US military snipers have a talent for hiding in plain sight, a talent developed through high-stakes games of hide-and-seek known as stalking exercises.
Insider recently had the opportunity to observe Marine Corps snipers during concealment training on a stalking lane at Marine Corps Base Quantico in Virginia.
Ryan Pickrell/Business Insider
A view of the stalking lane through a high-powered monocular optic used to hunt snipers who slip an expose themselves.
We watched Marine sharpshooters disappear into a field while their instructors hunted them with high-powered optics. Their mission was to slip into position and put two shots on a target without being detected.
This was a daunting task for those in training given that some of the instructors "on glass" searching for them were seasoned combat veterans.
The snipers were given 10 minutes to "veg up," a term for the customization of their ghillie suits using vegetation, at a "veg" site roughly 1,000 yards from their target.
Every Marine who participated in the training completed the veg process in his own way, each trying to find the best way to make sure he would be invisible in the grasses of the stalking lane.
As they entered the lane at a defilade position out of the line of sight of the instructors, the snipers would tie a bag with their rifle, clippers, and a few other pieces of gear to their leg and drag it along the ground, giving them more freedom of movement in the field.
The snipers started their assault in a low crouch.
Moving towards the first hill, the other side of which was exposed to the "enemy," that low crouch got lower, eventually evolving into a crawl.
They moved slowly, cautiously, making a concentrated effort to blend into the negative space. As one instructor explained, the idea is not to be the bush. What snipers want to do is to become the space between the bushes.
It took over half an hour for the snipers to cover the relatively short distance across the field, set up a forward firing position, and take their shots. A trained sniper doesn't charge into the breach. It's a careful, strategic game of life or death.
Finding these guys was no easy task, but during the training some made mistakes, exposing their position. While embarrassing in training, these tough lessons help these troops avoid learning a much harder lesson on the battlefield.