t allow youth today to work in the fields like they use to.

          • Drew Remington

            You’re not stalking big game. You’re stalking an Apex predator. Trust me when I say I have found no relationship between upbringing and success rates when it comes to stalking.

            I have found that “country boys” tend to be more patient. It reminds them of hunting back home.

            “City folk” tend to be better at understanding the human element. They can look at someone through a high powered optic and say, “that dude is shady because ‘reason'”.

          • Wolfgar

            I met a former Marine sniper at a local long range match who moved to Montana and started elk hunting. He said people were much easier to stalk than elk. I wouldn’t necessarily agree since elk wont kill you if you screw up but learning ones prey and habits is the basis of all hunting which every successful hunter masters. The role and environment of the sniper has been changing for many years but the basics will never change.

          • Drew Remington

            Lol. Is his first name Ron? Just out of curiousity. I know a guy out that way who’s a big time elk hunter as well.

            I would say that it really depends on who you’re fighting (untrained vs trained). What stage of the conflict we’re in. We had a saying, “all the dumb ones are dead, only the smart ones left”. When you’re fighting someone that has lived in a certain village their entire life, it becomes inherently more dangerous for a sniper team. Dogs that don’t normally bark at night, ground-spore, a door to an abandoned house that was open yesterday, shut today are all oddities that could giveaway a position.

            Separate from stalking, guys that learned tracking at a young age excelled. That is something that takes a lot of time to master.

            The basics never do change. You’re absolutely correct. They’re core fundamentals.

          • Wolfgar

            In my opinion stalking is tracking, reading sign and everything else that is used to make a successful kill. Knowing how and where to find sign,”tracking” will tell you what is or was in an area. Tracking is more than following foot prints, if you don’t know how to find or follow the sign “stalking”, your hunt will fail. Tracking is the ability to find the sign. Stalking is knowing how to use the sign and skills to find your prey. Most people walk through the woods like they were walking in a city park. In the movie, Tomorrow land, 2 characters escaped in a capsule and were shot into a pond making their escape. When they walked on to shore, how many people do you think even noticed the obvious beaver sign?
            You are correct about the smart ones and the dead ones, game animals and hunters can also be put into the same category. Hunting and sniping are interrelated using the same skills.
            I know a lot of Rons who hunt.

        • Anon

          No True Scottsman and arguing that “performance doesnt matter, because I dont like thing”, Amazing

        • Dan

          I’ve see lot’s of real country boys put to shame. Some people have the skill regardless of where they grow up. I live in an area where there are no tree’s all grassland or cropland so stalking is all we knew. It doesn’t get more country than a trip to a town of 30 people taking over an hour. 2 hours to a town with any type of shopping. So it happens some people have a knack for it and others have an ego that says they do.
          If i make no sense I’m trying to have a conversation and type at the same time while pretending to be interested in the person talking.

        • billyoblivion

          Not too stupid.

          But usually too arrogant.

          There is a YUGE difference between shooting a deer in the heart/lungs at 75 or 100 yards and shooting a human in the face at 400 or 600.

          There is a BIG difference between trying to hide from a deer that is partially color blind and one or more humans who have binoculars, radios, and maybe heat sensing equipment.

          When attending classes like this *humility* is absolutely critical, and it’s something that is VERY hard to instill in young men.

          • Wolfgar

            The skill of a successful hunter learns his preys habits and abilities no matter what the environment . All creatures including humans have their own habits and behaviors determined by their environment and culture. Elk, antelope and Mule deer hunting on the plains of eastern Montana is very different than hunting them in the mountains of western Montana. A successful hunter will learn the animals idiosyncrasy’s quickly from a life time of experience. If a person sees no benefit applying hunting skills to sniping he is a very poor hunter if one at all. The best snipers are always the best hunters if they realize it or not.

  • Jeremy

    Ah, the age old “quantity vs quality” issue.

