Commandant: It's not the round, it's the shooter
Close with. Destroy. Repeat. The basic recipe for the perfect Marine
infantryman is usually a simple mixture. Toss in a little kill, capture or
repel, sprinkle in some fire and maneuver, then separate into four-man teams
and bake under the hot sun.
Easy as pie, usually, except the Corps' top officer says there's something
wrong in the kitchen.
He's been getting complaints from the field about "stopping power." Grunts
say they have to pump handfuls of rounds into insurgents before the bad guys
hit the dirt, and some still manage to keep coming.
Some say the rounds need to be bigger if they're really going to wreck the
Commandant Gen. James Conway has a different view: Put a round in the right
place, and you'll stop the bad guy, no matter the size of the bullet and how
fast he's moving.
So prepare to adjust fire, because Conway's new weapons training initiative
puts a premium on hitting moving targets and shot placement, and reminds
infantrymen that they are the predators and not the prey.
In other words: teach the grunt to hunt.
Ask leathernecks with combat experience if their M16 gives them enough
stopping power, and you'll get a mixed response. Battlefield lore says
Marines picked up AK47s during the battle of Fallujah because they weren't
confident their own rifles and 5.56mm rounds would be potent enough in
stopping the enemy.
One temporary fix is to give out heavier rounds, and Corps officials have
received requests for just that.
"Based on the specific threats encountered, the Marine Corps determined
there was a requirement to provide commanders with a heavier-grain 5.56mm
round, the M-262, to be employed as required," said Corps spokesman 1st Lt.
Brian Donnelly, speaking for Marine Corps Systems Command.
Conway has heard these complaints, but says a bigger round isn't necessarily
the answer to increasing Marine lethality during combat. Special operations
forces, however, use weapons that fire 7.62mm rounds, the commander has
noted. "We're going to take a hard look at that and see if it's something
that we need in this day and age in terms of a heavier caliber," he said.
While the Corps is researching whether that's worth doing, turning away from
the M16 to a new rifle is not a priority right now, Conway said.
"When I pose that question to the people in theater, what I get from the
commanders is, 'If we hit them, we put them down. The problem is we're not
very good at hitting moving targets,'" Conway said during a Marine Corps
Association lunch in January.
To change that, Conway has directed officials at Camp Pendleton,
Calif.-based I Marine Expeditionary Force to take the lead in developing a
weapons training course that will instill what he called the "hunter"
"[I MEF commanders] believe that if we create a mentality in our Marines
that they are hunters and they take on some of those skills, then we'll be
able to increase our combat effectiveness," Conway told Marine Corps Times
on March 1.
"A hunter can hit a moving target with a great deal of frequency," he said.
"Maybe we start with shotguns and build a level of confidence in hitting a
moving target, skeet or trap, and we go from there to rifle shots."
Conway is looking for quick results, and wants I MEF to push leathernecks
through the new training before they head back into their next rotation in
Iraq this time next year, Conway said.
"Sooner is better," he said. "I'd like to see people act on that pretty
Taking it up a notch
While Marines are "legendary" for marksmanship skills, the threat in Iraq
means they have to take it up a notch, said a Corps official in Washington,
D.C., who is familiar with planning for the initiative, but asked not to be
"The exact form that that improvement to training will take is in a nascent
stage of development," he said. "The aim of the 'combat hunter' concept is
to build on a Marine's proven ability to successfully find and engage the
enemy hidden among the people. And by incorporating training that will
enhance our ability to hunt and find the enemy and then hit fleeing and
moving targets, we will ensure our Marines will remain the hunters of this
I MEF has teamed up with Marine Corps Training Command, the Marine Corps
Warfighting Lab and marksmanship experts, the official said. "I expect
they'll soon have identified skills we can improve and facilitate future
training improvements for all Marines."
The Corps hopes to tap into skills certain Marines may already have learned
growing up in rural hunting areas and in urban areas, such as inner cities,
said Col. Clarke Lethin, I MEF's chief of staff.
Once they define and understand what those skills are, then the Corps will
determine what it can teach and if it should institutionalize it, he said.
I MEF, under Conway's direction, is in the midst of limited training
experiments with squad- and platoon-sized groups of leathernecks who already
have battlefield experience. "The best experts are young Marines, those who
have been out in combat on a number of tours," Lethin said.
It is still unclear at this early stage, however, how the combat hunter
initiative will be used in future weapons training.
Lethin would not go into detail about specific issues that have emerged in
combat with Marines, saying it was classified information.
He did, however, say combat scenarios can be a real challenge for Marines,
especially "in the heat of battle and in that moment of decision of engaging
the target, especially in close quarters. We may be firing and thinking
we're hitting the target," only to later discover they may not have been, he
"We identified a need to ensure our Marines were being the hunters and not
the hunted. How do you find your target before it finds you?" he said.
"We're always in an offensive posture, but with the enemy mingled among
civilians, we have to be discreet." Combat hunter training could employ
increased emphasis on observation, he said.
"Hunting is more than just the shooting. It's finding your game," Lethin
Shot placement is becoming a higher priority in weapons training. In late
March, the Marine Corps Combat Marksmanship Program instituted a point
system on fixed field targets, with plans to count the point system toward a
Marine's annual rifle qualification later this year.
Instilling this hunter mind-set into Marines is not entirely new for the
Corps. The service's martial arts program is also tapping into such training
for close-range moving and shooting, said Hunter Armstrong, director of the
Sedona, Ariz.-based International Hoplology Society and Corps martial arts
Armstrong's organization focuses on the study of human combative behavior.
"We are a hunting mammal, and like all hunting mammals, show two types of
aggression," emotional and predatory, he said.
Emotional aggression occurs when the primary aim is to keep group cohesion
and to display dominance, he explained, giving the example of two male cats.
"When they face each other, there's a lot of noise," until one backs down,
Things change, however, when the cat goes after a mouse.
"Humans have that same type of aggression as well," Armstrong said. "When
we're hunting, we show a different type of aggression than two guys duking
it out over a girl."
Predatory behavior is controlled, unemotional and tied to cool-minded
behavior. The posture is neutral. "Look at Marines going through a town on
patrol," Armstrong said. "You'll see that same stalking posture."
But other lessons have been learned in Iraq. "What we're seeing while
clearing buildings in Fallujah is that they don't have time to take a site
picture and shoot," he said. "We're so consumed by the weapon itself, we pay
more attention to it than the man behind it," Armstrong said.
Armstrong teaches MCMAP instructors how to move toward an opponent and
shoot, looking at the target, not their front post, he said.
Historically, early man survived by forming small hunting bands, or groups,
of about 20 people. And as in inner-city gang conflicts today, they
demonstrated aggressive behavior in order to hold territory, Armstrong
explained. "We have an ability to look at other groups as dehuman."
But the types of aggression aren't always clear-cut. "Sometimes when we
should be calm, we will blend both," he said. "It's something you see,
unfortunately, with young Marines in stressful situations," he said alluding
to current allegations against Marines for battlefield misconduct.
"We can ameliorate that problem the more we train them as hunters," he said.
Relying on standard training, which employs elements of the hunting mode,
makes it too easy for emotion to come into play, he said.
"I'm all for General Conway's concept," he said. "It's a huge step in the