Sniper School

In the spring of 1967 my Commanding Officer, Capt. Flowers and I were summoned to the Chief of Staff at Headquarters.  Captain Flowers and I had competed in the Division matches at Camp Pendleton. We were tasked with preparing the rifle range for a small group of Marines to practice with new weapons and equipment. They would need a 1000 yard target.

The exact location for the target pit was located, and within a week the target carriage was in place. We tested it with my modified M-1 Garand. This was the same rifle I had used to win the 600 yard match. The 1000 yard range proved to be more difficult because of the wind conditions. A few knots of wind would blow the bullet off course. I knew how to read wind by using a spotting scope (heat waves rise, creating a mirage), but it is more pronounced at a longer distance. Finally I was able to get my sights calibrated and could consistently hit the bulls eye.

When our guests arrived they were introduced to their new weapon, the Winchester model 70. The rifles had been “match conditioned” and came with an 8X scope. The six Marines (all sergeants) were from Force Recon and all had served in Vietnam. An “RTE” (rifle team equipment) armorer from Quantico Virginia accompanied them. He would make any necessary adjustments to the rifles. This was an impressive bunch, and I felt as though I would not have much to offer in the training.

The first day was spent zeroing the sights at 200 yards. All had notebooks, and they recorded everything. There were only three weapons because Snipers operated in two-man teams, one being the shooter and the other being the spotter. Each team had an M-49 20X spotting scope with a tripod. The teams would take turns shooting and spotting. They were doing great until the afternoon session. The wind would always pick up in the afternoon, and the technique of reading the wind became a factor. It was obvious they lacked the knowledge of reading the wind with a spotter scope.

I made a suggestion to one of the spotters about how to adjust the spotting scope to read the wind, and he condescendingly dismissed me. The idea of some air wing corporal giving them advice was rejected. Force Recon Marines were arrogant (for good reason), and they did not want any assistance. Recon was the Marine Corps equivalent to Navy Seals or Army Green Berets. They were really good and knew it.

Captain Flowers told me, “go get your weapon,” and when I returned he ordered the snipers off the line to observe. I was given ten rounds, took a wind reading and set my sights. I fired five rounds (checking the wind between each shot); all were in the black. Then I noticed an up-tick in the wind and readjusted my sights. One of the snipers said, “Why is he changing the sights?” Captain Flowers bellowed, “QUIET!” I fired the final rounds, and all were in the black.

As I got up the questions flowed. I was now able to teach them how to read the heat mirage through the spotter scope. The key was de-focusing the spotting scope to the mid point down range. After learning to calibrate the spotting scopes they began hitting the target consistently. Meanwhile the RTE armorer wanted a training session on the spotting scope and reading wind. He scribbled notes to take back to Quantico.

By the end of the week they were all confident with their new weapons and skills. It was clear they were anxious for the next assignment . . . Vietnam.

Next edition: Farewell BBQ

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