Analysis- Scout Sniper Basic Course Failure Rate Part Two

Note-This post is a continuation of the earlier post that began, talking about some of the issues that are inherent with chopping the current Scout Sniper Basic Course in two. To read part one, please click here.

Back to the supply and demand. Who are you going to send? The Boot that just checked in? Or the salt dog PIG who has been in the platoon and has been training for months for this opportunity. You’re going to send the PIG, hands down.

Now we’re back to the timing issue, except we have less time. Remember that 15 months of operational training? That number just got cut in half, down to 8 because we’re being gracious. The number got cut in half because the first half was the time it took that Boot to get sped up on knowledge and training. In addition, maybe he wasn’t even in the platoon during that 8 months because he was in a line company on his first deployment and only joined the platoon afterward. The overwhelming majority of Marines from Sniper platoons that get sent to school usually have one deployment under their belt already, for the reasons discussed above.

We are at 8 months to complete a 3-month course. 79 days is 2.6 months but I’m assuming that since the course is cut into two, it’ll be longer on both ends due to gear turn in/issue, we also have to take into account injuries sustained. How much of that 8 month period is the platoon’s probationary period after passing an Indoc, is taking place for that Marine? How much of it is speeding him up on knowledge and going on field ops to practice that knowledge? How much of it is spent at a preparatory course to get him ready?

When I went to the Basic Course, there were four Marines before me that went from my platoon, and three afterward. Of those eight, three failed and didn’t return (myself included) while two failed and did return to complete the class. Granted, one of the failures joined the class at a later portion. But if we translate that to this new program. Say you go for 1.5 months, fail for Land Nav, then go back, and pass it. Now you’re at the 3-month mark of time of your 8, down to 5. You can make exactly two attempts at this course before your platoon probably won’t send you back again because now you’re pretty much only got 2 months left of training time (5-3). That is cutting awfully close to getting ready for the unit’s work up for the next deployment.

My point throughout this analytical exercise is that although the two part course might seem like a good idea, when it is confronted with reality, I don’t know if it will hold up, purely based on the amount of time that enlisted Infantry Marines are dealing with. Of course, I should add that Marines can extend their contract because of the Basic Course. But this decision varies from Marine to Marine, not all Infantrymen want to hate life several months more than they have to.

The other point I want to get across is that the battalion these platoons belong to has priorities. Having a T/O platoon of School trained Snipers would be excellent, but having a full complement of MRAP and MAT-V drivers, UAV operators, even sending Marines out to radio courses might override whatever capability school trained snipers would give to the battalion. Another thing is that the battalion pays for all this through the training budget. Whether a Marine passes or fails, it doesn’t matter to the training officer that sees valuable dollars being eaten up by Marines that are continually being sent back to a school that appears to be teaching antiquated techniques that haven’t been actively used against the enemy since Vietnam (in the officer’s mind).

The Experience Issue

I mentioned earlier the difference between the newer Boots, and the guys already in the Sniper platoon, the PIGs, or Professionally Instructed Gunmen. These are Marines that are in the platoon, most likely have deployed overseas, but aren’t snipers. They carry ammunition, act as spotters, provide security, and work medical issues. The overwhelming majority of Fleet Marines that get sent to the Basic Course are these PIGs. Usually PIGs are much more mature, better trained and smarter than the Boots that are checking in. In addition, the PIGs have earned a sort of seniority in waiting for their place in line to go to school. Unlike being in a line company, being a PIG in a Sniper platoon is never certain. If you slack off, you get kicked out of the platoon, back to the line companies (this is what happened to me). Boots that come into the platoon might not all make it through a deployment as they are sometimes found out to be unworkable and get kicked out.

The problem with the answer the Marine Corps has to the issue with this two course system is that it isn’t conducive to the actual Marines that will be going to the school house, the PIGs. I mentioned earlier that these guys are usually two years into their Marine careers after a deployment, and thus have limited time left in service for which to gain more experience between school house courses. I could see this two part course theme working with Boots who came directly into the platoons after their Indocs, but as I mentioned earlier usually platoons don’t want to send these guys in the first place because of the PIGs that already exist in the platoon. After a deployment, if a Boot has proven his worth, then of course he could be sent, but again we run into the timing issue because this puts him on the same timeline as those PIGs that I talked about earlier (of course by this point, the Boot is no longer a Boot).

