Finding and utilizing both cover and concealment are fundamental lessons for any war fighter, and both are pounded into the brains of Marines through recruit training and the School of Infantry, but snipers take these fundamental lessons to the next level. Traditionally speaking, cover is a term used to describe things you can hide behind for protection from inbound rounds, whereas concealment is a term used to describe things you can hide behind that will only inhibit detection. A large boulder can offer both cover and concealment, for instance, whereas tall grass offers concealment without the benefit of cover.
In a firefight, understanding the difference between these concepts is a matter of life or death, but often, the mission parameters snipers run across demand movement across swaths of land with very little cover. In these environments, snipers must utilize different concealment techniques (often layered into what they refer to as “screens”) so effectively that they go completely undetected, even when enemy troops are standing right on top of them. Without the benefit of cover, it’s just the shroud of concealment that keeps these war fighters alive, and as such, Marine Snipers devote a great deal of time and energy to honing their concealment skills.
This fact of warfare was put to the test recently, when Business Insider sent a journalist to observe Marine Scout Snipers as they trained in Quantico, Virginia. At the onset of the training schedule, the Scout Sniper instructor (who was not named) demonstrated the value of concealment by inviting the visiting journalist, a dozen Marine sniper students, and a handful of Army Rangers to attempt to find him as he closed with their observation post.
“I’m going to use the terrain to my advantage,” the instructor told said at the outset of the training revolution. “You can see there is a hill back there, I don’t want to go over the very top of the hill. I want to come around the side of the hill, follow the low, dead space down, and then come up from behind into my position, always maintaining that low profile, low silhouette.”
“You want to stay as low as possible,” he added.
Equipped with monoculars, binoculars, and an elevated position, the observers set about hunting for the encroaching sniper instructor when he was around 300 meters away. The instructor (identified as a Marine Sergeant) wore a ghillie suit he customized with local vegetation and face paint in order to blend in with his surroundings, making slow and intentional movements to close with the observers without giving away his position.
“You and your gun need to look like everything around you,” the instructor told the class. “Don’t be the bush, be the space between the bushes.”
Closing from 300 meters out with a more than a dozen Marines, Army Rangers, and one journalist aware of your presence and looking closely for signs of movement is no small challenge. More often than not, snipers are working to close with targets that aren’t already aware of their presence. Nonetheless, the Scout Sniper Instructor managed to close to within just three feet of the group entirely undetected. Once he got there, another instructor asked a final time if anyone could spot their target. No one could, so the sniper finally identified himself… just a few feet away from the perplexed group.
In fact, even with his position identified, they still had trouble spotting him right away.
“The unconcealed instructor then placed his hand on the sergeant’s head. It didn’t help. That’s how good his cover was,” journalist Ryan Pickrell wrote.
With the demonstration over, the Marine Scout Sniper students set about attempting to emulate what they’d learned, and the journalist was left with one hell of a good story to tell.