QUANTICO, Va. -- Earning the title of Marine Scout Sniper is one of the toughest challenges the Marine Corps has to offer. If a Marine is successful, he will become a hunter or gatherer of intelligence that can be used to win battles and save lives.
Twenty-six Marines and foreign military officers enrolled in the Scout Sniper Basic Course began their second day of stalking exercises, Oct.18, at Camp Barrett.
When a Marine first checks in to Scout Sniper School he is referred to as a PIG, or professionally instructed gunman. If successful, he will graduate in nine-weeks and will earn the title HOG, or hunter of gunmen.
The first few weeks of the course are spent on long-range, known-distance shooting.
“We want to make sure they have the fundamentals of shooting before we move on in training,” said a scout sniper basic course instructor.
If successful in the long-range, known-distance shooting, Marines begin the stalk and unknown-distance shooting portions of training.
During this stalk exercise, Marines had to move from 800 yards to within 200 yards of an observation post undetected within a three-hour time frame.
Before they begin, Marines camouflage their entire bodies by cutting vegetation from their surrounding and attach it to their ghillie suit, which is a specially designed, camouflaged clothing designed to resemble heavy foliage.
“It’s all about attention to detail,” said a Marine in the course. “You really have to look like a part of the terrain or you’ll get spotted a mile away.”
Throughout the course, Marines will be graded on 15 separate stalks and must maintain a 70 percent average, including two perfect stalks, to pass the course.
In order to cover the ground without being seen, Marines use surrounding vegetation to blend in, and inch across the ground using a technique called “skull dragging.” When skull dragging, Marines have their head on the ground as they inch forward.
“This is the most physically challenging part,” said a Marine in the course. “You push through it though, because keeping low is the difference between life and death in combat.”
Throughout the entire stalk, an instructor, called a walker, is guided by other instructors, called observers, who are tasked with spotting Marines.
Getting within 200 yards isn’t enough, though. The Marine then sets up his final firing position and fires a shot. An observer then has three chances to find the shooter. If the observer can’t spot the shooter, he holds up identification cards. Marines then have to identify two letters being held up at the observation post. Walkers nearby then radio to confirm. Identifying the cards lets the instructors know that the Marine has a clear shot on the target.
If the observer doesn’t spot the shooter, the Marine then takes a second shot. This time the observers are looking for the blast caused by the barrel of the gun.
Observers then have three more chances to spot the shooter. If they can’t locate the exact position, then the shooter has to stalk his way out of the firing position to earn a perfect score.
“This is one of the most difficult aspects of the course,” said an instructor. “If the Marine fails here, he gets a zero for a grade and gets to try again tomorrow. In combat, if they are spotted it means the mission is compromised, which could cost Marine lives.”