COMBAT OUTPOST RAWAH, Iraq --
A shot is fired and it resonates across the open desert. Through his high powered scope, a scout sniper confirms a hit.
Snipers with Scout Sniper Platoon, Task Force 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 5 fired on targets positioned on the hills near here Dec. 18.
“Due to the battalion’s movement to the new (area of operations), training was important because of the change in altitude and drastic temperature drop,” said Sgt. William Pierson, 29, a team leader with Scout Sniper Platoon, referring to the battalion’s recent move here. “Any time you have a change in environment this big, you have to readjust weapon systems, which is critical to accuracy at the distances we engage.”
The snipers engaged targets up to 1,000 meters and sharpened an otherwise perishable skill.
“Just like land navigation - if you do not continue to practice you will forget how to plot a grid - snipers must continually hone their skills,” explained Staff Sgt. Edward Jacobs, 27, chief scout with the platoon. “If Marines don’t work on the fundamental skills and data necessary for success, they will lose the skill.”
As a scout sniper fires a precision weapon system, he records various pieces of data to include the range of the target, temperature, elevation, humidity and clothing worn. According to Jacobs, the more data the Marine collects in different situations, the easier it will be for him to make correct adjustments when those situations occur later, thus effecting first-round impacts.
The training provided Marines with a rare opportunity to practice their individual skills while also focusing on the finer precision of a scout sniper team.
The foundation of a sniper team is its ability to work as one to complete a mission and engage an enemy when required. Due to the nature of their mission in support of the battalion’s operations, each Marine must understand the other team members’ mental and physical mannerisms while in combat.
“The sniper team is the most cohesive team in the Marine Corps and for good reason,” said Jacobs, a native of Connellsville, Pa. “We sometimes operate miles away from other (Coalition forces). You have to know everything about Marines in your team, down to their most personal thoughts, because when you’re out there for days, your team is all you have. There’s no one else to help.”
The strong team mentality of the scout snipers is one which demands an even stronger trust among the Marines.
“You have to be able to trust every member of the team,” Pierson said. “A shooter trusts his spotter to direct him on target, the (radio telephone operator) is trusted to supply communication throughout the mission and security is trusted to provide that security, so the shooter can focus on the mission.”
The exercise enabled each Marine in a sniper team to strengthen their skills, culminating in one proficient team effort.
“It was a unique opportunity to strengthen shooting, spotting and range-estimation skills,” explained Pierson, who is from Columbia, S.C. “We conducted multiple rapid target engagements and reinforced ‘mil holing.’”
A “mil hole” refers to the notches of elevation, which can be used to gage the distance a sniper sees through his scope.
The training also focused on the spotters’ techniques through range-estimation exercises. Jacobs and his fellow team leaders directed the spotter to a target at an unknown distance and asked the spotter for an estimation of distance to the target. This distance was then confirmed with a range finder.
“The training was realistic and successful in that it contributed to the overall proficiency of the team,” said Jacobs.
Ultimately, the purpose of the training was to increase the proficiency levels of the snipers, while adapting both their weapons systems and themselves to the climate changes of a new area of operations.