The MOS Issue

One of the largest problems apart from failing school in the Scout Sniper community is that the Military Occupational Specialty of Scout Sniper, 0317, is a secondary MOS and not a primary one. What this means is that there is very little career advancement or opportunities available for 0317s. They can either become instructors at the school house, or they can advance positions within sniper platoons up to platoon sergeant. Some go on to teach the Recon Marines at their school house. But in the end, there isn’t a complete career solution for these Marines as there is with other MOS’s. As an example, if you’re an 0311, you can go on to being a Combat Instructor at MCT or SOI, afterwards you can become an 0369, an Infantry platoon sergeant, then maybe you can advance in the ranks to being a Gunny or even Sergeant Major and retire from there. With 0317s there is a cap, at which you have to put down the Scout Sniper card, and then go back to doing 0311 or 0369 work until your retirement from there. The problem with this system is that the community for those in Scout Sniper platoons is extremely small, and thus the knowledge base and training is also very small. Thus it’s much harder to train up a PIG for Sniper school than it is to train up an 0311 for advanced squad leader’s course, or an 0331 for advanced machine gunners. This gap becomes obvious because so many Marines are failing out of school whereas if they had a much larger and deeper career field to invest in, it might be easier to groom and train them for success.

The solution?

Right now the best solution from the community is to have prep schools for those PIGs going to the division school. These usually last several weeks after which PIGs get sent straight to school. The success rate of Marines going through these prep schools is much higher than PIGs that get sent straight to the school house. Usually these prep schools are put together on an informal basis between different sniper platoons working together. The problem is that finding the training time and funds to go through with this can be quite difficult. Trying to get multiple battalions to work together is almost impossible because each battalion has its own training regime and schedule that it has to adhere and stick to. However in the Marine Corps budget eyes, it appears that it is far less costly to split the course in two, than to provide additional funds for a prep course that would really prepare PIGs for their school house. On this note I’d like to point out that the SEAL program was suffering a similar failure rate and went the same route of the prep course. This resulted in more SEALs being turned out at the BUDs course, but only because most of the guys that were quitting in the prep course were guys that guys that would have dropped out of the BUDs course anyways.



Miles V

Infantry Marine, based in the Midwest. Specifically interested in small arms history, development, and usage within the Middle East & North Africa, and Central Asia.

If you want to reach out, let me know about an error I’ve made, something I can add to the post, feel free to message me at miles@tfb.tv


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  • TheNotoriousIUD

    Dude, I saw “American Sniper” like three times. Those guys just need to be yelled at more.

    • micmac80

      You mean the fantasy action blockbuster that has nothing to do with Sniper reality.

      • TheNotoriousIUD

        What?
        That sh-t is real dude.
        Ive already shot like 30 terrorists today.

  • Bucho4Prez

    Great article, Miles! Thought I was reading “Jane’s Defence Weekly” for a moment.

  • Drew Remington

    Miles, first off dude, I know how it can be to get burned out. If anybody thinks less of you for it they should keep their mouths shut. Getting kicked out of a plt literally means nothing.

    Nobody wants to get treated like a boot, deploy, come back, do selection, pass selection, get treated like a boot (again), go to school, fail, have a boot graduate, then get treated like a boot by a boot hog. Not that it happened to me, I’ve witnessed it, and shut it down. But it can be frustrating.

    It’s difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel because the we do it to ourselves, “You WILL pass this course, you WILL pass that course.” You fail, you beat yourself up, you go back to bn., the plt sgt (who’s never gone to ssbc) tells you you suck. Sgt maj is like, “wtf debil dawg”. How does someone pour their heart into it, get their dreams crushed, ruck up knowing they may never go back? Of course, most will never understand that dynamic without having been there.

    Enough about that, you’re not missing much anyhow.

    These are my personal beliefs. It should be top heavt. The SSP should be a plt of SNCOs that lover their job. 0317, primary MOS. School them out. Jump team, dive team. Able to deploy and conduct deep reconnaissance for the bn commander. Standardize the selection process, for all plts. The plt sgt must be an 0317. Plt commander must be an 0203 captain or former recon plt commander spending time away from recon bn.

    Once selection is standardized, award secondary MOS of 03whatever. For each portion of school completed, the pig gets a new mos designator so he can be phase pick-up’d. The sniper plt should exist at the regiment, in a company, but detached to the bn for opcon only. Adcon goes to regiment. If 1/7 was deploying tomorrow and the plt was undermanned, snipers could be rotated from another plt within the company to plus them up.

    The company could act as a holding cell. It would allow guys to attempt and reattempt school until they pass, giving them the mos required to be recognized. After, they could be attached to the unit. Regiment has better funding. It’s a no brainer.

    Controversial one here, but the men should be senior in rank. They should be E4s through E8s. An occasional E3 if he’s a rockstar. They shounderstand only leave the plt for schoolhouse time and for a new billet I’m about to create. Essentially, the SSSABC (senior scout sniper advisor to bn commander). This dude would be an E8 or E9 who would advise the Bn commander on the use of SS.

    Plt sgt E8, team leaders E6s.

