The last eight Marines graduated from the course that trains scout snipers — an elite role the Marine Corps has scrapped as part of broader changes to the force.

Eight Marines graduated from the last Scout Sniper Course at the School of Infantry-East at Camp Geiger, North Carolina, on Dec. 15.

The graduation marks the end of a long era that stretches back as far as World War I, when the Marine Corps first used scout snipers, according to retired Master Sgt. Tim Parkhurst, CEO of the USMC Scout Sniper Association.

The final graduates of the scout sniper course won’t receive the scout sniper military occupational specialty, but “they will play a vital role of ensuring infantry battalions retain scouting and precision marksmanship capabilities while the training and curriculum necessary to meet fleet requirements is finalized and approved,” Marine Corps Training and Education Command spokesman Maj. Joshua Pena said in an email to Marine Corps Times on Wednesday.

In February, the Marine Corps announced it was cutting infantry battalions’ scout sniper platoons and replacing them with scout platoons specifically focused on reconnaissance.

Previously, Marine infantry battalions had scout sniper platoons, made up of formally trained marksmen who also had reconnaissance skills, along with Marines who received on-the-job training.

The change from 18-Marine scout sniper platoons to 26-Marine scout platoons comes as the Marine Corps is restructuring the force in preparation for potential conflict with a powerful, high-tech adversary like the Chinese military. One of the service’s top priorities in this overhaul, called Force Design 2030, is to improve the Marines’ reconnaissance capabilities.

“The shift to a Scout Platoon will allow those Marines to focus their training and evaluations on scouting, providing commanders the right tools to accomplish their mission,” Marine spokesman Capt. Ryan Bruce told Marine Corps Times in February.

The decision kicked up controversy in the scout sniper community.

“We’ve been fairly widely recognized as one of the most cost-effective, force-multiplying assets on the battlefield for many, many decades,” Parkhurst said.

But scout snipers have been met with a lack of top-down leadership and oversight for decades, according to Parkhurst, who noted he wasn’t speaking for the USMC Scout Sniper Association. If scout snipers needed to get better at the “scout” aspect of their job, the Marine Corps should have provided more specific guidance to them along those lines, the veteran said.

“There wasn’t some team from Headquarters Marine Corps that went around to all the sniper platoons saying, ‘Hey, guys, this is Force Design 2030, and this is your piece of it, and this is what it needs to look like,’” Parkhurst said.

The Marine Corps isn’t getting rid of snipers altogether: The service still will train snipers through the Reconnaissance Training Center and the Marine Raider Training Center, Marine Corps Times previously reported.

These reconnaissance snipers will be distributed within reconnaissance battalions, rather than infantry battalions, Pena told Marine Corps Times in October.

And some infantrymen will be trained as precision marksmen, for infantry battalion commanders to make use of as needed, Pena told Marine Corps Times on Wednesday.

“The Service is confident this realignment of capabilities will produce a more capable, adaptable, and lethal deployable force needed to compete and to win against a near peer adversary,” Pena said.

Parkhurst said he believes infantry battalions have lost effectiveness by giving up scout snipers.

“A scout is half of a scout sniper,” he said.

Irene Loewenson is a staff reporter for Marine Corps Times. She joined Military Times as an editorial fellow in August 2022. She is a graduate of Williams College, where she was the editor-in-chief of the student newspaper.

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