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I attended Sniper School in October of 1986. I entered the course as a PFC, which was pretty rare. In fact, I was the lowest ranking member of the class. My partner from 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines was a Corporal from Charlie Company.

Entering Sniper School was less intimidating than you might imagine. I would suspect my time at ARS helped prepare me for the course. You can see why they don’t want junior Marines attending and how the failure rate was so high. 

For your basic infantry Marine skills, it was sprint to the finish line. Immediately upon arrival to Sniper School you are tested with a short land navigation course. They expected you to understand and be proficient in these skills. It makes perfect sense, “We don’t have time to retrain you, so bring your A game.” 

The school was located on Stone’s Bay, just off Main Side Camp Lejeune. I drove my Datsun 240Z out past the training areas, which allowed me to kick the Z in the ass. I was caught by the MPs one trip doing 96 mph through the training area and lost my on-base privileges. Lucky for me, it did not apply to Stone’s Bay, or I would have been walking. 

The author drove to Sniper School in his custom Datsun 240Z. During one such trip, he was clocked doing 96 mph in the Lejeune training areas. His base-driving privileges were suspended for a month.

Sniper School can be broken down into the skills taught. Field skills, like land navigation, were emphasized, but not to the degree found at Amphib Recon School. Instead, we first focused on concealments, a static form of stalking. 

You had 10 concealment exercises where you had to hide from the instructors. This was the precursor to stalking. With USMC Scout Sniper School, if you fail any one of these tasks twice, you failed out of the course. So, basically, you have to score 8 out of 10 for each given task. The written test, I believe, was given twice, sort of a practice quiz then a final exam.

One of the tasks that failed a lot of students were the observation exercises, which were fun, but nerve-racking in a lot of ways. The instructors could load the dice on these types of courses. The areas used not only for observations but also for stalking had different levels of difficulty. You could wind up on a hard course or an easier one. The objects hidden could be easily identified or very difficult. 

Hiding a magazine spring or taping an antenna in the tree line is not an easy find. The worst was using the old World War II colored barracks as a backdrop. One day, the instructors decided to place a clear plastic map protractor into the wood siding of the building. Days like this increased the pucker factor. 

In terms of pure fear of failure, nothing is harder than stalking. We used a lot of power-line breaks as stalking lanes. As the power lines cut through the woods, we set up on either side in order to stalk toward the instructors. 

They allowed you one meter, or the length of an M40AI rifle, from the cut grass toward the woods. You were allowed to travel along the edges, but you could not flank them by going into the woods. 

You ended up low crawling for 90 percent of the stalk. The instructors dedicated to you were located on the opposite side of the stalk lane. They had a great angle on the students and took a lot of pride in busting you. We had one instructor who loved to yell, “I see you, dickhead,” which we took as a term of endearment. As you got closer to the instructors, you were keeping one eye on the walkers hoping none of them traveled in your direction.

The Marine Corps’ Combined Arms Exercise, or CAX, takes place in California at Twentynine Palms. After graduating Sniper School, the author, having gone through several schools to drop artillery and bombs, spent most of his time there dropping ordnance.

One particular area, we called it the Pool Table, was especially difficult to navigate. Not only did it have a minimum amount of vegetation to hide in, there was one section of swamp that included cattails. The issue with the cattails is they wave at the instructors when you brushed up against them. You always carried hand clippers when stalking. With cattails you cut the bottom ever so carefully and then lower the flag down. All this is done in hyper slow motion. 

In the end, it’s all about route selection and masking. How many natural objects can you put between yourself and the observers? I am sure my size helped me hide. Being small can have an advantage. 

Most of Sniper School was uneventful; there were no real close calls for me until the end. We had really crappy weather when it came time to qualify with our M40A1. My graduation date was mid-December, and we had a lot of sleet and freezing rain. Through the course, my shooting skills were never a question, but none of us can control the weather. I had to use every option in order to pass the final shooting test. 

It’s amazing looking back at the equipment used to qualify when you consider what we shoot today. The M40A1 rifle with Unertl 10X USMC Sniper Scope was more than capable as an 800-meter rifle, but the ammunition used was definitely subpar. The 173-grain Special Ball is pure surplus garbage. 

In today’s world, if we asked you to compete in any form of precision rifle competition and we handed you special ball, the odds of completion would be slim. 

The author at CAX in his chocolate-chip “cammies.” He reports being a sniper at a live-fire range was very entertaining.

After a day of practicing in the weather, I managed to qualify and thus sealed my fate graduating USMC Scout Sniper School.

During our time in Sniper School, Gunny Hathcock released his book, Marine Sniper: 93 Confirmed Kills. We all had dog-eared copies of it in anticipation of the Gunny attending our graduation. For each graduating class, a group of instructors would travel to Virginia Beach, pick up the Gunny and then we would spend a night and the day with him. 

The first night Gunny arrived at Camp Lejeune, we hung out in town at a local dive bar. In his own soft-spoken way, he relived a bunch of the stories in the book. The next day, we had our graduation ceremony. I recall him chuckling about my size and wishing he had me in Vietnam to gain an advantage. “Gee, I bet you can really hide.” You bet, Gunny, they’ll never find me. Gunny Hathcock signed my copy of Marine Sniper, 93 Confirmed Kills, as well as my Sniper School diploma. Under my name is the signature of Gunny Hathcock and today that piece of paper sits in plexiglass. 

Sniper School was my ultimate goal and just graduating was a huge win for me. When I first enlisted in the Marines, the guys at my dad’s shop had bets going on how fast I’d be home, forget about the sniper part. This puts a big exclamation point on the discussion. In Sniper School, I had received my Lance Corporal ranking, so I no longer felt like a boot. 

This was just a preview of one chapter in Frank’s book, Precision Rifle Marksmanship: The Fundamentals.

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