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Sniper Rifles

The sniper has special abilities, training and equipment. His job is to deliver discriminatory highly accurate rifle fire against enemy targets, which cannot be engaged successfully by the rifleman because of range, size, location, fleeting nature, or visibility. Sniping requires the development of basic infantry skills to a high degree of perfection. A sniper's training incorporates a wide variety of subjects designed to increase his value as a force multiplier and to ensure his survival on the battlefield. The art of sniping requires learning and repetitiously practicing these skills until mastered. A sniper must be highly trained in long-range rifle marksmanship and field craft skills to ensure maximum effective engagements with minimum risk.

The typical roof top in Fallujah consisted of a wall approximately 4 feet high. During operations in April 2004 the Marines learned to sand bag roof tops to build them up for snipers and mortars. Sniper use was heavy, especially, as FOs and covering the long axis of the roads. They became the main element once the Marines got into a static situation. The typical Marine sniper had 31 kills (one kill every 3-4 hours).

The designated marksman acts as a member of the squad under the direction of the squad leader or as designated by the platoon leader. Although normally functioning as a rifleman within one of the fire teams in a rifle squad, the designated marksman is armed with a modified M4, 5.56-mm rifle. He is employed at the direction of the squad leader or reorganized with the other squads' designated marksmen into a platoon sniper section. He is trained to eliminate high-payoff enemy personnel targets (such as enemy automatic rifle teams, antitank teams, and snipers) with precision fires.

With the advances made in computer technology in today's world, "smart" weapons systems are constantly being developed that are increasingly more accurate and able to engage targets at much longer ranges. Conversely, today's combat soldier is trained to engage targets only out to 300 meters. This 300-meter limit is well short of the weapon/ammunition combination's capability. Snipers engage targets at 600 meters and beyond. The squad designated marksman (SDM) will be able to engage targets in the "no man's land" gap that exists between that of the average combat soldier and the sniper. Possessing the ability to estimate range, detect targets, and place effective, well-aimed fire on those intermediate range targets, the SDM plays a vital role on the modern battlefield.

The primary mission of the SDM is to deploy as a member of the rifle squad. The SDM is a vital member of his individual squad and not a squad sniper. He fires and maneuvers with his squad and performs all the duties of the standard rifleman. The SDM has neither the equipment nor training to operate individually or in a small team to engage targets at extended ranges with precision fires.

The secondary mission of the SDM is to engage key targets from 300 to 500 meters with effective, well-aimed fires using the standard weapon system and standard ammunition. He may or may not be equipped with an optic. The SDM must, therefore, possess a thorough understanding and mastery of the fundamentals of rifle marksmanship as well as ballistics, elevation and windage hold-off, sight manipulation, and range estimation.

The battalion sniper squad is a modular organization consisting of a squad leader and two similarly equipped three-man sniper teams. Each team, consisting of the team leader, one sniper, and one observer, is capable of providing the battalion with a full range of sniper support. The team is equipped with both the M24 7.62-mm sniper rifle (providing antipersonnel fires out to 800 meters) and the .50-caliber XM107 sniper rifle (providing antipersonnel and anti-equipment fires beyond 800 meters). The spotter is usually the most experienced member of the sniper team. It's the spotter's job to make sure the shooter is set up. The spotter calls the range and the "windage," or how much wind is blowing and which way. Once dialed in, the shooter says he's ready, and the spotter leans in to monitor the shot. "Send it," the spotter says. The third member of the sniper team is equipped with an M203 rifle system to provide protection and security for the sniper and his spotter as well as a means to break contact if the team is compromised. Sniper teams avoid contact until they have identified their targets. Involvement in sustained close combat is not the optimal employment of sniper teams.

Snipers have always played a large role in urban combat. They have been used to disrupt operations, inflict casualties, and tie down large numbers of troops searching for them. The lethality and accuracy of modern weapons, the three-dimensional aspect of urban battlefields, and the many alleyways, corridors, and rear exits available to a sniper make him a serious threat. Commanders and leaders at all levels must be aware of the value of employing snipers and the threat posed by enemy snipers. They must understand the effects a sniper can have on unit operations, and the steps by which he can be countered and his threat minimized.

Snipers can be valuable to commanders in stability operations and support operations. Since ROE normally limit collateral damage and civilian casualties, snipers can selectively engage key individuals who pose a threat to friendly forces. This selective engagement avoids unacceptable civilian casualties or collateral damage. Targets often hide in the midst of the civilian populace, which makes them virtually invulnerable to US forces that cannot destroy these targets without causing innocent casualties. An example would be a lone gunman in a crowd who fires at soldiers manning a roadblock. The soldiers must first identify the gunman (this is nearly impossible from their vantage point). Then, without hurting innocent bystanders, they must stop him from continuing to fire or from fleeing. This is an easier task for an overwatching sniper than for infantry on the ground. The sniper can look down on the crowd, use his optics to scan continuously, and employ precision fire to eliminate the identified enemy without harming bystanders. Though other unit optical systems may supplement the surveillance effort (Javelins and TOWs from the ground or from the upper floors of buildings), they do not engage the target because of the risk of innocent casualties. The sniper rifle provides the commander the only system that can both identify and engage the target.

