Books, movies and television make the life of the Marine Scout/Sniper look glorious and romantic; but they don't tell the whole story. Marines from 3/8 tell what it really takes to be one of them.
After only a few hours of sleep, members of 3d Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment's Scout/Sniper Platoon awoke to the North Carolina darkness and a wet welcome left by the high humidity.
A short time earlier, the Marines had completed a 22-click (22 km) movement, through thick, sharp vegetation and waist-high swamps. Today, they would stalk their way to an enemy observation post where they would greet the occupant with one life-taking shot.
But there was more to this day than met the eye. Despite their deadly accuracy at ranges of 1,000 meters, the Scout/Snipers were to get within 200 meters of their target. To do so, each would have to move across vegetation in varying shades of color and an occasional open area.
Nature also threw other obstacles into the scenario. The warm sun had dried the ground which, together with a lack of wind, amplified the slightest sounds made by the Scout/Snipers as they painstakingly moved through the vegetation. Birds had sought refuge from the sun in the trees and could easily be stirred by one wrong move. Even the slight breeze that did occasionally blow ran over the Marines' backs, carrying their scent directly to the enemy position.
But it was at that position where the Scout/Sniper's greatest challenge resided. Upon the enemy post sat one of their own Marines, seasoned in the art of sniping. Carefully poised with a set of binoculars, the Marine slowly searched the area before him for the slightest sign of an intruder. Neither side took their role lightheartedly; second place in this environment equals an end to everything.
For many Marines, the thought of such activity is an enticing one. Fueled by the image of snipers found in books, movies, and posters, many Leathernecks would welcome the challenge of being a Scout/Sniper. Most of those movies, books, and posters fail to tell the full story of life as a Scout/Sniper, however. While such training is not uncommon in their ranks, it is only a small portion of what the job entails, according to Sgt. Craig T. Douglas, a section leader with 3/8's Scout/Sniper Platoon.
"It takes desire, drive, and a lot of heart to be a Scout/Sniper," he said. "Operational commitments and tempos are very high-paced. The Marines here endure a lot of fatigue, both physically and mentally, and have to be able to remain proficient throughout. If you don't love living in the field getting dirty, cut up, moving in waist-deep swamps, getting in fistfights with bugs, and staying cold for weeks at a time then this isn't the job for you."
To ensure a Marine can perform under such conditions, the platoon combines an intense flow of education with a continuous training cycle.
"We give the Marines as much information as they can possibly handle," said Douglas, a native of Athens, Ohio. "We go over the information time and time again, pounding it in until it becomes second nature. When it's time for our people to work, they only know one way to do it, and that's the right way."
But in order to do it the right way, the Marines must use a wide range of resources. Since they usually work in two- to four-man teams, they must be able to move over long distances carrying as much as 100 pounds each, and be able to operate proficiently as fatigue takes hold.
The platoon members must also learn a variety of field skills since they are often relied upon for intelligence gathering as well as sniping, according to Douglas.
"Field skills are just as important as being able to shoot well," he said. "The field skills of each platoon member must be far and above the abilities and knowledge of the average infantryman. Each must to be able to call in supporting arms and close air support. Because we use a variety of communications equipment, we have to be as good as any radio operator in the Marine Corps.
"Once we gather the intelligence, we have to get it back to the unit we are supporting," Douglas said. "It could be the security of a landing zone, whether the ground composition or obstacles will prohibit a landing, enemy aircraft in an area, or a surf or beach report to assist amphibious landings.
"Regardless of the situation, if we can't get that information back, then we're no good out there. All we'll do is give away the battalion's intent."
While performing in that role, the Scout/Sniper must also possess a level of discipline and judgment that allows him to endure the incredibly patient and calculated movements required to probe, unseen and unheard, deep into hostile area.
"Through the Scout/Sniper Platoon, the battalion commander has immediate reconnaissance assets he can use beyond the Forward Edge of the Battle Area and beyond his forward-most company," said 1stLt. Robert S. Peterson, platoon commander. "The commander will need eyes and ears on an objective 24 hours prior to an attack. In order to get into a good position silently and unseen, the Scout/Snipers will usually use 24 to 48 hours of movement time."
As a result, the teams are commonly in areas of possible danger 48 to 72 hours ahead of the rifle companies. Beyond the skills required by such activity, the Scout/Sniper must also possess the marksmanship abilities that have become their hallmark and a valuable asset to combat operations.
"We're called Scout/Snipers because the scouting role comes first," said Douglas. "If you get to take a shot or are shooting in support of a mission, that's all good and well, but the missions are primarily scout-based, " added Douglas, who has spent two of his eight years in the Corps as a Scout/Sniper. "We will take a shot in various situations, however, such as in support of light armored or amphibious assault vehicles when they roll up for a hard hit."
Douglas admits that some Marines are interested in becoming a Scout/Sniper because of the glamorous impression the posters and movies create. These Marines, however, are usually filtered out within the first day or two of the week-long indoctrination.
From those who have what it takes, though, a considerable fighting force can be built. Doing so requires a 100 percent commitment, but Peterson feels the effort is well worth the price.
"I would be hard pressed to listen to anyone tell me that this isn't the best platoon in the division," said Peterson, a native of Sioux Falls, S.D. "Each Marine gives all that he has on a daily basis, and has achieved something not easily attained. To be a Scout/Sniper, the Marine must cover the basics of many other military occupational specialties, but he must also have a good working knowledge of the environment and be able to master his own self. These Marines do just that."