  • phuzz

    “Many question the validity of stalking, possibly being more useful in
    Vietnam than in the cities of Iraq, and the mountain valleys of
    Afghanistan”
    Just because it’s not as useful in those places, doesn’t mean that Marines won’t ever get sent somewhere where it is a useful skill.

    • I was trying to make it clear/point out your point exactly. Stalking brings upon a number of useful traits and disciplines, but it is really hard for current leaders to look at stalking and say “Okay, the lessons learned are applicable in the 21st Century”

    • uncle fester

      If you are short of snipers, it may be smart to train snipers and leave the stalk training to “some” of the snipers.

      • Drew Remington

        The definition (if I still remember correctly): A Marine highly skilled in field craft and marksmanship who can deliver long-range, precision fires, at selected targets, in support of combat operations.

        Fieldcraft, then marksmanship. Not marksmanship, then fieldcraft. This was Carlos Hathcocks primary concern. Good shots are a dime a dozen. Quick thinkers, a team who can accurately paint a picture, undetected (stalking) for the battlefield commander (sniper plts work for the bn commander, technically), are the most important responsibilites.

        Scout Sniper plts are not undermanned. They lack 0317 (not a primary mos). They accept Marines from across the companies of an infantry Battalion to serve as scouts or Professionally instructed gunman, after completing a selection process.

        They then wait and train for the opportunity to go to school. As Miles stated, some go immediatdly, some wait a year. Either way, the skillset is acquired through on the job training. The school is only meant to qualify a man as a Marine Scout Sniper as per doctrine.

        For those who don’t grasp the concept. Plenty of people work on firearms. Some build them at home. Are they gunsmithing? Yes. Are they gunsmiths? No.

        My problem with the SS platoon is this; after 5 years I would be assigned to a duty that I did not want. Either combat instructor, drill instructor, or embassy duty. I wanted to remain operational. I also knew that once I left, I would never return to the SS platoon. This is the way the Marine Corps works. Once you are a SNCO you could be assigned anywhere as a plt sgt. I wanted to continue performing my duties as a sniper. So many of us leave, and seek work at either the Recon bns. or within SOF. There is no such thing as a Marine who serves 15 years as a Scout Sniper in a Scout Sniper plt. You’d be hard pressed to findo one who’s done it for 10.

        What we have are 5 year veterans who regurgitate knowledge passed down from generation to generation.

        • uncle fester

          The original premise was that the high failure rate in the school was causing issues with staffing up all the needed spots.

          My point is that splitting up the training might allow the Marines to fill some of the spots either “better” Marines than fully trained scout snipers.

          While better isn’t as good as best, it beats untrained.

    • LilWolfy

      A lot of the focus on stalking dates to the Great War and the myth of Carlos Hathcock’s stalk on the NVA General, which never happened. A lot of dudes have dragged their faces and bodies through the worst real estate you can find, with visions of this mission in their heads, thinking there is good reason for it.

      In reality, the stalk lanes are better training for Point TGT Recce, but never structure that way in the school houses. You don’t need a Ghillie suit to get into position and deliver accurate fire with extreme prejudice, even at 300m, let alone 600m. Very simple tools and techniques can conceal you plenty without donning a Squatch suit, which is rarely done in reality anyway.

      The idea of going outside the wire in your school suit seems like an excellent way to be a heat casualty to me, unless it’s winter, which I have tried and done even with a ruck on. There is a mindset from the 1980s and 1990s that bled into the 2000s that has been hard for the schools to let go of, but I think we are seeing the wave of dudes who have questioned it finally making it into instructor positions and changing things.

      SF revamped SOTIC/SFSC in the stalking department in major ways that allow better use of training time, without getting rid of stalks. The shooting and ballistics has also changed to the point that record fire required smaller targets to be sourced, as full steel sils were too easy to hit.

      Where both the Army and Marines could seriously improve, that commanders can understand, is adopting a formal Designated Marksman program with billets and training, to increase the capabilities of the Infantry Squad. Recruit from those guys after they have spent time in the position for the long school and STA or Recon Platoons.

