Dynamics of a Scout Sniper Platoon Part Two

A 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) Maritime Raid Force Marines fires a M40A5 sniper rifle while conducting a marksmanship training exercise at a range in Qatar, April 22, 2013. Eagle Resolve is an annual multilateral exercise designed to enhance regional cooperative defense efforts of the Gulf Cooperation Council nations and U.S. Central Command. The 26th MEU is deployed to the 5th Fleet area of operations aboard the Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group. The 26th MEU operates continuously across the globe, providing the president and unified combatant commanders with a forward-deployed, sea-based quick reaction force. The MEU is a Marine Air-Ground Task Force capable of conducting amphibious operations, crisis response and limited contingency operations. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Christopher Q. Stone, 26th MEU Combat Camera/Released)

Note- This article is the second portion of an earlier article that contiues the discussion of the dynamics of being a member of a Marine Scout Sniper platoon. To read that article, please click here.

The training, weapons, and gear that takes place in Sniper platoons is very different than in line platoons. To begin with, many Sniper platoons are authorized to use gear that is much more conducive to their mission set such as MICH helmets that allow them to gain a solid cheek weld with the new M40A6s, lighter plate carriers that allow platoon members to carry more weight, better boots that allow them to run faster in full gear. Even the set up is different. Usually, plate carriers are set up with nothing on the torso portion to allow a better prone position. Many platoons use a belt system where all the equipment is loaded on a belt. Not only does this help the aforementioned prone position, but in a worst case Escape and Evade scenario, members can ditch their heavy armor altogether and move much faster with just the bare essentials of ammunition, survival gear, and water.

Weapon systems are obviously different too. Many platoons have their members pistol qualified because they have to be armed with a secondary weapon other than the long guns. The primary weapon system of everyone is the M4A1 with fully automatic selector switch and the Surefire suppressor. This is to both conceal their position when returning fire better and to lay down much more firepower because the teams travel in much smaller groups than a line platoon or squad will travel in. Usually, the HOG team leaders carry the M40A5/A6, while the assistant team leaders carry the M110 SASS, an AR10 variant built by Knight’s Armament (although sometimes these weapon assignments can change to suit the mission). The .50 Cal Barrett SASR, being mainly a 3 MOA anti-material weapon is usually humped by some poor PIG while on patrol. Some platoons even integrated the 5.56x45mm NATO Mk.12 DM rifles for additional firepower while on deployment. M249 SAWs were also carried by team members during OIF and OEF, again because it adds firepower to an already small team. All of the long guns are usually qualified with out to 800 meters with the SASS, and 1000 meters (a “grand” as it is known in platoons) with the M40A5s/A6s.

The way the ranges are completed on the long guns is very different than you might expect. Everything is geared to training for reality. This involves running the yard lines as fast as possible between each session of fire. Bags are kept between shooters legs to minimize a profile, ammunition is kept out of sunlight so temperature doesn’t affect the rounds, meticulous notes are kept for each shot in addition to recording the ammunition lots used. Possibly the biggest thing that makes the difference here is the shooter-spotter dialogue that takes place. This is absolutely essentially to achieving accurate hits on target. Standards are kept very high here as well, if a PIG or student at the school house leaves a zipper on a backpack open, he can expect the entire contents of that backpack to be dumped all over the range, with him having to run to pick all of it up so as not to leave a target indicator behind.

While not working with the weapon systems there are numerous other training exercises that Sniper platoons engage in. Stalking, land navigation, sketches, and observations (“Obs” for short) are three of the most complex and essential to the platoon’s capabilities. Stalking involves starting maybe 600-1000 meters away from an instructor on glass. In a limited time period, the stalker has to make his way as close as he can to the instructor in order to get a shot off with blanks. Once a shot has been fired, a “walker” comes over to the shooter while the instructor holds up a paper card. The shooter has to positively ID the card in order to score well on the stalk lane. Then, with the instructor looking directly in the vicinity of the shooter, he has to take another blank shot. If he passes this, then he has achieved a “100” on the stalk lane.

Field sketches and observations are done to enhance a platoon member’s situational awareness capabilities through intricately sketching the scene from a certain position. This is to be able to bring back to a higher command, so that command knows exactly what the view from that position is. Granted, cameras exist today, but sometimes these go down. Observations are done where the platoon has to write down military objects that are barely viewable at a distance away from their position using a set of binoculars and a spotting scope. This is especially helpful in scanning and looking for attention to detail.

