A GATHERING OF HOGS
THE “HOG’S TOOTH”
Many wore the “HOG’s Tooth,” the symbol of a Marine sniper. It is a simple thing, a 7.62mm hollow-point boat tail (HPBT) long range bullet on a cord hung about one’s neck when a Marine graduates from Sniper School and becomes one of the few who earn the title of Marine Scout Sniper.
But in this case, many of those gathered this day would hardly be recognized as such. They were much older now, some bent with age, some showing grey hair, some carrying more weight than they did “back in the day.” But they had one thing in common: at one time they were United Stated Marine scout snipers, and many had extensive combat experience.
It was the bi-annual reunion of the United States Marine Corps Scout Sniper Association. This year it was held in San Diego, with a day on Camp Pendleton at the current 1st Marine Division Scout Sniper School. Over 50 members attended, including veterans who fought in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, various places in the ‘70s and ‘80s, Desert Storm, and in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Among them was Captain (Ret.) Morris Owens, who landed on Tarawa as a sergeant and squad leader under Lt. William Hawkins, the sniper platoon commander. Owens told of what it was like to wade ashore and endure the hell at the pier and seawall, where Japanese fire pinned down and killed many Marines until they could claw their way, bunker-to-bunker, inland. Lt. Hawkins, single-handedly blowing bunkers, was killed near the beach, and was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously for his actions that day.
THE LEGENDARY “MOOSE”
Also in attendance was Thomas “Moose” Ferran, 41 confirmed kills in Vietnam (current chairman and past president of the Association); GySgt. (Ret) Robert Reidsma, who was NCOIC of the Scout Sniper Instructor School at Quantico and currently serves as vice president of the Association; Maj. (Ret) Allen Boothby, former OIC of the Scout Sniper Instructor School and current president of the Association; SSgt. Joshua Hamblin and Sgt. Owen Mulder, who worked as a team during the invasion of Iraq and had 32 confirmed kills in Baghdad in three days; SSgt. (Ret) Jim Gularte, 43 confirmed kills in Vietnam—who still works with the school as an instructor and has two schoolhouse sniper awards named after him; and many others with distinguished combat records.
We were all looking forward to Day Two of the reunion. That was the day we would be transported up to Camp Pendleton to the Scout Sniper School where we would get a tour of the facility, then go out to the range to shoot the latest USMC sniper rifle, the M40A4 with M8541 SSDS Schmidt and Bender telescopic sight.
As we approached the back gate to Camp Pendleton near San Onofre and went through the MP checkpoint, I noted how different it was now compared to when I was stationed there in 1965. Dragons teeth concrete barrier blocks formed a serpentine pathway for vehicles and other obstacles were present that could stop even the most determined terrorist bent on passing through the gate. All of this and more are in response to the events of 9/11 and what we’ve learned during the War on Terror. Our point man on this mission was retired Staff Sergeant Jim Gularte, who is also a retired Oceanside police officer. Jim showed the MPs some paperwork and they motioned our bus through the gate—and rendered us a crisp salute. You could see a great deal of pride in the old faces on the bus and one vet
loudly proclaimed “Once a Marine, always a Marine.”
THE MARINE CORPS LIVES ON A SHOESTRING
There is an old saying: The Marine Corps lives on a shoestring. This dates back to at least WWII. It describes the way the Corps has managed to survive and accomplish its missions with often little support and too often little financing. In July of 1965 I landed in Vietnam with World War II “782 gear” (field gear). We had leather boots that were made during the Korean War, and canvas packs, belts and haversacks with blanket rolls that may have seen service on Iwo Jima. Through the years up to the current decade, equipping and supporting our Marines has been a
“fight battles with what you have, not what you wish you had” issue.
Much of this was evidenced in what we found when we pulled up to the Scout Sniper School facility, located at the School of Infantry (which in the past had been known as the Infantry Training Regiment, then Basic Warrior Training). The “schoolhouse” itself is a WWII Quonset hut painted tan. At one time it had been a mess hall but now housed the classroom, equipment cages, instructor offices and a Wall of Honor showing USMC snipers and earlier class photos. (The current building is scheduled to be replaced in 2010 with a new state-of-the-art facility). Today the school is a base school and not a division school. The Scout Sniper School at Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, also falls under the Pendleton school. The Scout Sniper School on the east coast is at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, making a total of three Scout Sniper Schools plus the Scout Sniper Instructor School at Quantico.
We were greeted by the current commanding officer, who gave us our in-briefing, introduced us to his instructors, and gave us a brief class on how to range the new Schmidt and Bender scopes with GEN-II reticle mil-dot scales. One has to understand that many of us came from the days of wire cross-haired Unertls or Redfield Accurange scopes. Ranging was done by using a map, or a range card, or “rule of thumb.” Shooting the new M40A4 would be an adventure.
