MARSOC, Part 2: Training SOCOM'S Devil Dogs

MARSOC, Part 2: Training SOCOM’S Devil Dogs

November/December 1943, Bougainville, Solomon Islands. U.S. Marine Raiders and their war dogs, used for scouting and running messages, on the move toward the battle lines with Japanese defenders. “Military working dogs” are still in use today by K-9 elements in MARSOC’s Special Operations Support Group. (U.S. Marine Corps/National Archives)

Salvog:  I figured I’d go into the military at some time, and after a couple of years of college, it seemed like the right time.  I chose the Marine Corps.  I’ve always liked a challenge and that’s why I decided to come to MARSOC and was assigned to India Company of 2nd MSOB, then MSOS.

Yohe:  My father was a Marine.  I’ve served in the Sniper Platoon of 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 2nd Recon Battalion, and now MSOS.  I asked to come to MARSOC for the opportunity to challenge and improve myself while serving my country.

SADJ:  Has your current assignment lived up to your expectations?

Blackmon:  In one word, yes.  As an instructor I not only get to see and test (possible) future weapons, I have the opportunity to have a direct impact on the future warriors of MARSOC.

Salvog:  My current assignment has been good.  I’ve finally gotten some time off to see my family and help my wife with our kids.  I’ve also gotten to teach sniping; something I’m passionate about.

SADJ:  Are you personally interested in firearms and shooting?  Describe your interest and tell us about your preferences in privately owned weapons.

(This question hit a thick gold vein and between the three Marines they own more than a dozen rifles, shotguns and pistols.  Precision rifles topped their lists, notably Yohe’s McMillan TAC-338, and all have customized variants of the AR-15 platform in 5.56 or 6.8mm.  Several versions of M1911 series pistols are also in their personal armories.)

6 May 2007, Zamboanga, Republic of the Philippines. MARSOC Lance Corporal Victor Offutt, assigned to Joint Special Operations Command - Philippines, gives handling and aiming advice for his RCO-ACOG scope equipped M4A1 Carbine to a soldier of the Armed Forces of the Philippines during a Subject Matter Expert Exchange. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Troy Latham)

SADJ:  What formal schooling and subsequent training – particularly firearms related – have you received for your duties?

Blackmon:  I’ve attended several firearms training schools.  I’m a graduate of the USMC’s Small Arms Weapons Instructor Course and Foreign Weapons Instructor Course.  Also Blackwater and Bill Rodgers on the civilian side.

Salvog:  Scout Sniper Basic Course, Advanced Sniper Course and CQB (Close Quarter Battle) package to help improve my shooting skills and refine different tactics now in use.

Yohe:  Scout Sniper Basic Course, Mountain Sniper, McMillan Warfighter Sniper Course, MARSOF Advanced Sniper Course (twice), Accuracy First, and several others.

SADJ:  Do you believe you had adequate training time to prepare you for the realities you experienced in previous deployment and in assisting your current assignment?

Blackmon:  Adequate?  I’d have to say yes.  With deployments, you can only train to a standard that will put you as close as possible to a combat situation.  The best thing we can do to prepare ourselves is to not only have a great understanding of the weapons systems we take into combat or on deployment.  We should have thorough knowledge of the weapons used by partner nations and our enemies.  This is a concept that the weapons instructors (at MSOS) try to impart to the students who will be future MARSOC operators.

Salvog:  I’ve had good training time and experience to help me fill my role as an Advanced Sniper Course instructor.  Utilizing my different skills on deployment and being able to refine them from the training environment to the real world has helped me pass on my experiences to the students.

17 April 2009, U.S. Army Depot, Hawthorne, Nevada. Enhanced Marksmanship Rifle (EMR) is the Marine Corps designation for its scope-equipped, modified 7.62mm M14s that reach out well beyond the effective range of M16 series weapons. This EMR is in use by an operator with 2nd Marine Special Operations Battalion, honing his high angle shooting skills prior to deployment. (USMC photo by Lance Corporal Stephen Benson)

Yohe:  Adequate, at best, live fire practice prior to deployment.  The problem being the amount of training required in the workup before deployment and the amount of time allotted…you could always use more trigger time.

SADJ:  What recommendations would you like to make to the chain-of-command to improve operator skill with crew served and individual weapons?