The HOGs in these platoons usually go on to be instructors at the school houses, or bounce higher up the chain of command in their platoon to being a Chief Scout, or platoon sergeant. Some of them even become infantry warrant officers as gunners because of their deep knowledge of various weapon systems. Others go back into the infantry and continue their careers there because there is very little career progression in the 0317 MOS. Then others also just get out after 4 or 8 years of being in the service. PIGs usually don’t end up re-enlisting and mostly get out themselves after a 4 year contract in the infantry. Usually, these Marines are very smart and motivated to begin with, and seeing the Marine Corps for the archaic and slow organization it is, choose to take their talents to the civilian world or even contracting. However, this retention problem isn’t just related to PIGs, but really is a Marine Corps wide issue that that been plaguing the service for some time.

As for myself, I was in 1/9’s Scout Sniper platoon for a year in 2012. I received a chance to go to the Basic Course and eventually failed the school, not returning. I was one of those 50 percent drop outs that we covered in an earlier article. When I came back to my Sniper platoon, I was on a sort of downward decline of motivation, we call it being a Terminal Lance in the Fleet. I wasn’t as proficient and I had issues working with the other guys in the platoon and was thus kicked back to a line company. The spiral was entirely my fault, being younger and immature, not realizing the consequences of my actions, etc… Either way, I completed the next two years of my infantry contract with Bravo 1/9, and deployed with them to Afghanistan for a second time. In retrospect, being in the platoon was the highlight of my career when it comes to the amount of knowledge and training I accomplished. But on a personal level, I was probably much better suited to a line company.



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

    Didnt those dudes on the left catch sh-t for that SS flag?

    • EdgyTrumpet

      Why would they, nothing wrong about being a Kiss fan.

    • Rick O’Shay

      I think they’ve been using it just to rustle jimmies.

      • TheNotoriousIUD
        • Rick O’Shay

          Yeah, I caught what you were getting at. I guess what I’m getting at is, seeing that they used the symbology in various morale art, I doubt the connotation was lost on them. I’m guessing they really only discontinued using it due to public backlash, not because of any personal moral qualms with it. Based on my personal experience with those who’ve served overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan, there’s a dark and morbid humor among many of them that fails to see the historical implications of that kind of symbology. They probably did it as an inside joke. Not excusing it, but I get how it might have come about.

          • TheNotoriousIUD

            I think its BS.
            It obviously stands for “Scout Sniper”.
            If you shoot people for a living youre gonna have kind of a dark sense of humor. I dont have any problem with it.
            Although I can see why the Corps PR team was forced to say something.

          • Rick O’Shay

            I don’t really have a problem with it either. Personally, it’s not a joke I would make, but I also know they’re not literally claiming to equate themselves with the Schutzstaffel.

          • TheNotoriousIUD

            Yeah, I wouldnt have gone there either but its not worth having a fit about.

          • Drew Remington

            The former Sgt. Maj of the Marine Corps was a Scout-Sniper. He toured to nearly every plt, on both coasts and personally delivered a brief explaining why SS runes or bolts were not okay to wear, display, or engrave on our rifles. He explained that the runes were disgusting and had “no place” in “our Corps”. They’re also branded on his leg.

          • TheNotoriousIUD

            Im shocked lol.

          • Beju

            BS? Nonsense, this is The Guardian reporting it! The same paper that broke the news about the secret Chicago Police black site where they also secretly hold press conferences and have arrestees secretly pick up their property.

          • TheNotoriousIUD

            wut

          • Beju

            The “black site” still gets quoted in national media from time to time.

          • TheNotoriousIUD

            weird

          • iksnilol

            Oh yeah, the SS logo obviously stands for “Scout Sniper”.

            And KKK obviously stands for “Kit Kat Klub”.

          • TheNotoriousIUD

            Now I want a Kit Kat.

          • iksnilol

            And I want sexual relations with women of ill repute, but here I am. No sleep for about 24 hours + stomach problems and I got practice work tomorrow.

            Yeah, a Kit Kat would be nice now. I agree.

          • TheNotoriousIUD

            Youre thinking about banging with stomach issues?
            That sounds pretty awful.
            Especially for her.

          • iksnilol

            Of course I’m not gonna bang with stomach issues. I don’t bang in general, and especially not with stomach issues.

            I just am feeling like I’m dying like Elvis here. Not a good thing.