  • CommonSense23

    Suggesting the Marines put out the best snipers is a bit of a stretch due to no other school offering the same FO/CAS training. Their is a reason every SOF sniper course doesn’t do it. Cause it’s better to send a guy to school for it.

    • Drew Remington

      They’re not their to CFF. They can, but that is not their primary function. They are observers first. Their role is to observe the battlefield, remain undetected, return undetected, and relay information to the bn commander so he can make a timely decision.

  • FT_Ward

    To address stalking failures one thing to look at is time of year and where the course is conducted. The amount of foliage present should make a difference in pass rates.

  • USMC03Vet

    Companies never want to lose their marines because they are never full up anyway. Simply getting a indoc for something which is never mentioned probably a huge issue as well. I mean the people that would want to go are going to be the better marines anyway that you want in the company why advertise them leaving? That’s how it was when I was in. Unless you knew someone currently in STA it wasn’t even a possibility. Same goes for how school slots are handled as well. It’s an archaic non competitively designed system of knowing someone.

    • I’ll agree with you that there is some politics involved getting into an indoc or going to school, but I’ll argue that it isn’t as much as you point out. Sure, Platoon Sergeants want to keep their best guys, and they’ll fight to prevent these guys going to an indoc, but at the end of the day more often than not at least in my battalion, if you wanted to go to an indoc, that’s what you got. School slots though, thats all competition in the platoon man. The chief scout is going to send the guys they think will pass, no matter the relation.

      • USMC03Vet

        Just saying there is definitely factors involved which work against getting people in there to begin with and that the availability of information and command giving a toss is something that should be addressed because I saw it as a huge issue. Getting stuck in the line company is an issue for Marines that could achieve more.

        You know how it is. If you’re proficient at things, suddenly you’re doing other people’s duties and whomever is in charge doesn’t want you to escape.

  • Just say’n

    re “on the job sniper training”. What could possibly go wrong?

  • Gun Fu Guru

    There are two major issues as to why this happens.

    #1. Precision marksmanship has generally gone by the wayside and is now harder for troops to grasp as a concept. The switch from the M14 to the M16A2 to the M16A4 to the M4 has shown that it is better to be fast with a good amount of accuracy as opposed to freak slow amount of exceptionally accurate fire. Academic programs have not changed with the times in order to protect the traditional role of snipers; they still teach stalk-kill-exfil. That doesn’t really work with the operational experience of individuals going through scout-sniper training.

    #2. USMC retention is horrendous due to how they treat the Marines. I agree with @drewremington:disqus’s comments below.

    ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

    As an example, the class that I was a part of had several MARSOC guys, and the class before me had three SEALs, two of which failed our Basic Course.

    This means nothing. Why I taught at Ranger School, six Force Recon guys went through the program when they were trying to establish MARSOC and it’s instructional courses. Five of them did not complete the program.

  • A Fascist Corgi

    I don’t think that there’s much of a point to join the military these days. The military conflicts that we’ve been involved with in recent decades have been pointless and self-destructive. Wanting to get back at the jihadists that attacked us on 9/11 was great, but since our culture and our leadership won’t allow us to respond to this threat properly, then why waste your time and risk your life and your health? If you really want to defend your country and fight our enemies, then you should focus on combating the internal enemies first.

    • John

      Aside from the political misuse of the military, there are plenty of reasons to join. Adventure, discipline, lifelong friendships, opportunity to learn/do things that you either can’t do legally or can’t afford to do as a civilian. It’s also a shortcut out of bad conditions for people that grow up in poor areas or families.

  • Drew Remington

    The snipe is a bird. It’s small, hard to hit, and skiddish. The men who would shoot these birds would remain motionless, undetected, firing well aimed shots. They became known as snipers.

    Shooting is again, not the primary function. Remaining undetected is the primary function. Why shoot a rifle when I can shoot it with 155? The issue is not the weapon system (of course, 338 lapua would be a nice upgrade from the 308).

