Camouflage and concealment are vital skills every sniper must have in order to hide in plain sight, a necessary ability if a sniper is to fulfill their mission and survive on a modern battlefield.
Insider recently had the opportunity to observe a group of snipers at the Scout Sniper School at Marine Corps Base Quantico go through stalking training, an exercise where the students practice sneaking into a position where they could effectively fire on a target without, at any point, being spotted by the instructors.
At the base, it's high-stakes hide-and-seek that will determine whether they become Marine Corps scout snipers. On the battlefield, a mistake can mean life or death. In these photos, you can see how these troops gear up to disappear.
Before the training began, the snipers painted their faces, covering features that stand out, such as the nose and cheekbones, with brown paint and flat features with green. The snipers also sometimes put a little black paint just under their eyes.
Face paint that is too dark or too light can give away a sniper's position, and it did for at least one student during the training. "It was so unnatural," an instructor said.
The students then grabbed their gear and jogged out to the vegetation site, a location roughly 1,000 meters from the observation post where the sniper school instructors were positioned.
The snipers were given 10 minutes to customize their ghillie suits, in this case a mesh cover to which students attach vegetation to help them blend into their environment. A top sniper can complete this process much faster.
To "veg up," as the process is called, the snipers collect grasses and other vegetation and weave it into the their mesh covers.
As one of the instructors explained, the idea is to create a natural look that will help them blend into the negative space.
The snipers do not want to be seen as the bush. They want to be the space between the bushes.
They also want to break up and distort their outline to obscure features that are likely to cause a human being to stand out in the environment in which they hope to achieve concealment.
Every sniper approaches the vegetation and camouflage process a little differently.
But camouflage is only one part of the equation. Snipers also have to carefully consider their movement, their screens, both natural and artificial, their cover, and their body position.
These snipers also have to watch out for things like deflection, which can cause them to fail the mission by missing their shot, and muzzle blast and shadow, which can give away their position as some students learned the hard way during the training.
Vegged up and ready to go, the students ventured out into the field for their first stalking exercise. While the instructors scored a few "kills," a number of the students made it through. This exercise will eventually decide who becomes a scout sniper. Those that fail will not.