          • TheNotoriousIUD

            How many bacon and peanut butter sandwiches did you eat?

          • iksnilol

            That’s a thing?

            I… f###, a scientist never rests it seems like.

          • TheNotoriousIUD

            It could be…

          • iksnilol

            Yeah, I’ll have to try it this week.

            What if I toasted it in addition? GOOD GOD! I AM A GENIOUS!

          • Tassiebush
          • iksnilol

            You are one sick bush, I’ll give you that.

          • Tassiebush

            Just trying to be helpful.

          • iksnilol

            I didn’t even know military grade enemas were a thing. My young, innocent and fragile mind is basically shattered now.

          • iksnilol

            Yeah, if we did we’d end up with Soviet military grade enemas in our orifices.

            😛

          • Tassiebush

            I wonder if people risked their lives in Stalingrad crawling through rubble under enemy fire to get these to troops that really needed it? I’m sure these things would have stories to tell if only they could talk!

          • Tassiebush

            With friends like that who needs….

          • codfilet

            During one of my nephews tours of Iraq, he and his Marines were stationed at a roadside outpost . They put up a sign naming it “The Alamo”

          • gusto

            didn’t the Alamo fall`?

          • Hanover Fist

            Yes…but they took a hell of a lot down with them.

          • codfilet

            well, yes. They were out there, isolated and alone, so I guess they thought they could end up in an Alamo scenario.

  • Big Daddy

    Sometimes I learn more from the things I did not accomplish than the ones I did. I learned humility and my place in the universe. It also taught me to reach for realistic and attainable goals first. That has helped my shooting, I know I will never be the shooter I want to but I worked at being able to shoot effectively within my parameters in self-defense.

  • Ron

    It is not really a retention problem per say. but a part of the design of the Marine Corps in order to ensure younger, more aggressive and less costly force. Additionally there is absolutely no need to retain 100, 75, 50 or for that matter 25 percent of personnel. We normally retain less than 20 percent of each year’s cohorts.
    Sure you often do lose some of the right guys and keep some of the wrong guys but overall it is one of the more efficient large services within the US Government. And that is the problem in a sense of why “warriors” become frustrated in the military. The military is part of the US Government, meaning it has to abide by public law and is subject to the scrutiny of not only elected officials but the public. How many hours of valuable training time is sucked up by training for softer subject matter? Well countless but that happens because the service chiefs getting raked over the coals because of a perceived problem by American public and those who they elect.

    • Holdfast_II

      It also has the collateral benefit of creating a wide network of Marine vets in the larger society. And a pool of well-trained folks who could be reactivated in case of dire national emergency.

      In the Canadian Army we had quite a few – too many really – Corporals For Life (CFLs – not the Canadian Football League; the initials also work for Captains For Life, a related problem).

      Basically decent troops who didn’t want to take, or couldn’t pass, their junior leadership course to become Section Commanders (i.e. squad leaders). In the specialized and/or support trades, they could be quite useful. It’s quite possible to be a great heavy equipment operator (diggers, dumps, cranes, etc.) with no real ambition other than to be a great heavy equipment operator and know that equipment inside and out. Same for quartermaster stores, cooks, etc. – some folks just liked doing those jobs and doing them well, and wanted the brotherhood of the Army. Doesn’t really work for things like Infantry, Armor and Arty, which are much more physically punishing, and less intellectually rewarding at the junior level – for those jobs, “up or out” is more of a necessity.

  • Joe Schmoe

    It’s interesting to see the differences between the mentalities of armed forces around the world.

    The sniper platoon in the IDF is much, much different that what you described. I don’t want to get into too many details for OPSEC sake, but there is something I would like to ask.

    What is the attrition rate between the start of boot camp, and the point where the trainees join the line battalion in your experience. Also, why is stalking still given such importance? I’m really curious the last time it actually came into factor outside theory. Sure there is the usual camouflage stuff, but it’s barely relevant these days due to the spread of thermal optics. The mark 1 eyeball is really easy too fool without investing too much, thermals are a completely different monster.

    • Mark

      It takes a thin layer of insulative fabric, *especially* under a ghillie suit, to hide from thermals. Thermals also work very poorly under hot conditions, like Vietnam and Iraq.

      • Joe Schmoe

        That’s the thing, it doesn’t really work out well. We tried it, and without getting into too much detail, we found that the thermals still find you.