Blackmon:  For crew-served, students need to get a base line introduction to light and medium machine guns before attending follow-on training.  The student is immersed in a wealth of knowledge on currently issued individual weapons.  I recommend more time with the student to develop more than just a base line understanding.

Salvog:  The biggest problem with the training that students receive on the crew served weapons is that they don’t get enough time to become proficient prior to deployment.  (That comes) after they’re in-country and having to use them.  We didn’t even see the (deleted) until we were in-country.

Yohe:  Maintain high standards.  If someone can’t shoot, you don’t want that person behind the gun, whether it’s when you’re making entry into a house or on your overwatch.

SADJ:  What are your observations on the crew-served weapons in current use by MARSOC?  

Blackmon:  The most commonly used crew-served weapons are the M240 machine gun and the 60mm M224 mortar.  While not doctrinally considered crew-served, there is also the M249 SAW.  As with any weapon system, their reliability is based on the operator.  Did he perform pre-fire inspections?  Does he maintain it by cleaning and proper lubrication?  The great thing about our light and heavy machine guns is the volume of fire they can deliver in a firefight.  The 60mm mortar adds a great indirect fire capability to the team or company.  It can be used to provide illumination at night or to cut off evading forces that might have tried to attack or ambush U.S. forces.  If MARSOC decides to transition to the Special Operations weapons such as the MK46 series machine guns and the MK47 grenade machine gun, a lot of issues that come up with the standard issued crew serves will be addressed.

Salvog:  Some of the big problems we saw with the crew-served weapons are keeping sand out of them while traveling down the road or across the desert.  Some, mostly the M240s, once they did get sandy they’d single shot rather than working properly.  Most of the big guns like the 40mm MK19 and MK47, and the .50 cal. M2HB, had minimal problems.

17 April 2009, U.S. Army Depot, Hawthorne, Nevada. From a commanding position atop Rocket Mountain, a MARSOC operator from 2nd Marine Special Operations Battalion fires a 7.62mm M240 machine gun mounted on a Ground Mobility Vehicle at target clusters in the valley below. 2nd MSOB Marines and Sailors were training in high angle shooting skills with a variety of organic weapons in preparation for deployment. (USMC photo by Lance Corporal Stephen Benson)

(Note that sniper rifles are normally utilized by a two man team consisting of a shooter and a spotter.  As such the Marine Corps considers them to be crew-served)

Yohe:  The current generation of bolt action rifles are predominantly chambered in the standard .308 caliber.  Unfortunately, this round is lacking in our current combat environment.  There are projects in the works to field a new caliber with the ability to engage targets out to 1,500 meters with enough energy at that range to still have the desired effects on a target.  For some reason, there are a lot of people who feel the .300 WinMag will suit that role.  It is an improvement over the .308, however, there are better rounds out there that will pack a hell of a lot more punch and won’t be trans-sonic at that 1,500 meter mark.  Plenty of other units around the world already transitioned to the .338 Lapua Magnum round, well known for its long-range capabilities.  I think it would be the best round for the job.

SADJ:  What’s the greatest challenge in keeping these weapons maintained and ready under difficult conditions and what “tricks of the trade” have you learned from real-world experience that may not be in official doctrine?

Blackmon:  The operator’s greatest challenge is keeping his weapon functional no matter where he deploys.  Since MARSOC deploys teams all across the globe, this is a challenge for the instructor cadre.  We use a base line maintenance program that includes information for operating in different climates.  A tip I give my students is to think of your weapon as a car you’re taking to a car show.  You don’t want to show up with one that’s covered in rust and won’t crank.

Salvog:  Some of the tricks we use for the crew-served is to have bags or cloth sleeves bungee corded around the feed tray and ejection port of the 240s and to minimally lube the others.

Yohe:  My tricks stay with me and my students.

SADJ:  And your comments on MARSOC’s individual weapons?

Blackmon:  MARSOC issues the M4A1 carbine to its operating forces, along with the SOPMOD (Special Operations Peculiar Modification) kit.  The M4A1 has a variety of setbacks compared to other standard issue weapons of other countries.  This weapon requires a disciplined and meticulous maintenance cycle that the operator has to perform to ensure his weapon is functional.