  • stephenfshaw

    Good series and the “time to train” is indeed a key issue and limiting reagent here. One sensible fix would be to offer school seats to NCO’s that agree to re-enlist upon graduation. If you fail, no extension, but if you graduate, you stay in for another 2-4 year tour. This is not dissimilar from additional service obligations incurred with certain career schools in the officer ranks. No one wants to spend a school seat on a Jr. Cpl that is getting out in 9 months.

    I do respectfully disagree with the MOS point. An 0317 SSgt/GySgt – after a SSP plt sgt tour – now a 0369 platoon sergeant, Wpns Co section leader, or Wpns platoon sgt in a line company, brings a ton of skills to the table that are well within the wheelhouse of the 0369 billet description. In addition to marksmanship, comm, land nav, observation, target identification, woodcraft, CFF, etc – this guy would be a tremendous asset to any line platoon or line company. GySgt billets in Wpns Co, particularly CAAT section leader, would be a natural fit as well as Wpns Co ops chief with FSCC responsibilities. Yes, you are no longer pulling the trigger on the M40, but as a SSP plt sgt you are not doing that anyway, you are going to be in the SARC/ROC running the watch. Honestly, look at the sense SgtMaj Barrett brought to HQMC – I would love to have a 0317 as a company first sergeant. We’re just not going to have 0317 GySgts and MSgts in the Bn’s sniper platoons (honestly, there wouldn’t be room for the LCpls!) – if that is what someone is looking for then they need to transition to the reconnaisance community.

    • Drew Remington

      For the most part, the SS plt sgt is not an 0317, so he should NOT be touching an M40 anyhow. The plt sgt is strictly in an administrative and logistical billet. The chief scout is the senior most sniper who is technically supposed to control the plt.

      I understand your thought process in regards to “spreading knowledge”. I understand why you think a senior 0317 should be an 0369. It’s important for us to understand this is the Marine Corps current policy. The current policy is a failure. If you asked anyone of my peers as to why they left they’d tell you SS career progression is nothing more than a culd-e-sac. After working with the best dudes I’ve ever met, being creative, being allowed to think, why would I want to go work for some idiot that restricts my thought, initiative, while I sit around babysitting a bunch of boots? That’s why we leave.

      Of course, the only way that I would ever agree to spending time with the line plts is with the knowledge of returning to the SSP. So, to address your concern (and the Marine Corps), instead of doing a B-Billet, senior 0317s should be moved to a plt sgt billet for a work up and deployment in order to spread the wealth of knowledge. If you read my other comment above, it lays out a general concept as to what senior snipers should be doing, creating new billets, all of which aides the bn commander in making timely, well informed decisions. At the end of the day, snipers support the 0311. We want to increase their survivability. That should never be forgotten. Why would we not want a man with 15 years experience as the eyes and ears of the bn commander?

      • LilWolfy

        This never seemed to be a problem for us in the Army. You did your time in the line for at least a year, went to Scout Platoon try-outs, and either passed and were accepted, or not.

        Once you got into the Platoon, you started out as either a Scout/Observer or RTO in one of the Recon Teams, and learned how to function in your Team. If you proved yourself over the period of at least a year, you would get a chance to go into the Sniper Section and start on a gun. We put newer guys on the gun because the critical skill set is on the spotting scope.

        I saw you mention new guys being used for ammo and spotters. That doesn’t make sense to me, as spotting is the most perishable art form in the various skill sets that you have to train on in a Scout/Sniper Platoon. What I saw in our culture was that the more experienced guys, including NCOs, would try to drive the spotting scope since they had more time watching M118 and M118LR going downrange over the years, whereas a new guy could be a consistent shooter who does what he’s told, but has very limited wind-reading experience.

        The problem with all of this is when you get dished out to the line in 2-man teams, supporting commanders with the skill set. You can have Platoon Leaders that will tell one of you to go over to 1st Squad, and the other to cover down with 2nd or 3rd Squad, separating teams that work with each other normally, so there is a genuine need to know how to read wind by yourself and make high hit probability shots without help.

        So what I saw was a lot of guys that gained the B4 ASI, they would either gain that as a savvy E-4 or young E-5, then stay in the Recon Platoon and later get promoted to E-6/SSG, if they didn’t go to selection by then.

        Most that stayed in did go on to SF after that, while others were perfectly happy with moving on to Platoon Sergeant time in the line. I never saw that as a big deal, maybe because you get an ASI to your 11B MOS instead of getting a whole new MOS.

        • Drew Remington

          I don’t think I’ve ever said the “new guys should be used for ammo and sportters.”

          I previously said the plt sgt doesn’t rate to touch any bolt guns but, that’s because he doesn’t rate.

          • LilWolfy

            Sorry, that was in reference to a comment in the article from the author. If new guys are being used as ammo bearers and spotters, I have a lot of questions about what is going on in the unit. I suspect this isn’t an accurate representation of all the SS Platoons out there, and may be just from limited experience being able to evaluate what is actually the culture of a unit that one was not in for very long.

