American Forces Press Service
Aug. 28, 2009 - Marine Corps snipers and designated marksmen have been operating across the vast Iraqi deserts since the outbreak of hostilities in 2003. As with all units operating in Iraq, past and present, they have found themselves evolving to meet the changing needs of the Iraqi military and political landscape.
Small teams of snipers are finding reasons to venture into the constantly shifting environment that exists in a place referred to simply as "outside the wire."
"Working with previously gathered information, we gather additional intelligence and conduct operations watching over possible insurgent hot spots, caches or [improvised explosive device] cells," said Army Sgt. Neftaly Estremera, a chief scout with the 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Headquarters and Service Company. "We provide surveillance and [reconnaissance] capabilities for areas of interest."
As their larger parent unit –- the 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion -- moves around the desert, relying on its combat power by combining force with local military and public support, the designated marksman teams operate in the shadows, far from the public eye.
"The sniper's job is different," said Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Russell Injerd, an assistant team leader for the battalion. "While the team leader plans the missions, the assistant team leader is the supervisor. Having a job like this means that not only do you operate in the shadows, but you also work to ensure that when others are busy, you're filling in the gaps."
It is these qualities that Marines within the designated marksman teams said they like most.
"I love operating; I mean really, what is there to not like?" Estremera said. "Yes, the sand fleas tear you up, but at least you know you're actually making a difference. We've been able to stop [people trying] to come [across the border] illegally. It's getting to the point now where it's mainly just illegal cigarette smuggling. We've come a long way."
A marksman often is called on to take creative approaches to mission accomplishment. This is something team members said not only is essential, but also is one of the unique elements of the job.
"The guidance is pretty general," Injerd said. "It's a good line of work, because you get to be creative with your mission planning. That's something not many units ever truly get to do."
A large part of mission planning is location. Snipers have the luxury of choosing where to establish themselves and how best to insert. While other, larger formations are limited by their loud engines and shouted squad commands, the marksman teams can slip in and out once they've decided on where to conduct their work.
"We usually insert anywhere from one to two kilometers from the operating zone," Injerd added. "We'll go over the plan, mount up and then move to wherever it is that we feel we can accomplish the mission most effectively."
While many movies and books tend to emphasize the marksmanship skills of the Marine sniper and designated marksman, marksman team members find that their true skills are in not having to fire a shot at all. Much like policemen around the world, the snipers are there to gather evidence and gain a visual perspective while keeping themselves unseen.
After the "insert," which Injerd described as the trickiest part of an operation, the team goes back to one of the fundamentals of infantry operations: communications.
"Once we have communications established, we check out the area and move into our selected [position]," Injerd explained. "From there, we set up and watch out. If we catch the bad guys committing crimes like smuggling, we call in for ground units."
(From a Multinational Corps Iraq news release.)