Copyright © Eugene Nielsen

Legendary USMC Scout Sniper &
President of Precision Rifle International (Part I)

by Eugene Nielson 

Master Sergeant Neil Morris (USMC ret.) is a legend in the sniper community. In December 1995, during his range dedication and White Feather ammunition test at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, the late Carlos Hathcock stated: “Neil has been the driving force in development of new technology, and employment techniques, maintained the sniper standards, conducted more operations with more people, and influenced sniper training and employment more than anyone in the last ten years.”

Neil retired from the United States Marine Corps in May of 2001 after 24 years of experience in sniping and special operations. He started his military career as a U.s. Army Ranger and continued with five tours of duty as a U.S. Marine. At the time of his retirement, he was the senior Marine Scout Sniper-the “Master Sniper.”

Neil is one of the most experienced snipers in the history of the Department of Defense (DOD). As the senior sniper, he participated in real-world operations in all three Marine Expeditionary Forces (MEF), as well as joint operations with U.s. and international special operations units in conventional and unconventional deployments. He was the first and only Marine to hold the senior instructor/operator billet in all three of the U.S. Marine Scout Sniper Schools to include the Scout Sniper Instructor School at Quantico, Virginia. He was also the senior instructor/operator for the III MEF Special Operations Training Group (SOTG) Special Missions Branch, Reconnaissance and Surveillance Course, and Urban Sniper Course.

Neil assisted in writing the current curriculum for the Marine, Army, and Navy Basic Sniper qualification schools. He also authored the USMC Advanced Scout Sniper Course. In the early 1980s, he was part of the initial effort to formalize law enforcement long rifle training and tactical operations. He has trained all levels of law enforcement in the United States and abroad.

In 1992, Neil received special recognition from the U.S. Department of Justice for his contributions to law enforcement sniping. He’s responsible for most of the current sniper training standards that are used by military and law enforcement units worldwide.

Neil continues to train and consult for law enforcement and the military with Precision Rifle International (PRI). He’s currently the Executive Vice President for the Marine Scout Sniper Association. He’s been a trainer/advisor for the DOD, U.S. State Department, U.S. Department of Justice, all federal law enforcement agencies, National Wilderness Training Center, Virginia Tactical Association, Texas Tactical Police Officers Association, Heckler and Koch, Operational Tactics, Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC), foreign military agencies, and many others.

Master Sergeant Neil K. Morris at the Scout Sniper Instructor School just prior to his retirement in 2001.
Master Sergeant Neil K. Morris at the
Scout Sniper Instructor School just
prior to his retirement in 2001.

Neil’s company, Precision Rifle International, was incorporated on January 2, 2001. PRI was founded by Neil, Dr. Elizabeth Geick (now Neil’s wife), and Sergeant Major Mark Spicer (British Army). Elizabeth has a Ph.D. in Human Resources Management. She’s also a full-time deputy sheriff with the Montgomery County, Texas, Sheriff’s Department and a member of the Department’s tactical team.

The objective of PRI is to provide military and law enforcement snipers and designated marksmen (DM) with the most comprehensive training in the world. All of the curriculum and training standards at PRI are based on “real world” experience and first hand knowledge.

A variety of levels of training are available for snipers and DMs, covering all scenarios, rural or urban, under any conditions. Training is available in all calibers for precision rifles: .223 through .338 Lapua and .50 BMG.

I recently spoke with Neil about sniping.

S.W.A.T.: In your course titles and class outlines you use the word “sniper” as opposed to more politically correct terms such as “precision rifleman” or “marksman.”

Neil Morris: The reasons are twofold. First, I’m not now and never have been politically correct (PC) and, more importantly, I feel like it’s important to call a spade a spade for simplicity. It’s more important to educate those that don’t like the word “sniper” as to what they are than to take a way of life and label it some kinder, gentler name.
I know what it’s like for an officer to go to court and for some lawyer to be going: “You’re a sniper, that means killer, that means back-shooter.” And, agencies say that you’ve got to call them precision riflemen, you’ve got to call them marksmen, you can’t call them snipers - that’s a dirty word. I’m saying that it’s not a dirty word. That’s my own thought on it, after doing it for almost a quarter century. I don’t feel that my profession is something that I should be ashamed of. The word “sniper” actually originated in the British Army. The name comes from that of a small, elusive bird called the snipe. Hardly something that’s sinister.

Debriefing student’s experiments with different mediums, ammunition, ranges and angles.
Debriefing student’s experiments with different mediums, ammunition, ranges and angles.

S.W.A.T.: What’s your definition of the American sniper?

Neil Morris: The American sniper is a military or law enforcement operator that’s highly trained and skilled in field craft and marksmanship who delivers precision rifle fire and collects intelligence from selected positions in support of combat/tactical operations.