    • LilWolfy

      One of the best things that can help utilize SS trained NCOs after they have maximized their time in a STA Platoon is to become marksmanship instructors, especially for a Designated Marksman program, which both services need badly.

      I also agree that if you feel limited in freedom of thought and creativity with a special skill set, go to Recon or MARSOC. In the Army, most of the guys that could went to LRS and SF.

  • Kevin Harron

    Decent piece of writing Miles. Well done article.

  • Holdfast_II

    What if scout/sniper school came with an extra 18 month commitment added to your hitch? Would that be a deal-killer?

    • Sid Collins

      Probably not. These young men have to be highly motivated to start. I highly coveted a Ranger School slot that never materialized despite graduating from the Division pre-ranger school. If asked to extend my enlistment for a slot, I would not have hesitated.

    • Travis

      There was once a requirement to attend SSBC that you have 18mo left on your contract from when you would graduate. He mentioned this in the article than many sign to extend contract prior to going to the school.

    • Jeremy Nettles

      Same thing I was thinking. Since there aren’t too many material benefits to the graduate of this course, it already narrows the field to those who simply want to do the job of scout-sniper. Adding an extension to their contract would only increase the average level of self-motivation. Perhaps the demand for the course would drop a bit, but they already can’t school everyone who wants a spot, so what’s the harm in that?

  • Drew Remington

    These are my personal beliefs. It should be top heavt. The SSP should be a plt of SNCOs that lover their job. 0317, primary MOS. School them out. Jump team, dive team. Able to deploy and conduct deep reconnaissance for the bn commander. Standardize the selection process, for all plts. The plt sgt must be an 0317. Plt commander must be an 0203 captain or former recon plt commander spending time away from recon bn.

    Once selection is standardized, award secondary MOS of 03whatever. For each portion of school completed, the pig gets a new mos designator so he can be phase pick-up’d. The sniper plt should exist at the regiment, in a company, but detached to the bn for opcon only. Adcon goes to regiment. If 1/7 was deploying tomorrow and the plt was undermanned, snipers could be rotated from another plt within the company to plus them up.

    The company could act as a holding cell. It would allow guys to attempt and reattempt school until they pass, giving them the mos required to be recognized. After, they could be attached to the unit. Regiment has better funding. It’s a no brainer.

    Controversial one here, but the men should be senior in rank. They should be E4s through E8s. An occasional E3 if he’s a rockstar. They shounderstand only leave the plt for schoolhouse time and for a new billet I’m about to create. Essentially, the SSSABC (senior scout sniper advisor to bn commander). This dude would be an E8 or E9 who would advise the Bn commander on the use of SS.

    • stephenfshaw

      I like where you are going with this in several respects, and you are correct to note my comments below are bounded by current doctrinal priorities (such as they may be). Agree re rank/maturity level. We did have some rockstar E3s but only because staffing was so low. We would do well to age the MC as a whole, and certain the process of trying to fill SSP platoons from predominately first termers is a key issue.

      The idea of Regimental organization is interesting. Sometimes that can mean getting lost in the shuffle (TOW platoons) and even opcon is not as good as organic when it comes to working relationships, continuity, etc. (not so much relevant to the teams, but rather the leadership). But there is merit there.

      I still think you’re unlikely to see an additional MSgt billet created at Bn/Regt, particularly one that is not open to 0369s. You are almost describing a new “Bn R&S Gunner” position – perhaps WO vs E8?

  • MontieR

    There are three things I can see that would increase the overall numbers of scout snipers. 1. Select all the most accurate shooters in boot and offer them a better deal for an extra year in service.
    2. Start their traing IN boot.
    3. An added pay bonus for accepting the extra year AFTER graduating boot and passing the beginners course on sniping DURING boot.

    • Jeremy Nettles

      #1 is shortsighted—marksmanship is only part of what makes an effective scout-sniper, and most people can develop that skill anyway. As Miles noted in part 1, field-craft is the other most common reason for failing out of the present course.

      #2 is oversimplified—ignoring the problem with its prerequisite #1, it’s still going to require a bit of an overhaul of the training system with extra trainers, facilities, and bureaucracy behind the new regime. This would be expensive, and would come at the cost of the regular, common denominator training, which seems like a bad idea.

      #3, being predicated on #’s 1 & 2, is pretty much irrelevant then.

      To be fair, these ideas would accomplish exactly what you said: increase the overall numbers of scout-snipers. But it would cost more, and diminish the average effectiveness of those scout-snipers. For an analogy, would you rather have one Sig, or five Hi-Points?

  • Travis

    The problem isn’t training or cost. It’s the Corps retention problems. Snipers will perform that job as long as they are allowed, but they are pushed to other tasks they don’t want to do.