SAQLAWIYAH, Iraq -- “To patiently suffer, and suffer patiently.” That’s what Sgt. Willis Davis thinks is the formula for success in his line of work.
While many Americans who spend a nine-to-five workday stuck inside an office cubicle may feel the same about their job, Davis’ reason is perhaps more extreme. He spends days at a time in one spot, barely moving a muscle.
The 31-year-old Lake Guntersville, Ala., native, is a scout sniper team leader with the Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based infantry unit, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment. As a member of the battalion’s Surveillance, Target and Acquisition (STA) platoon, Davis and fellow snipers serve as the eyes and ears of the battalion.
“Everything we do is on our belly,” stated the 1991 Guntersville High School graduate. “We insert into a position as covertly as possible, and stay there to observe what’s going on. You don’t stand up, so sometimes it gets pretty rough. We’ll be going for two, three, four days at a time in the baking sun in 113 degree weather.”
Once set up in their positions, Davis and his teammates scan the area searching for insurgent activity.
“We look for patterns,” he explained. “All people create patterns. We’re here to detect it.”
Insurgents in Iraq routinely observe coalition forces’ techniques, tactics and procedures in an attempt to circumvent their efforts. It is this threat that the snipers counter.
“We’re also looking for guys placing IEDs (improvised explosive devices),” Davis said.
From concealed positions, the scouts look for people digging holes or placing suspicious objects alongside the road.
“We’re on to their (insurgents’) game,” Davis stated. “They know they don’t have time to dig them in, so a lot of them are surface-laid. One of our teams has already caught an IED planter.”
To maintain their concealment as they perform these surveillance missions, Davis and his teammates wear something he calls “the one thing a scout sniper takes pride in,” a gilly suit.
These suits are full-body outfits made of materials such as tree leaves, burlap sacks and twigs, designed by each sniper to blend into his surroundings as much as possible. Davis said his snipers often wear their gillys despite performing missions in a primarily urban environment.
“Each individual makes his own gilly suit,” he continued. “That helps you understand the beauty of depth perception and concealment, and that sometimes, you don’t need to seek cover from fire because concealment is just as effective.”
Although these suits help them perform these tasks unnoticed, Davis said it makes working in Iraq’s heat uncomfortable.
“If it’s 113 outside, it gets to be 145-150 inside a gilly suit.”
In addition to concealment, the scouts also come armed with two weapons: extraordinary situational awareness, and their 7.62 caliber scope-equipped M40A3 sniper rifle.
“This weapon has a max effective range of 1000 yards on a point target,” Davis explained. “It’s a pretty nasty little deal.”
He further said that he and his teammates could snipe a sprinting insurgent from hundreds of yards away.
“We can shoot movers at a full sprint from about 800 yards away through a system developed by some Marines in our platoon, both former scout sniper school instructors. Two of them came up with this formula that’s just ‘dead on the money’.”
Despite their marksmanship proficiency, Davis said his platoon always keep the basics in mind.
“A good thing to do is to take that ‘center mass’ shot, like the Marine Corps trains you to do. It gives you a little bit of variance.”
In recruit training, instructors teach every trainee to aim for the center of a target. This way, the round still strikes even if inches away from the original point of aim. The snipers continue to apply their fundamental skills in the performance of their missions.
However, the scout sniper team members are more than just deadly shooters.
“Lots of people think, ‘damn, those guys are good shooters,’ but we’re damn good scouts, too,” Davis stated. “We provide a lot of information when we’re out on the field, letting the companies know where the good cover and concealment points are, and locations where they might want to move Marines to. We paint the battlefield for the commander.”
Additionally, snipers serve as forward observers. These Marines are trained to call in indirect fire, such as artillery and mortar fire, upon insurgents’ positions.
“If an indirect fire asset is there for us, we can destroy the enemy or delay them until the grunts (infantrymen) get in there and finish the job,” Davis said.
Although highly trained and members of a close-knit elite unit, Davis and his teammates remain humble.
“There’s nothing ‘high speed’ about our job,” he said. “I’m not gonna say we’re the best Marines in the battalion; we’re just experts at what we do.”
Through these difficult missions, Davis said the STA Marines stay motivated, finding comfort in each others’ friendship.
“We’ve got a lot of respect for each other, because we all know the pain and suffering we go through. There’s a lot of heart in this platoon, and that’s what it takes to make it out here; intestinal fortitude.”