    The cost of this weapon is also a factor. At the end of the day, dialing elevation and range estimation are not extremely difficult tasks. The hardest part of long range shooting is dialing for windage. The tracking point system can not dial wind for you.

  • Tassiebush

    I get the impression that a lot of contemporary sniping at least for Western Nations is happening with fire superiority and ballistic advantage largely established and where speed of movement over very open terrain is paramount and there isn’t really a practical or safe slow option to crawl over barren expanses. Similarly with urban areas there isn’t much scope for it unless perhaps it’s a smashed up rubble situation. The prioritizing of traditional stalking skills would be hindering getting the other much needed skills outlined in the article into the areas they’re very much needed. Having said that if a conventional war occurs between professional armies with vaguely similar capabilities then that stalking skill set will be of more central importance again. Same goes for similar wars to now if it happens where there is more vegetation.

    • jono102

      Stalking is a key skill regardless of the type of warfare for snipers, its application or conduct is just where and how it varies be it open, urban or jungle. Being able to move to and from firing points and hides with out unmasking to enemy or civilians. The stalking skills are the same used when locating and occupying a hide whilst under possible observation. The better a sniper is at stalking the better he will be at countering a similar threat.

      • Tassiebush

        You’re right on all points! I underestimated/forgot those aspects.
        They need to counter other snipers and scouting. They need to be able to move without being observed. I think there’s a historical pattern of a sniper role devolving into a designated marksman role and then the full skill set being sorely missed and paid for at regular intervals.

  • Wm Reich

    Actually this should become a model across the board.. A fellow with the basics pared as an assistant to one that has proven capabilities is the best way to learn. Be it Snipers, Scouts or Tank Sgts and Lts.. makes good sense to me..

    • jono102

      Works in theory but generally not in practice especially for a lot of specialty roles. The turn over of operational and training cycles etc are getting that bad that guys spend most their time struggling to maintain their own skills and out puts without burdening them with another guy to mentor. This on top of the fact the S/S are already low on qual’d pers.
      In the likes of a section or squad where there is enough depth to carry a guy under training and mentor, that’s a different story

  • LilWolfy

    “The Marine Corps Scout Sniper Schools are the best combined precision marksmanship and observation packages in the United States Military, Period. I don’t say this because I’m a former Marine Infantryman, or because I myself was in a Sniper platoon, or even because I attended the Basic Course (and subsequently washed out). I say this because what the Marine Corps offers as a Scout Sniper puts anything any of the other services have to dust.”

    Have you attended SOTIC/SFSC? Have you attended any of the other schools? We sent several of our guys to the Quantico Instructor’s course out of our Sniper Section, who had already graduated Fort Benning’s school, and they had nothing but praise for the USMC course, but the main reason they liked it was trigger time and spotting scope time.

    In a Scout Sniper Platoon, Recon Platoon, you will be doing observation, FO duties with the radio, live call for fire, Point TGT Recce, Area Recon, Zone recon, observation logs, photographic work, lots of planning and rehearsals, brief backs, debriefs, terrain models, and the skills you mention that you think separate the USMC SS course from the other courses. This is bread and butter for any Recon Platoon and Sniper Section, not patented skill sets that only the USMC possesses.

    If you want to see a community that smokes both the USMC and US Army in terms of Reconnaissance, go spend some time with even a British Army Recon unit, let alone Royal Marines or Paras. We learned so much from them when I was in Long Range Surveillance, it made the US reconnaissance community look like a joke in many ways.

    SF’s course has adapted with the times. It was actually based a lot on USMC SS course when it started, but without any dogma and emotional attachments to the EGA, in a community that encourages freedom of thought and creativity way outside of the box of regimented units.

    I would consider dialing way back on the “USMC best” perspective and go train with a lot of other units and organizations before making those kind of statements. I expect to see them in yt comments section from pre-pubescent children with access to the internet, but not here. There are courses you might not have heard of within your own organization, let alone others, that take all of this to a different level.

    SOTIC Level II here that has trained with several different sniping communities from coalition partners.