CAMP MERCURY, Iraq -- Marine snipers here put the Corps’ latest sniper optic to the test and it proved to be spot-on. Proof is one less bad guy planting roadside bombs.
Snipers of 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment proved the 3x12 variable-powered Schmidt & Bender M-8541 Scout-Sniper Day Scope’s usefulness in January when they killed an insurgent planting improvised explosive devices near Fallujah. It was the first recorded combat kill with the new optic.
“It was kind of a big deal with the sniper community to get the first kill with the new scope,” said Gunnery Sgt. Paul Starner, platoon sergeant for the battalion’s Scout-Sniper Platoon, who squeezed off the shot. “After the kill, we did a picture-perfect extraction. They didn’t even know we were there.”
The scope’s ability to allow Marines to target insurgents wasn’t a one-time stint, though. Marines in the platoon reaffirmed the scope’s combat utility seven times since then, according to Starner.
The new scope came into service in November 2005, but the battalion’s snipers didn’t get them until December, giving the platoon just one month to learn how to use it before the battalion deployed in January. The Schmidt & Bender scope replaced the aging fixed 10x Unertl scope Marines have used for decades.
“Right away, they said to learn on it, train with it, then deploy,” said Starner, 33, from Kansas City, Mo.
He said snipers in the Marine Corps had been asking for a variable scope for years, and the new scope was selected from a number of different models through field-testing by Marine sniper instructors in Quantico, Va., last summer.
Not every scout-sniper was initially impressed with the scope. Most of the shooters are tried-and-true gun nuts and convincing these Marines to part with proven products of the past was tough. Still, after seeing it in action, they have a new love.
“I was opposed to this scope for the simple fact that it’s metric and most Americans are used to yards,” Starner said. “But now that we’ve got it, launched it and used it, it’s an outstanding scope.”
He said snipers got around the difference in measurement standards by using a simple formula to convert yards to meters.
“I carry a calculator with me everywhere I go,” Starner said. “It’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks.”
The new Schmidt & Bender allows better positive target identification, according to 2nd Lt. Jake Cusack, Sniper Platoon commander. The Schmidt & Bender scope has a greater light-gathering capability, boasting a 50 mm objective lens and illuminated mil-dot reticle pattern, better adapted to drop insurgents at a distance in low light conditions as well as daylight.
“The scope allows them to make more precise adjustments,” Cusak explained. “The variable power lets you look at multiple targets or moving targets and pick one then zoom in.”
The new scope is more durable than its predecessor, as well. It handles better in the field. Marines are rough on their gear and need equipment that can stand up to bumps and bruises expected in tough combat environments. So far, the new scope demonstrated less risk of losing sight alignment. It held a battle-sight zero through a variety of combat applications.
“With the old scopes, you’d lose the zero if you bumped it,” Starner said. “I haven’t had any problems with this one keeping its BZO.”
“It gives them more confidence in the placement of their shots, even if they’ve been out operating for a month or so,” Cusack said.
That confidence will aid the Marines’ mission, providing overwatch for patrols and interrupting IED emplacement in the area.
“On the battlefield we’re in right now, the sniper and his rifle is the most precise weapon system available to the commander,” said Cusack, 23, from Detroit. “With all of our concerns with rules of engagement, discrimination and engaging targets, the sniper can guarantee that he’s applying one 7.62 mm bullet to one very specific target.”
“We’re here to find the enemy and kill him, and that’s what we’re doing,” Starner said. “Any time you make them think twice about what they’re doing, you’re doing your job. I want it in their heads that we’re watching them.”
Every Marine in the platoon has at least one deployment under their belts, and all but two are formally-trained snipers.
The match of superior weapons, optics and highly-trained professionals is proving to be a boon for the battalion.
“It’s almost unheard of,” Starner said. “We’re the only platoon in the country with that many school-trained snipers. I’ve got numerous honor graduates, Instructor’s Choice, all quality Marines, hand-picked.”
They are veterans with cool-nerves of steel and practical experience behind their weapons. That spells nothing short of a death sentence for insurgents.
“I’m confident this is one of the most veteran and trained sniper platoons in the country right now,” Cusack said.