The Marine Scout Sniper school is the most elite military sniper school on earth, and one of the toughest special operations courses in the U.S. Military.
Not only do the Army, Navy, and the Air Force send troops here, but foreign services like the Israelis and the British, often trade students for the opportunity to earn the Marine Sniper designation.
One of the profiled students in this Discovery video was actually attached to the unit I covered in Afghanistan. Not only did he supply the company with absurdly accurate intelligence on the enemy, but he also took a couple of them out when we needed it most.
Those are the two primary missions of Marine Scout Snipers: Recon and targeted strikes on enemy personnel and equipment. They can be more devastating on enemy forces than a plane full of bombs.
There are fewer than 300 active snipers in the U.S. Marine Corps -- and only four schools including this one in Camp Pendleton, California
The 32 elite students who enter the course need almost perfect physical fitness (PT) scores, expert rifle qualifications, and superior intelligence test scores
For the next three months students build their 'ghillie' suits that actually become a living piece of camouflage made from plants native to the location
The first big test is on the nose -- as much as it is the mind -- as students drop down to the legendary Pig Pond
The Pond is a festering hollow of stagnant water and all manner of rotting vegetation -- their boots pull up mud and slime that helps 'deaden' their new suits and keep light from reflecting off its surface
Still dripping wet they drop to dirt -- grinding in the organic manner in some life-or-death version of stone-washing -- a fresh-looking ghillie suit will get a sniper killed
Because they're Marines there's always reason to crank out push-ups while the whole crew screams -- 'Scout .. Sniper' as they rise and fall
Known distance, or the KD Range, pits Marines against targets ranging from 300, 500, and 1000 yards -- the better part of a mile
In total, they'll take 35 shots at stationary and moving targets, and for the first time they'll operate in pairs, a shooter and a spotter
Accuracy and precision are only part of the challenge as both must be accomplished under strain and exhaustion. Students sprint with full gear in between stations, set up, and shoot between ragged breaths.
All the shots are painstakingly recorded, and each shooter needs at least 28 hits, out of 35, to qualify
Moving targets are toughest. Snipers need to lead, or shoot where the target will be when the bullet arrives, while factoring in wind, air density, and even the curvature of the earth
Instructors give as much help as they can, but they are not allowed to 'spot' targets for the shooters. Everything must be done by the two-man team.
But in the end, it's the shooter who is responsible for the shot and after the day's through, the target-pullers report scores over the radio to all the students. There's no hiding from a bad day's shooting.
Only the best shooters are kept; and now a few students lighter, the class heads to the next level of training: the stalking course
With a fully ripened ghillie suit potential Scout Snipers are given three hours to inch several hundred yards undetected upon a target
With a few last adjustments to their suits, the class takes off, each individually stalking the same target -- a group of instructors on a truck, with binoculars, trying to find them in the brush
At Pendleton, it's not just the instructors that stalkers have to beware of. One student nearly crawls into a rattle snake.
Eventually, when within a certain distance, stalkers take a shot. If instructors still cannot find the student, he will take one more shot. Then instructors flip up cards. If he reads one of the cards, the student passes the test.
PIGs will shoot at 10 targets of varying distance, using only a spotter and their scopes to judge distance
Again the range is scored -- 10 points for a hit on the first shot, 8 for hits on the second, none after that. Passing is 88.
Students who pass do the traditional push-ups with their instructors, yelling, 'I ... made it ... I ... made it'
The final test is one of endurance and sheer will. Because snipers train in teams, they have to take care of each other -- teams of 16 have to extract four 200 pound dummies
The exercise simulates snipers caught deep in the field with an injured buddy -- in all, the test spans 23 miles
Those who move too slowly must carry a 170 pound log which states simply, 'Suffer patiently ... patiently suffer,' one of the sniper mottos
Ragged, dirty, and exhausted, they top a hill at dawn and get into formation -- graduation commences on the spot
Newly-minted HOGs are presented with a 'Hog's Tooth,' a single round with 550 nylon cord through it to wear around their neck. It's a memento scout snipers have worn since the school was established.
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