WE’VE COME A LONG WAY SINCE NAM
The introduction to the rifle itself showed how many improvements had taken place since the M40 began replacing our Model 70 Winchesters in Vietnam in 1967. The Model 70s we used from 1965 to 1967 were .30 caliber (.30-06) bolt action match rifles that were sent over to give us a means of long range sniping, and more importantly at the time, counter-sniper fire. We were up against Vietcong who were equipped with Moison Nagant sniper rifles with scopes that, if shot by a halfway decent marksman, could outrange our issue M14s. It became evident early on that the Marines (and the Army) once again needed to re-invent the wheel and establish sniper schools and equip Marines with a decent sniper weapon. Supplementing the “Quantico” rifles were .30 caliber Winchester sporting rifles that were pulled out of Special Services—the place you check out baseball gear and volley balls and deer rifles. Most didn’t have scopes, so two Marines were sent to Okinawa to buy any kind of scopes that could be obtained from the PXs. Unknown to many, Weavers and Tascos did see service in Vietnam!
THOSE OLD STICKS WERE WORN OUT
But the Model 70s already had years of use and by 1967 were in dire need of replacement. I asked my friend GySgt. Carlos Hathcock about losing his veteran Model 70 and he explained, “Those old sticks were worn out. Just absolutely worn out, and couldn’t hold a group worth a darn at any range worth shooting. We had to have new weapons and we needed something that shot the same ammo as our grunts. Even when we switched from the M-14s to the M-16s, we could still draw ammo from the M60 gunners if we ran out of Lake City match ammo.” (Author’s note: M14s still served in some units until 1970, as noted by Jim Gularte, who explained “the 7th Marines never went to the M-16s when I was in country from 1968–70. We always carried the M14s.”)
By 1967, a contract had been written up to replace the Model 70s with a new rifle. Winchester lost out due to problems with the post-1964 Model 70 that had weaker components than the earlier mainstay. Remington was awarded the contract and began producing the M40, which was basically a Model 700 Remington in 7.62mm with a medium heavy target barrel, oiled stock, metal butt plate, Parkerized metal, and mounted with a Redfield 3x9 Accurange scope. The Accurange “tombstone” range finder was fragile, and in service did not last in the tropical heat of Vietnam. Most snipers by 1968 simply cranked up the power to 9 and left it. This later proved of value when Major Dick Culver started the USMC Scout Sniper Instructor School at Quantico and began improving the M40 and
changing the scope to the custom-built 10X Unertl with mil-dot scale.
According to Major Culver, “We wanted a tough scope that was grunt proof, had integral range finding, and only one power so that range finding computations would be accurate.”
A REPLACEMENT IDEA IS BORN
After Vietnam, Dick Culver, Carlos Hathcock, and others at Quantico began working on a replacement for the M40. Designated the M40A1, the new rifle was built at Quantico by the Marine gunsmiths at the school using a Remington 700 action, an Adkinson barrel and McMillan composite camouflaged stock. Mounted with the new mil-dot Unertl scope, it would serve in such places as Grenada, Beirut, Panama, and Desert Storm.
Still, improvements could be made, and the result is the M40A3. This version had a new McMillan Tactical A4 composite stock with adjustable cheek comb, Schneider match grade barrel, Harris bipods, and D.D. Ross scope base with G&G Machine rings. It retained the Unertl 10X scope with mil-dot reticle. (There was no M40A2 except those advertised as such from civilian vendors available to the public)
The next rifle in the evolution is the M40A4, which has an adjustable cheek comb on the stock, a ten-round detachable box magazine, bipods, and the new Schmidt and Bender 3–12x50 Scout Sniper Day Scope telescopic sight and Picatinny bridge mount for the in-line night optics and other accessories. We would shoot that rifle on this day.
Arriving on the range, I could see that the school had an excellent facility. A large range tower commanded a view of rolling California hills that provided ranges out beyond 1000 meters. Firing lanes fanned out from the firing line to metal targets that one could barely identify with binoculars. No known-distance boot camp targets here! These metal plates on poles were painted white and were hard to distinguish from the light tan soil in the impact area. One had to search to find a target, and each target was at a different angle and range than the others.
A large tent was set up to provide shade for the attendees, and due to the heat, two corpsmen were in attendance complete with aid gear and a wet bulb thermometer. Eight instructors were ready to work with us and about twenty rifles were set up on the firing line. More than half were on the ground on shooting mats, and the remainder on a table for bench shooting.
“Gentlemen,” said the head instructor, “this is the M40A4. It is similar to what you all used in the past with the exception of the scope.” He went on to explain ranging with the scope and making range adjustments.
NOW GO KILL TARGETS
“Each of you will have a box of match ammo at your firing point. You can pick any target you want and you can use a spotter. Spotting scopes are set up on each point as well. Range instructors will be at points along the line in case you need something, have questions or have a malfunction. Now go kill targets!”
