The Scout Sniper Course at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., teaches Marines the art of stealth. The train is tough. Few will actually complete the nine-week course. Those who do will return to their platoon as 8541 Scout Snipers.
Preparing for a stalk, Sgt. Brian Calloway applies cammo paint to his face. He has 30 minute to “veg-up” before making his way toward his target. While en route, he will change the types of vegetation woven through his ghillie suit several times as he encounters even the slightest variations of natural cover during the stalk.
Each student is required to make their own ghillie suit using a mixture of burlap and netting sewn to a reinforced jacket. The material must be carefully selected to achieve proper balance of contrast and natural color. Because of the nature of scout sniper operations, every detail concerning camouflage is extremely important. Keeping a low profile and avoiding detection is the best life-saving protection a sniper has.
Low-crawling through relatively short vegetation, a sniper makes his way to the vehicles in the background where he must get within 100 yards without being detected, fire a blank round, and leave the area, again without being seen by spotters.
A Marine is sent packing to the sidelines after being discovered by observers during a stalking exercise. Observers scan the “playing field” boundaries with a pair of powerful laser rangefinder binoculars, waiting for the trainee to make a wrong move. To pass the test, the sniper is given 4 hours to stalk within 200 yards of the observers, identify his target, fire two blank rounds of ammo and crawl away undetected.
A student is told he must drop the course, because of mistakes made writing a patrol order. A substantial portion of training is conducted in the classroom. A high percentage of prospective candidates won’t make it through the course. Most who are “mulched-out” fail due to academic problems, or physical injuries. Only 7 out of the 23 Marines graduated from this 9-week course.
Cpl. Taylor Slate changes into a pair of dry socks after a stalking event. Extreme temperatures and sweat-soaking humidity have contributed to immersion foot, a condition commonly known as jungle rot, which causes flesh to peel off, adding to the painful blistering the Marines are already suffering from during the long patrols they have endured over the past 4 days.
Sgt. Matthew Lambert and Cpl. Toby Richard shake off sleep deprivation and pain from blistered feet as they rise from a short break, continuing toward their objective during a timed land navigation exercise.
Following 3 days of intense physical exertion with little sleep, a scout sniper student exhausted and near the point of collapse, is encouraged to keep moving during a 1,000-yard sprint and shoot exercise. The Marines who complete the training will qualify to serve as scout snipers within reconnaissance battalions.