His name was USMC Sergeant Carlos Norman Hathcock II, and he was the greatest Marine sniper of all time.
Two tours in Vietnam, 93 confirmed kills and countless acts of bravery.
Reportedly, he was an incredible woodsman with unmatched patience, traits that served him well in the jungles of Vietnam.
Among Hathcock’s impressive stories of wartime success was a manhunt that required Hathcock to cross enemy lines to dispatch a North Vietnamese Army general.
Nicknamed “whitefeather,” he went days without food, water, or sleep, crawling inch by inch, on his side, to safely get within range of the general.
At 700 yards, he took out the target, then somehow crawled back to safety with VC in hot pursuit.
It is highly doubtful any member of the Corps will match or beat that record today, but it just got tougher to be a US Marine marksman.
As of Oct. 1, active-duty Marines will be required to qualify with the new Annual Rifle Qualification, or ARQ, a modernized course of fire, Military.com reported.
Instead of shooting at fixed targets from 200, 300 and 500 yards, the new course will force Marines to hit lethal zones marked on the head and chest of stationary and moving targets more like they would in battle.
“Marksmanship is fundamental to who we are as Marines,” Col. Mark Liston, commander of the Weapons Training Battalion at Quantico, Virginia, told reporters this week.
“The ARQ course of fire is very mature at this point. We have had several annual combat marksmanship symposiums that have determined the need to update how we assess the marksmanship of Marines and sailors assigned to the Fleet Marine Force.”
Officials expect that the more challenging ARQ and new scoring standards will result in far fewer experts when Marines first make the switch from the current Annual Rifle Training, or ART, qualification course, which has been used since the early 1990s, Military.com reported.
“The current rate for expert is 65%, whereas with ARQ we are anticipating 6% to be experts,” Gunner John Costa, director of the Marksmanship Program Management Section at the Weapons Training Battalion, told reporters.
But Costa stressed that some factors were not applied when Marines shot the ARQ course of fire during its development.
When Marines first went through the ARQ, “there was no chance for requalification … they just showed up and shot it once. They went through the course of fire, and that was it,” Costa said, explaining that Marines will be offered the opportunity to requalify to improve their rating.
Also, Marines participating in the ARQ development received no preparatory training, which will change once the new standard is implemented, Military.com reported.
“There was a level of uncomfortableness with Marines because it was their first time doing it,” Costa said. “I see those numbers adjusting in a positive direction.”
He also pointed out that the Marine Corps never updated the current ART to adjust for the service’s adoption of the Rifle Combat Optic, or RCO, more than 15 years ago.
“Nothing was ever updated with the advent of the RCO,” Costa said. “That is something key for everyone to understand: That was a course of fire designed for iron sights; the Marines then gave them a 4X optic.”
The scoring for the new qualification course has also changed, Military.com reported.
Under current qualification standards, Marines fire 50 rounds, worth five points each, depending on shot placement on targets. They must earn at least 190 points for the marksman badge; at least 210 for sharpshooter; and a minimum of 220 to earn the expert rating.
The ARQ course of fire consists of 50 destroy targets with lethal zones marked in the chest and face area. There are also three types of drills that put Marines through a sequenced scenario involving an enemy at close range.
Marines will shoot four iterations of the 25-yard failure to stop drill, four iterations of the 25-yard box drill, and two iterations of the failure to stop drill while moving from the 25-yard line to the 15-yard line.
To qualify as marksman, Marines must score 15 to 30 destroys and one successful completion of any type of drill. Sharpshooter requires 31 to 42 destroys and one successful completion of two types of drills. Expert requires 43 to 50 destroys and one successful completion of each type of drill.
“If you look at a marksman, he is lethal, but he is most lethal in the collective, whereas if you have an expert, that Marine is able to kill a lot of enemy on his own,” Costa said.
Why are they doing this now?
Aside from a revamp being long overdue, according to a report in Task & Purpose, for years, US forces enjoyed sniper dominance.
Now, pitted against so-called “great power” adversaries, the Pentagon finds itself outgunned and outmatched on the squad level.
Indeed, a 2016 Army report warned that Russian snipers have become “far more advanced than the precision shooters US formations have encountered over the last 15 years” in the aftermath of the 2014 Russian annexation of Crimea.
In recent years, the Russian military has adopted several rifles — the Dragunov replacement Chukavin sniper rifle and Orsis T-5000 Tochnost rifle — as part of a military-wide modernization push to allow snipers to reach out beyond 1,600 and 1,800 yards, respectively.
Meanwhile, the M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle is only now seeing widespread fielding across Marine combat units — despite initial testing beginning in Afghanistan nearly a decade ago.
The Pentagon “isn’t adapting nearly quick enough to Russian and Chinese threats,” said Christian Wade, a former sniper and 2nd Marine Division Gunner. “Given the operating environment of the federal acquisition system, we simply can’t keep up with some of these other countries.”
More importantly, while Russian snipers are enjoying constant, specialized training, the Army and Marine Corps don’t even make sniping a primary military occupational specialty, resigning sharpshooting to a backseat skill set.
“The technology is in estimation the same, with an edge to the Russians, but you need to turn sniping into a true profession, cradle to grave,” said Wade. “It’s an art and a science, but right now, we don’t really let Marines be snipers.”
By the way, Hathcock also held the record for the longest confirmed kill shot for over 30 years, at 2,500 yards — an incredible feat with the technology of the day in ‘Nam.
His record was beaten in 2002 by both Canadian Master Corporal Arron Perry and Corporal Rob Furlong, with 2,526 yard and 2,657 yard kill shots, respectively. Both of those shots occurred in 2002 during the War in Afghanistan.