Marine Corps Designated Marksmen

Marines at a post at the U.S. Embassy In Baghdad
John Moore / Getty Images

Being the designated marksman (DM) in your Marine unit is not a special MOS, but requires additional training at the three-week course—Designated Marksman Training. The weapon of choice has recently changed to the M27 automatic rifle from the M249 automatic rifle. A Designated Marksman must be able to engage multiple targets with accuracy, quickly, at distances far greater than any regular USMC rifleman is required. Typically, 550+ meters and over 800 meters is the zone where designated marksmen are often tested.

The Designated Marksman Course consists of two weeks of training. One week of classes and one week of live-fire training is the agenda that tests the Marines’ accuracy. There is a final Field Training Exercise (FTX) where the student Marines test to become the DM of the unit the Marine is attached. There is both the field training test as well as a classroom test about using the M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle. The focus is taking marksmanship to a new level as taught in boot camp as you will also learn how to use the weapon with the effects of how wind speed, temperature, and other environmental factors. Learning to "call the wind," make range estimations, and understand how the temperature and barometric pressure affects shooting accuracy.

Marksmen Today And Yesterday

The Marksmanship Training Unit for Infantry Units aboard Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, California, completed the first Designated Marksman Course for the M27 Infantry Assault Rifle in 2016, the first of its kind for West Coast Marine infantrymen.

In the early days our country's military, Marine sharpshooters were recruited to sit atop high masts on U.S. Naval vessels to shoot enemies during ship-to-ship battles with their muzzle-loaded muskets. This tradition of skilled marksmanship still lives today, through Marines around the globe as designated marksmen.

Designated marksmen are also security forces MOS as well as FAST Team members who sit in sandbag bunkers on the rooftop of U.S. Embassies around the world, guarding the lives of Marines, U.S. State Department workers, and others who live and work on the embassy grounds. FAST—Fleet Anti-terrorism Security Teams (FAST)—and Recapture Tactics Teams (RTT) are Marines who complete Security Forces training and are assigned a secondary Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) of 8152. They are also trained to become the designated marksman of that FAST Company as well.

Snipers and Designated Marksmen

There are many uses for the designated marksman throughout the Marine Corps. From Embassy Security Forces, FAST Companies, to Infantry Units, these designated marksmen are not classified snipers but have many of the same shooting skills of the sniper. The main difference in the DM and the sniper in the Marine Corps is snipers also use specialized rifles where the DM uses a standard M27 automatic rifle with basic optics. Also, the purpose of a sniper is to find, stalk, and take out specific targets and relocate. The designated marksman is to support his unit and move with it or secure a facility like a security force on top of an American Embassy. Both are Marines good with a rifle, but snipers have many other skills that are necessary to operate independently of the main force.

The designated marksmen look over the compound with a watchful eye, searching for anything out of the ordinary. With their binoculars, scope, and scouting scope attached to their rifle, the Marines also watch the streets surrounding the embassy for any possible terrorists who may threaten the lives of those inside the compound. The designated marksmen pair (shooter/spotter) provide overhead fire support with accuracy to the Marines on post at ground level. Only the best Marines in the unit are selected to attend the Designated Marksman Course, requiring a high fitness test score, outstanding rifle qualification, and exceed the standards set for the Marine Rifleman.

While on post atop the embassy roof, the skilled riflemen constantly scan the area in and around the embassy compound. They are trained to spot any suspicious activity or persons and to call the Combat Operations Center to let them know of the situation. The Marines continue to watch the suspicious individual until they leave the area. If the person displays any hostile intent toward the embassy the designated marksmen take the proper necessary action, even if that means using their rifle. If the marksmen feel the activity is not important they will just make a mental note and continue to watch the area.