Shooting is a perishable skill. You can be proficient without having to shoot all the time. But to be at the top of your game, to be a champion, you have to practice.

The USMC's GySgt. Carlos N. Hathcock Award is named after GySgt. Carlos N. Hathcock. The award is presented to an enlisted Marine who has made an outstanding contribution to marksmanship and marksmanship training. Tom Berenger portrayed Hathcock in the movie "Sniper." Hathcock enlisted in the Marine Corps in May 1959 and served as a distinguished marksman throughout his career. He set the rifle marksmanship record for the Marine Corps "A" Course in 1963 by firing 248 points out of a possible 250. GySgt. Hathcock served two tours of duty in Vietnam where he was instrumental in forming the 1st Marine Division Scout Sniper School. When a 24-year old Marine sharpshooter named Carlos Norman Hathcock II chalked up the farthest recorded kill in the history of sniping - 2,500 yards (1.42 miles, a distance greater than 22 football fields) in February 1967 he fired a Browning M2 .50 Cal. Machine Gun. Hathcock, the military's best known sniper, said "The most deadly thing on the battlefield is one well-aimed shot."

During the Vietnam War, the North Vietnamese Army placed bounties from $8 to $2,000 on the heads of Marine snipers. Gunnery Sgt. Carlos Hathcock, with 93 confirmed kills, actually held the record bounty of $30,000 and killed every Vietnamese marksman who sought it.

Hathcock, one of the Corps' top snipers credited with 93 kills in Vietnam and a Silver Star recipient, died on 22 February 1999 of multiple sclerosis in Virginia Beach, Virginia, at the age of 56. By 2002 his son, Gunnery Sgt. Carlos N. Hathcock III, the head coach for the Marine Corps Rifle Team.

Hathcock, however, did not hold the confirmed kill record. Sgt. Chuck Mawhinney is credited with 103 confirmed kills and an additional 216 unconfirmed kills. He served 16 straight months in Vietnam and was sent home only because a Navy chaplain declared him combat fatigued. "I did what I was trained to do," said Mawhinney in a 2000 interview with the L.A. Times. "I was in country a long time in a very hot area. I didn't do anything special."

In Vietnam, Mawhinney regularly killed the enemy from up to 800 yards away and occasionally beyond 1,000. He never thought about the humanity of his targets, he said. "I never looked in their eyes, I never stopped to think about whether the guy had a wife or kids." He always told other snipers what was told him after his first kill. "That wasn't a man you just killed; it was an enemy," he said. "This is your job. This is what war is all about. You screw up, you die."

Nevertheless, Mawhinney said his senses went into overtime after firing at a target. "Your vision widens out so you see everything, and you can smell things like you can't at other times," he added. In addition, he said his rules of engagement were simple. "If they had a weapon, they were going down. Except for an NVA paymaster I hit at 900 yards, everyone I killed had a weapon."

Mawhinney said he eventually became disillusioned with the Vietnam War. He left the Corps in 1970 after serving briefly as a marksmanship instructor at Camp Pendleton. At first, Mawhinney was outraged and embarrassed. He returned home to Lakeview, Ore., where he worked with a road maintenance crew and later managed a motor pool. "I felt I was finally home, not like when I would come home on leave from Vietnam and knew I had to go back to that hell," said Mawhinney. "I'm not a guy who looks back. I try to do everything 100 percent. If you're a sniper, that's the only way to do it, if you want to stay alive." After retiring from his Oregon Forest Service job, he began training other snipers and addressing international sniper symposiums.

The best defense against a sniper is another sniper. In the movie "Enemy at the Gates" the celebrated Russian sniper, Vassili Zaitsev (Jude Law) quietly stalks his enemies one man at a time. The Nazi and Russian armies hurl rank after rank of soldiers at each other, and the world fearfully awaits the outcome of the battle of Stalingrad. The plot focuses on an intense cat-and-mouse game between the Russian shepherd raised to iconic fame, and a German marksman whose skill is unmatched in its lethal precision. The German Major Konig (Ed Harris) was assigned to kill Zaitsev. There is some controversy over whether this shooting match actually happened, and whether the German was Konig [or Koenigs or Konigs ] or Colonel Heinz Thorvald.




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