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Steady Hands, Ever-Watchful Eyes: Scout Snipers Stand the Watch

Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class (AW/SW) Monique K. Hilley, Combined Task Force 151

GULF OF ADEN (Sept. 27, 2008) -- A scout sniper from Battalion Landing Team 2/6, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit,  fires his MK-11 sniper rifle from a CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter, Sept. 27, 2009, while flying over the Gulf of Aden.  The snipers practiced firing at floating targets from different places inside the helicopter during the training.  The 26th MEU and Iwo Jima Strike Group are currently deployed in the Central Command area of responsibility. (Official USMC photo by Cpl. Aaron J. Rock

GULF OF ADEN (Jan. 17, 2009) -

As boarding teams depart the amphibious transport dock ship USS San Antonio (LPD 17) in rigid-hull inflatable boats (RHIBs) to deter piracy in the Gulf of Aden, they can feel a sense of protection knowing that the Scout Sniper Platoon, 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, currently attached to the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (26 MEU), watches over them from the skies.

“The scout snipers’ role while attached to Combined Task Force (CTF) 151 is to supply either aerial support from a scout sniper position inside the helicopter or, if need be, we can provide support from the ship to provide over-watch for the visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) team as they go ahead and take out a vessel,” said Gunnery Sgt. Jeffery Benkie, scout sniper platoon sergeant.

The nine-member sniper team brings multiple capabilities to CTF 151, including its ability to operate from an aerial platform with a variety of different weapons systems. The scout snipers use an Mk-11, which is the 762 sniper rifle, a 50-caliber M107 special application scoped rifle (SASR), and several different sets of optics to aid them in carrying out their mission.

“We have the ability to stand off of a target, visually see what is on the target and report that information to the VBSS teams so they understand, before they’re boarding, the number of personnel, if there are any weapons on board, if there are any type of foulings on the deck, if their hook point is obtainable, and, basically, give them a warm and fuzzy feeling that they’re not out alone out here, that they have snipers watching over them 100 percent of the time,” explained Benkie. A scout sniper from Battalion Landing Team 2/6, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, fires his MK-11 sniper rifle at floating targets from a window of a CH-46E Sea Knight helicopter Sept. 27, 2009, in the Gulf of Aden. The 26th MEU and Iwo Jima Strike Group are currently deployed in the Central Command area of responsibility. (Official USMC photo by Cpl. Aaron J. Rock)

Several of the Marines attended Scout Sniper School, which is an intensive 10-week school in Stone Bay, N.C., that is broken down into three phases: marksmanship, deployment and basic skills. Several of the scout snipers also completed the three-week Special Operations Training Group Urban Sniper Course.

“It’s a very short period of time, three weeks, but they shoot approximately 10,000 rounds during those three weeks, so it’s very shooting intensive,” said Benkie.

During scout sniper school, Marines must qualify up to 1,000 yards with a Mk-11 sniper rifle. The 50-caliber rifle can reach out to about 1,800 yards, which is a little over a mile.

When shooting from the scout sniper position in a helicopter, the snipers can put effective rounds on target out to about 800 yards with the Mk-11, depending on the wind conditions, sea state and other variables that go into marksmanship at sea. With the 50-caliber rifle, used for disabling small craft, scout snipers can shoot well out over 1,000 yards.

“We were really happy to be chosen to be part of the task force,” said Benkie. “We work very hard to prove ourselves as scout snipers. To be operational during this deployment and chosen to be part of this is quite an honor. I am very proud of my men because they all work very hard.”

CTF 151 has brought the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard team together aboard San Antonio. Those currently embarked include helicopter pilots and support personnel from USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71), a Coast Guard boarding team that teamed up with San Antonio’s own VBSS team and Marines from ‘Golf’ Company, as well as the Scout Sniper Platoon, from the 26 MEU embarked aboard USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7).

“Being able to bring all those entities together as one to achieve a common mission goal and train up and establish standard operating procedures is quite a unique thing, and the Marine Corps and Navy do a very good job of working together and supporting each other,” stated Benkie.

San Antonio is the flagship for Combined Task Force (CTF) 151. CTF 151 is a multinational force conducting counter-piracy operations to deter piracy in and around the Gulf of Aden, Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean and the Red Sea. It was established to create a lawful maritime order and develop security in the maritime environment.

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