Over the years I’ve accumulated a large collection of plaques given to me by various military units and schools I have visited. All but one reside in the attic. The exception, which has pride of place in the imperial Library, was presented to me by the Marine Corps’ Scout/Sniper School. Why is it special to me? Because they didn’t buy it, they made it.
That typified the Scout/Sniper School and program. Run entirely by Staff NCOs, it trained Marines to a far higher standard than do other Marine schools for infantry. That’s not just my opinion. In Afghanistan the Taliban called the Scout/Snipers, “The Marines who are well trained.” Those Marines were the closest thing the Corps had to a true light or Jaeger infantry.
Headquarters, Marine Corps just killed the school, the program, and the MOs.
The rationale is that the Scout/Snipers will be replaced with “scouts” who will mostly be drone operators. Once again, the Corps is being led into quicksand by the foxfire of “hi-tech,” copying our other armed services instead of offering an alternative to them.
This decision is bad on several levels. First,while drones offer the great advantage of being able to see over the next hill, they do not replace human eyes on the situation at eye level. The view from above and the view on the ground are different and can show different things. A scout on the ground can also employ more senses than his eyes; ears and noses can also reveal activities the enemy is trying to conceal. Example: if a year from now a Russian scout smells jet fuel, he can know his unit is facing Ukrainian M1 Abrams tanks.
Supposedly, the new school to be established for training scouts, mostly in how to operate drones, will also train them in ground scouting. If that is the case, why did the Corps not just refocus the existing and very effective Scout/Sniper School on less sniping and more scouting? Because it will be starting from square one, the new scouting school will take a long time to reach the level of the old Scout/Sniper School, if it ever does. No armed service has so many effective schools that it can afford to disband one with little thought or care. But that’s what HQMC has done. In effect, the Marine Corps has sniped itself.
The immediate driver here, I suspect, is that DOD has drone fever, which means money for any new program that features drones. Again, drones offer some important advantages. But those advantages are in degree, not in kind. Since aerial scouting developed in World War I – I’m proud to say the first case of aerial control of gunfire was by the Imperial and Royal Austro-Hungarian Navy – manned aircraft have given ground commanders that all-important look over the next hill. Radio contact between the plane and the ground commander can make that information immediate. If all you have for air recon is F-35s, then yes, you need drones. But if your recon aircraft is something between a World War L “C” type and an OV-10, then drones are less necessary and you can get the advantage of human eyes on the situation rather than just cameras. Drones currently have the important advantage of being cheaper, but just as with manned aircraft, their price and complexity will increase because that will justify higher budgets.
There may be something else going on here. Headquarters, Marine Corps has been stuffing women into every nook and cranny, including places like the infantry where they will be large net disadvantages. The only type of war women can fight is hi-tech, push-button war. While the number of women who could graduate from the Scout/Sniper School would have been small, women can operate drones as well as men. Is the womanizing of the Marine Corps bringing yet another distortion?
In any case, the Scout/Sniper School is gone, and with it the creation of Marines who are well trained. When the enemy gives one of your own units or commanders a compliment, you can safely believe it is true.
This column is dedicated to Marine Scout/Sniper Ron Danielowski, a friend who died at age 54 from a massive heart attack. In everything he did in life, he always hit the mark.