I had been eagerly awaiting this moment for over a year. I wanted to get my hands on the new M40A4 and see what it could do. It was like an old F4 pilot getting a chance to wring out an F16. I had my own collection of modern sniper rifles at home: a Vietnam-type M40 with Redfield scope, two Model 700 Remington tactical rifles (.308 PSS and .300 Win-Mag Sendero), both with mil-dot scopes, among others. I am fortunate in that I live in the country
and have my own range where I instruct military and police officers in sniping and combat pistolcraft. Now I had an opportunity to shoot the Marine Corps’ latest sniper rifle.
A TIME MACHINE
I spent the first relay watching others shoot. It was like a time machine. Seeing these veterans take their positions, pull the rifles to their shoulders, automatically placing their right hands under the heel of the stocks sniper-fashion, establish proper eye relief, identify their targets, then take their time working through the shot: breath, relax, aim, slack….SQUEEZE!
BRASS. The keyword we all learned so long ago, had not been forgotten.
Immediately, after a few turns on elevation turrets, loud metallic “dings” were heard as the .308 rounds impacted targets out to 700 meters. I heard one instructor mention to another, “these guys can still shoot, can’t they?” I felt like walking up, putting my hand on his shoulder and saying “Just like riding a bicycle, sergeant. You never forget.”
Finally it was my turn. A rifle was available on the table and I took the spot. An instructor came over and gave me a quick refresher on the weapon, handed me a full magazine and the remainder of a box of ammo.
“Let me know if you need anything,” then he was gone.
I THEN WENT TO GUN
I loaded the rifle, then took the spotting scope and scanned the range for targets. I found one out about 500 meters for my first shots and called the shot. “Eleven o’clock, five hundred meters, troop in open.” I then went to gun. I pulled the rifle to my shoulder and reacquired the target.
My mind flashed briefly to another time, overlooking rice paddies south of DaNang, Vietnam, with three “gomers” carrying SKSes, walking on a dike at about the same range. I went for tail end Charlie… Back to reality, I took in half a breath and squeezed the trigger.
After the recoil I looked up. I didn’t have a spotter so could not tell where the shot went, but I did know that it missed. There was no metallic ring. I asked my neighbor to spot a round for me and took another shot. It was low, about four feet, kicking up a dust cloud about ten feet in front of the target. An instructor came over and I told him where the shot hit and he made a quick adjustment to the elevation. “Try that.”
Another shot and I heard the distinct metallic ring of impact on steel. Then another, and another. I decided to try a target farther out, and after two misses at about 700 meters and two adjustments, again I was on target. I was out of ammo before I was ready, but it was great to have had the opportunity to shoot the best sniper weapon in the world, and even better to know I could still hit targets at ranges that I don’t have at home.
Watching the old HOGs come off the firing line was like watching a bunch of kids at Christmas who just finished playing with their new favorite toy. Huge grins, bantering back and forth, and guys slapping each other on the back and exclaiming “nice shot, old man!”
IRAQ, HERE WE COME
And more than one said “I wonder if there’s a way we could go to Iraq and give the lads there a break…”
The mission of the United States Marine Corps Scout Sniper Association is to “maintain fraternal, patriotic, institutional and educational opportunities to its members, preserve and strengthen comradeship among its members, assist worthy comrades, perpetuate the memory and history of our dead, assist widows and orphans, maintain true allegiance to the United States of America and to always be faithful ‘Semper Fidelis’ to its Constitution and laws, and maintain and extend the institutions of American freedom and to preserve and defend the United States from all her enemies.”
The Association has done a great deal to support our Marine Scout Snipers in the field in Iraq. During Operation Iraqi Freedom the Association sent numerous “tac-kits” to deployed scout sniper platoons, which included items such as hide materials, small arms cleaning equipment, small binoculars, spotting scopes with tripods, optics maintenance items, sniper data books, IR gear, wind meters and water purification kits, periscopes and other items not normally supplied through standard channels. (Though spotting scopes are available, they are the old M49 models that date back to the Korean War and are very outdated and often barely functional). To date the Association has provided over $60,000 worth of supplemental support to more than two dozen scout/sniper platoons deployed in the War on Terror.
Membership in the Association falls into four categories: Charter, Combat, Regular and Associate. A Charter member is a founding member, and Combat members are those who have served in combat as a scout sniper. Membership eligibility is open to any Marine scout sniper who served as an 0317 (current Marine sniper MOS), older 8541 MOS (1967–2006) or 0311 prior to 1967 who was assigned as a scout sniper. A DD214 and any other relevant records of proof must be submitted for verification. No wannabes need apply. More information can be
obtained at the USMC S/SA website at www.usmcscoutsniper.org.
SOF contributor LTC Craig Roberts, USAR Ret., was a USMC sniper in Vietnam with the 9th Marines. He later served as a SWAT team sniper with the Tulsa Police Department Tactical Squad, and now instructs military and police sniper tactics, basic precision rifle marksmanship, and combat pistolcraft. He is co-author of One Shot—One Kill: America’s Combat Snipers, and Crosshairs on the Kill Zone. He is the author of Police Sniper and other books. His webpage is www.riflewarrior.com.