How becoming a Marine Scout Sniper prepared me for a career in Special Forces

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“The sound of the round leaving the muzzle was muffled by the suppressor. The target within my scope fell to the ground before the   “crack” of the supersonic round or the muffled report from the rifle could reach him. “You got him”, reported Eric, my team sergeant. We were sitting on a roof top in southern Afghanistan, smoke billowing around us.

It was almost 15 years ago, but I vividly remember the smell, the sweat, the dirt, and the emotion. At the time, I was a Green Beret in the US Army Special Forces and was a Scout Sniper in the United States Marine Corps before that. With nine years of military service and five deployments behind me, this was not the first time I had engaged the enemy, nor would it be the last – but this one was different. There are very few feelings in the world similar to knowing you have mastered something.

The shot I had just taken was only around 675 meters away and I had taken longer shots in combat (although not by much). But this day was different for some reason.

Earlier that morning, the 160th had inserted us via MH47 into a hostile village. It was one of the larger scaled assaults for special operations. The reason we were there was to secure a large enemy cache of HME, weapons, and heroin (used to finance their war). A SEAL platoon, who had inserted along with us, controlled a portion of the village to the north.

Meanwhile my team of around 8 Green Berets, along with a few enablers, our CCT, and our Partnered force Afghan commandos from the 6th Kandak took the majority the rest of the village to clear. We had done many missions similar to this where our MO was to land very close to the objective and immediately assault. Similarly to the other missions, there was a short firefight and aided by our AWTs and AC130, we were able to kill a few enemy right after infil.


This was still very early in the morning and we still owned the night.  However, after the initial firefights, the enemy did what they always (and anyone on the receiving end) would do, they buttoned up and they waited until daylight to help level the playing field where they could actually see us. So we begin clearing as much as we could in the dark to kill/capture as many people as possible and also to gain a foothold.

Unlike when I was a marine sniper when my mission was singularly focused, as a green beret I had to wear many hats, such as urban close combat, and at any time may have to switch to a sniper or overwatch role. However, clearing buildings with a sniper rifle is not optimal. I had experimented with carrying my broken-down sniper rifle in a backpack. Carrying two different upper receivers with one acting as a “long range” upper and the other a “short range clearing” upper. Unfortunately, each option had its own logistical problems. And in urban combat the best thing for you is to be fast and agile. And carry lots of grenades.

Therefore, I just had my 5.56 with a 10 inch barrel and a variable one-to-four power Elcan Spectre scope, which was the standard SOPMOD kit that also had clip on NVGs and thermal sights. We spent all morning clearing until we finally reached our LOA which was at the south eastern portion of the village. We had cleared out an old brick factory and myself, three of my ODA team members, and about 10 Afghan commandos set in a defense on the roof of this very hardy brick factory building.

Multiple earthen slopes were also present on the roof, which provided an excellent protected, yet also raised, vantage point. As the sun came up, loudspeakers from the local mosques begin transmitting a message that asked all the women and children to leave the village so that they would be safe when [the insurgents] would eventually attack us. Which was fine. We wanted to fight.

Around 9 AM the heat of the sun was starting to make us lazy, as we had been up all night. However, we started noticing more activity surrounding the outskirts of the village. I was scanning the area with my four power scope and noticed an insurgent walking towards the village with a rifle. It was obvious that he did not know exactly where we were, and he needed to move closer to recce our positions. It was not uncommon to see insurgents walking openly at times when they thought that no one could see them. I had my rangefinder as I also used it for calling for fire and lased him at around 680 meters. Although this was certainly not the longest shot that I had taken, there was a lot working against me.

The Elcan scopes, like most other battle rifle scopes, have calculated bullet drop reticle (BDC) specifically made for 5.56 or whatever caliber rifle they were supposed to be paired with. Unfortunately, the BDC along with the Elcan reticle did not really allow for much precision and the round itself would lose quite a lot of velocity at  500 and 600 meters due to its light weight and corresponding poor ballistic coefficient. There was also a very light wind, which had started to pick up and I held into the wind at an instinctual adjustment that only really comes with long hours on the range.

I knew that my 10 inch barrel would hinder me by decreasing the muzzle velocity. Coupled with this was I was also using a non-sub MOA round and a non-sub MOA battle rifle. However, I had practiced with this rifle quite a bit and had engaged training targets much farther, sometimes at ranges exceeding 1100m even though the reticle ends at 1000m.  I went through my normal mantra before each shot. I’m not sure if everyone has one, but I always talk to myself through each fundamental in my mind. I say each fundamental out loud in my mind, and then perform it.

I start with my base and position, followed by my cheek weld and grip, which I do that with my eyes closed. I then open my eyes and check my eye relief and scope shadow. I then find my natural point of them by closing my eyes, breathing, opening my eyes, and adjusting my position until the center of my reticle rests on the target after I exhale. After this I focus on site alignment by quartering or halving the target and site picture by staring at the reticle. Following this, I tell myself “squeeze, squeeze, squeeze,…” Until the trigger breaks. I do this the same way every time whether I am firing live rounds or dry firing. This was no different. The shot broke and he fell. Emotionless and remorseless. And I began scanning for the next target.

Later, this would become one of the largest and longest firefights of my career. We destroyed tons upon tons of HME, weapons, and drugs those few days.

And killed/captured many enemy. And For whatever reason, in that snapshot described above, It felt as if all of the obstacles I had faced, all of the rivers I had crossed, all of the blood, all of the training seemed to have culminated in that moment. Fighting was no longer instructions learned from a manual but a creative process sculpted by experience.

Ernest Hemmingway once said “There is no hunting like the hunting of man, and those who have hunted  armed men long enough and liked it, never care for anything else thereafter.” I found this to be true. There is an honesty and respect that one finds in combat which is difficult to replicate in civilian life. I respect my enemy for meeting me on the fields of Battle, which is a tradition that has happened for thousands of years before us. We are warriors.

The lessons learned were many, but some stand out and became essential in how I approached being a sniper. Use no emotion in combat as emotion is the enemy of logic. Do not hate your enemy. For that is emotional. Do not dehumanize. To dehumanize is a weakness which leads to underestimation of your human enemy and his capabilities. Treat everyone with respect. Always change positions and assume someone knows where you are after the first few shots. Cover is better than armor. Don’t rely too heavily on air, learn to maneuver. Always seek improvement, never become complacent with how good you think you are. Love your brothers, love your family, love your life, but be comfortable with death and practice how you will die in your mind everyday.”