“More than just a Shooter: The Tactical Mindset of Snipers”

Two months into our deployment, December 2010, Marjah, and Route Jaguar was already earning a grim reputation. Seventeen IEDs in two months. After a Marine lost his leg, the Colonel called us in the south to head to the Northwest side of Marjah. “Sergeant, what do you need to make this threat go away!” The Colonel had a unique trust in me and my team. He’d seen the good we could do if given the chance— I told him we needed two days at the FOB, and that we were in route.

I remember the urgency in the air when we arrived. We didn’t waste any time. We huddled with S-2, EOD, and Signal Intelligence, gathering intel on the enemy's tactics and weaponry. We all had friends up in this AO— we took the mission very seriously. First question to EOD was how deep are the IEDs buried? They said very shallow. Depth mattered—hastily buried IEDs meant they were watching, hunting us, anticipating our movements.

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The parts found in those deadly traps were chilling—car parts, nuts, bolts, spark plugs, heaps of metal, even glass which cant be seen in x-rays. Easy question for S2— “Wheres the mechanics shops in town.” We had all the intel figured out— now we had to get out in the AO to find a hide site. We blended in with the Infantry Platoons as much as possible and got in with patrols. I carried a pistol which attracted a little attention. They hadn’t been seen by the locals in a while— Pistols over there are viewed as a symbol of power, and violence.

With our intel strong, and a hide site discovered, we set up a plan of deception. The day before the mission we’d have the GbOSS, a big surveillance camera, pulled down from its tower to make it look like it was under maintenance. We’d also bring all the ANA together near by for a made up briefing, just so they could see the equipment was down— we suspected some of them were moles, giving away patrols positions and routes. I asked the Company Commander to move all patrols to the North and East for a few days— I wanted the enemy to think they had freedom of movement. The Company Commander agreed, and we brought the intel and the plan back to the Colonel— green light.

The night before the mission, we moved out under the cover of darkness. I had found a hide site on our patrol— it was a roof overlooking the mechanic shops and the route the 03’s would take. The village was using this roof to store firewood, so I hid in that pile of branches. I suspected they would set the IED about 650 yards away from my position. When the patrol set off, something was immediately not right. 6 men, acting too casual and kid like stepped outside the mechanics shop. I sensed our plan coming to fruition. They began walking together and, oddly avoided two areas of the path, which I figured we’d have to check on later.

As the patrol ventured out around 0800, the enemy's intentions became clear. As I hear the patrol request to leave the wire over the radio, I see a man in the group I’m watching take a phone call. All the sudden, that man started barking orders, pointing out positions, getting his men ready— we had them.

One ran out to the road and quickly dug a hole with his hands, another came up from behind him and placed a bomb. I called the squad leader, a friend, and let him know what was happening. I had my PID— weapon off safe, slow steady squeeze, I took my shot. Missed— it happens. The round went inches over his left shoulder, and the group ran scared, but not for long. Our plan called for the 03’s to flank their position once I let my buddy know they had placed the IED, and all 6 ran right into a squad of Marines. Not a shot fired except mine— all 6 captured.

After we rolled them up, we needed to revisit the two spots they avoided on their walk. I successfully walked my buddy within 1 foot of 2 more IEDs. It wasn’t a sick game we had to play— it was trust. Sure enough, two more IED’s found.

When we got back to base we noticed a lack of ANA support— several had ran, and we never saw them again. Surly one of them was our mole. We did chemical testing on all 6 of them— one only had 3 fingers, so it started to become pretty clear we had our guys. All 6 hit for HME. It was the entire cell everybody had been looking for two months— we grabbed all of them in 2 days with the help of a good squad leader. I walked by my target to get a good look at him— he never knew how lucky he was that day.

Though the fighting continued in the area, the IED threat was drastically reduced by our mission. We were proud of that accomplishment, and headed back south to run a few more missions we’d been planning.