The instructors and students of the first-ever Reconnaissance Sniper Course on Range 131 on Camp Pendleton. Photo by Marty Skovlund Jr.
In a small ceremony aboard Camp Pendleton, 10 Reconnaissance Marines made history Friday, becoming the first graduates of the Marine Corps’ new Reconnaissance Sniper Course (RSC) and earning the title Recon Sniper.
Marine leaders at Camp Pendleton’s Reconnaissance Training Company (RTC), Advanced Infantry Training Battalion, developed the nine-week RSC to establish a sniper training course tailored to the needs and mission-essential tasks of the Corps’ elite Reconnaissance battalions.
Lance Cpl. Jackson Camarata, who is assigned to 1st Recon Battalion on Camp Pendleton, was the only junior enlisted Marine in the course. He earned top honors as the class high shooter.
Student performance was evaluated and measured throughout the course, and each shooter’s overall accuracy percentage was calculated from scores during myriad known-distance and advanced marksmanship training events.
“This course has been great for me,” Camarata told Coffee or Die Magazine. “Coming into this course with no long-range shooting experience, I got a lot of in-depth instruction and developed really valuable skills. RSC takes basic reconnaissance Marines like me and makes us into skilled, precision shooters. It turns us into a much more diverse and valuable asset for our teams. The instruction has been outstanding. Nothing compares to anything else I’ve done in the Marine Corps.”
Cpl. Jose Avilamata, another shooter from 1st Recon Battalion, was recognized during the ceremony with the “Instructor’s Choice” award.
“Each RSC instructor voted on whichever student they enjoyed coaching most — whoever was most coachable and received and applied our instruction best,” RSC Chief Instructor Staff Sgt. Benjamin L. Morrow said. “Cpl. Avilamata did a great job throughout the course. He had a great attitude all the time, and he’s someone we would definitely want in our team and to go downrange with. He definitely earned the Instructor’s Choice.”
Each student received a graduation certificate during the small ceremony and are projected to earn the additional MOS of 0327 — Recon Sniper, pending official approval from the Marine Corps.
Though not officially designated as members of a special operations force, Reconnaissance Marines undergo extensive special tactics training and maintain capabilities similar to that of Navy SEALs, Army Special Forces, and Rangers. By the time they undergo sniper training, most Recon Marines will have completed the five-week Reconnaissance Training and Assessment Program; the 14-week Basic Reconnaissance Course; Army Airborne School; the Marine Corps Combatant Diver Course; Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape School; and Military Free Fall School.
Multiple sources, who asked not to be identified, told Coffee or Die Marine officials are considering possibly reducing the number of Scout Sniper Basic Courses (SSBC) the service runs annually and consolidating the storied special tactics school at one or two locations.
For decades, the path to joining the Marines’ proud fraternity of Scout Snipers has gone through SSBC, and the Marines currently have three schoolhouses where they run the 13-week course: Camp Pendleton, California; Camp Lejeune, North Carolina; and Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia.
Capt. Samuel Stephenson, a spokesman for Marine Corps Training and Education Command (TECOM), told Coffee or Die that while “there is no current reduction of Scout Sniper course quotas, the Marine Corps is actively seeking solutions to better streamline the production of Scout Snipers and limit course attrition.”
Morrow is one of the main architects of the RSC, and he said training Recon Marines at RSC instead of SSBC eliminates about four weeks of training redundancy and allows students to spend more time shooting and familiarizing themselves with myriad weapon systems and more advanced marksmanship and sniper tactics.
In a private, informal ceremony Thursday, each student received a .300 Win Mag projectile engraved by laser with “0327” and his shooter number, which designates the year in which the course took place and the shooter’s ranking within the course.
Engraved with “21-01,” Camarata’s projectile reflects his top ranking in the first course. For earning the Instructor’s Choice award, Avilamata was given the 21-02 projectile. The rest of the shooters’ projectiles reflect their ranking based on overall accuracy percentage.
RTC officials plan to run a second pilot course in September to complete the proof-of-concept phase, and TECOM officials will then decide on whether to make the course a permanent offering.
Morrow said future RSC classes will continue the tradition of ranking the High Shooter and Instructor’s Choice as first and second respectively. Instructors anticipate having 18 students in the second class in September, meaning the high shooter in that course will receive the 21-11 projectile, and the shooter who earns Instructor’s Choice will get the 21-12 projectile.
Traditionally, Marines who complete the rigorous Scout Sniper Basic Course earn the additional MOS of 0317 — Scout Sniper — and the elite moniker “HOG,” or Hunter of Gunmen. Upon graduation, they are bestowed the coveted “HOG’s tooth” — a 7.62 projectile.
Morrow said the RSC instructors, who are all Scout Snipers, presented the RSC projectiles to their shooters as a means of showing the Recon Snipers’ connection to the Scout Sniper community and the camaraderie among all Marine snipers.
“This is a symbol of brotherhood between the communities,” Morrow said.
Gunnery Sgt. Malachi J. Even, staff noncommissioned officer in charge of the RSC, said he and his staff felt the symbolic projectile was an important gesture to acknowledge what the Marines accomplished by completing the course.
“This course and these Recon Snipers were made by Marine Scout Snipers, and they are now Marine snipers,” he said. “We are passing down this tradition to tie these snipers to our history.”
Editor’s note: A previous version of this article stated that the Recon Sniper graduates received the 0327 military occupational specialty (MOS) upon graduation. The article has been updated to reflect that the 0327 MOS will not be awarded until officially approved by the Marine Corps.
Ethan E. Rocke is a contributor and former senior editor for Coffee or Die Magazine, a New York Times bestselling author, and award-winning photographer and filmmaker. He is a veteran of the US Army and Marine Corps. His work has been published in Maxim Magazine, American Legion Magazine, and many others. He is co-author of The Last Punisher: A SEAL Team THREE Sniper’s True Account of the Battle of Ramadi.