Marine Corps Times Article
Posted : April 16, 2007
By Kimberly Johnson - Staff witer

Going hunting

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 enemy's day.

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.

Stopping power

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" mentality.

"[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 quickly."

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 named.

"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 war."

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 said.

"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 said.

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 adviser.

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, he said.

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 right direction."

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