The Marine Corps produces some of the most aggressive, violent and disciplined combatants the world has seen. Marines pride themselves as being a part of a warrior culture. That is never more apparent than in the ranks of the Scout Sniper community with a legacy stretching back to Vietnam, The Marine Scout Sniper has been instrumental in changing the tides of many battles. With such revered alumni like Carlos Hathchcock and Chuck Mawhinney, the younger generations have a lot to live up to, and based upon their current reputation, they do just fine.
Although the sniper’s role in combat has varied throughout the years, Surveillance and Target Acquisition have been the meat and potatoes of their employment. Scout Snipers have always been born of their perspective parent units and have been in direct support of said units. Even the snipers in the reconnaissance community are organic to their own units. Although coming from and working for your home unit has its advantages such as established relationships and an explicit understanding of the “chain of command” (and how to circumvent it), there are plenty of disadvantages as well.
One of the biggest disadvantages to a Scout Sniper mission is the constant misconceptions embedded in the minds of their command as to what snipers actually do. It not uncommon for a sniper to hear: “Hey, why don’t you get on that water tower? It’s about eight stories high. You should see everything from there- no problem, or better yet get in that TREE.” Often the biggest issue is the fact that a sniper team has no brass to support their decisions and protect them from the typical egotistical inexperienced members of the officer cadre and their squirrelly ideas. Too many times a team leader has to compromise on missions that come from higher in order to be allowed to conduct the missions which were more impactful. (On more than one occasion I found myself ghillied up, somewhere in the middle of a farm, observing and reporting on illegal goat milk smuggling.)
Another issue that plagued the community is the lack of cohesion and uniformity with the other sniper platoons from separate infantry battalions. This puts a tremendous amount of pressure on the school-house (Scout Sniper Basic Course/ SSBC) because with no unity among the platoons, the school-house was left to establish base standing operating procedures and employment methods. It doesn’t sound too bad, except their true purpose is to evaluate and certify Scout Snipers. The job of a scout sniper cannot be taught in the small amount of time one has in school. The sniper platoons were essential in training the men so vehemently that going to SSBC should’ve felt like taking a few steps backwards. And it worked out perfectly until combat deployments commenced with the ongoing Global War on Terror.
The operational tempo for infantry units was so high that the sniper platoons’ leadership (short on time at this point) were preoccupied with not only staying alive, they also had to think about life after the Corps. This created a deficiency in the community forcing platoons to send inexperienced Marines through the course hoping they would make it. This was called “Pipelining PIGs” (professionally instructed gunman). As a result of the “Pipelining” many platoons were left with little to no school trained snipers, as unprepared students would fail the course. Worse off, those PIGs left in the platoon still had to fill the billets in combat.
So what’s the solution… well it’s the Regimental Surveillance and Target Acquisition Company (RSTAC) of course. The command stood up in a small area called Camp Horno, nestled in the thick of Camp Pendleton, California. This new command was formed to unilaterally train and evaluate potential candidates for the Scout Sniper MOS: 0317. Most of all, it is an operational unit of which its members are lent out in direct support of deploying units in all theaters. What you get is the same standards on training and operations among the snipers. It has become a legitimate community. Similar to the original reconnaissance battalions who were birthed from the infantry, they too had gotten a chance to become their own entity.
So where do the snipers now fit in the equation consisting of MARSOC, Force Recon, and battalion reconnaissance? Simple, MARSOC belongs to SOCOM, Force and battalion Recon belong to the Marine Expeditionary Units (MEU’s) along with the RSTAC snipers and now the non MEU Infantry units can aspire to have their very own reconnaissance gathering asset on a company level if they adopt the RSTAC program as well. Hopefully this serves as a successful predecessor to a Sniper battalion with potential pathways to all the major sniper programs the Marine Corps offers (SSBC, Urban, Mountain/ high angle, Advance/team leaders), JTAC (Joint Terminal Attack Controller) and Jump schools. This will also be an excellent pool to draw from for future candidates of Force Recon and MARSOC, operators that are just as intense, fit, and sharp as Marines ever were.
-Happy hunting gents
Featured image courtesy of U.S. Marine Corps