USS BONHOMME RICHARD, At Sea --
He estimates the distance; approximately 1,000 yards. The last round in his magazine cycles into the chamber and the bolt slams forward. Pocketing the trigger in the crook of his finger, he slowly lets out his breath and stops the world around him for a moment. A slow, steady squeeze releases the round and the immediate recoil rocks his shoulder – direct hit.
Marines with the Amphibious and Force Reconnaissance Platoons of the Maritime Raid Force, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, conducted a live-fire marksmanship training exercise from the USS Bonhomme Richard here, March 6.
The recon Marines were broken up into six teams of two staged along the stern of the ship. With the endless ocean stretching to the horizon serving as the firing range, the shooters zeroed their scopes for a significant challenge.
“They’re going to have to rely on all of their shooting skills for this exercise because of the conditions they’re firing in,” said Gunnery Sgt. Hunter B. Sorrells, platoon sergeant for FRP, 31st MEU. “Shooting from a moving ship is a world of difference than a range with static targets; everything here is moving with a variety of unknown variables to accommodate for.”
The sniper teams’ first dozen targets were wooden pallets with multi-colored balloons attached. Once released into the water, the target is out of range in less than a minute due to the ship’s movement and the force of the propeller wake. The short window of opportunity to fire is further complicated by both the moving shooting platform and target bobbing with the ocean.
“This training tests the extent of our skills, which are depreciable,” said Lance Cpl. Joel B. Freitas, a recon Marine with ARP, 31st MEU, and a native of White Plains, N.Y. “Opportunities to keep those skills fresh are always taken advantage of, even when on ship between exercises.”
The teams engaged the targets with their M110 Semi-Automatic Sniper Systems and M40A5 sniper rifles, firing shots through the targets as they crested the waves before falling momentarily out of sight. A spotter complimented each sniper by calling the results of a shot and providing any needed corrections. Each Marine let fly 40 7.62 mm NATO rounds, with a majority rewarding the shooter with a hail of splintered wood and a geyser of impacted water.
While many of the MRF snipers have experienced combat in the Middle East, the ship-board training spans the wide scope of possible operations they may be called upon while serving with the 31st MEU.
“This training ties directly into a (Visit, Board, Search and Seizure) operation where these Marines would be providing sniper cover from a neighboring ship or aerial platform,” said Sorrells, a native of Memphis, Tenn. “This training relates to all forms of sniping, so our boys can get in some solid training that will aid them in any precision shooting operation.”
The 31st MEU is currently underway in support of its annual Spring Patrol, embarked aboard ships of Amphibious Squadron 11 after having recently participated in the multinational exercise Cobra Gold 2013 in the Kingdom of Thailand.
The 31st MEU is the only continuously forward-deployed MEU and is the Marine Corps’ force in readiness in the Asia-Pacific region.