S.W.A.T.: Define the sniper’s mission as you see it.

Neil Morris: The sniper’s mission is to save lives by taking lives or to save lives by providing accurate and timely intelligence to all elements involved in a combat situation or at a crisis site. The sniper must provide both precision rifle fire and intelligence gathering in close proximity out to maximum effective range of the weapons and equipment available. The sniper must provide both precision rifle fire and intelligence gathering in any environment (urban or rural), and during all possible weather conditions. The sniper will protect friendly forces and innocent life, prevent fratricide and collateral damage, and ensure the Supported Unit Commander or Tactical Commander is informed of all activity on and around the crisis area.

Neil demonstrating the unsupported standing
position for LE snipers who will have to shoot unsupported as part of the qualification course.

S.W.A.T.: What differences, if any, do you see between the military and law enforcement sniper?

Neil Morris: It’s my belief that there’s no difference between the military and law enforcement (LE) sniper. They’re one community and should be considered as such. There are some that try to separate the two with all kinds of hokey reasons, but generally they’re just misinformed with limited exposure to one side or the other. All too often, it’s an attempt to try and impress the community they come from with their rhetoric, when in fact they’re wrong and mislead snipers in both camps. I’m on a real big soapbox on this one - all the snipers in the country are one.

Yes, there are different ROEs (Rules of Engagement), and many different employment options, but all of the verbiage, training techniques, and real world engagement procedures are the same! There’re enough differences between LE agencies in the same state, and military units in the same Division to make the argument that they’re all different in some form or fashion. The fact is that the tactical mind set, responsibilities, skills and techniques used by all are generally the same. Both successes and mistakes made by anyone in the sniper community will impact the entire community! I’ve been fortunate enough to be involved in training both sides of the fence for over twenty years. During that time, I watched and helped the LE community go from Billy Bob the best deer hunter getting assigned the sniper position, or the officer too out of shape to be an entry operator so he must be sniper material, to the current day LE sniper. One that’s overall every bit as capable as the military sniper, in great shape, and has the positive attitude and steadfast reliability required to be employed in any scenario. During that period, I also watched and helped the military snipers go from conventional sniping-ghillie suits and long range engagements-to the current military sniper that has enormous responsibilities behind the rifle in terms of ROE, and one that faces a much more complicated battlefield than ever before. I watched the ranges that our military snipers normally engaged from decrease to where most shots in recent history have been taken from 300 yards and closer (exceptions being Desert Storm and Afghanistan). Weapons and equipment improvements have also greatly increased the sniper’s capabilities during the last two decades. Both communities have adapted to meet the overall needs of this nation. After 9/11, anyone in either camp that says the other is still different with a different mission, etc. is very much out of step with the times and reality!

The morning after 9/11, I got a phone call from the State Department asking me to put together my assessment of sniper’ capabilities and assets in the U.S. It was going to be presented to Colin Powell in a combined report. That assessment wasn’t just on military sniping, it wasn’t just on law enforcement sniping, it was on sniping as the United States of America, the strengths, the weaknesses, where we are, who’s doing the training correctly, who can we go to in a crunch. You know, we may have terrorists hitting the beaches tomorrow, for all we know.

Usually those that try to drive a wedge between the two communities (military and LE) have something personally to gain and don’t realize how foolish they look to the real operators in the sniper world wearing any uniform. LE snipers are now tasked with protecting dams, factory works, airports, etc. Sounds much like a “military” mission. They need to be proficient with their rifle well past the antiquated 100-200 yard ranges some swear is all they need to cover. Conversely, military snipers are in close proximity to the threat conducting hostage recovery operations with surgical precision around the globe. The use of fixed powered scopes for tactical operations in both professions has finally gone by the wayside and our snipers are now using the variable powered scopes with much greater success.

Better ammunition and a greater selection to choose from now give our snipers a much wider range of options for precision fire in all situations. The use of “barrier rounds” and the understanding of shooting through mediums is commonplace instead of a secret voodoo that only a few claimed to possess. The use of .50 caliber and .338 caliber weapons IS now being accepted for what I’ve been screaming for years-a special application scoped rifle (SASR) that provides the required “punch” in anti­-materiel scenarios and counter sniper operations. SASR training and aerial platform precision fire from helicopters, again “something that only the military does,” are now the most requested type of training we get at PRI, with the exception of integrated training for snipers and entry elements.

People like Carlos Hathcock and Norm Chandler were working with LE in the 70s trying to expand the knowledge curve and basically got the ball rolling for the LE snipers who now possess the same skills and abilities as the military snipers. In many areas the military snipers go to LE snipers for information and techniques ­the way it’s supposed to be. I preach to students to stay current by “outsourcing” and going to as many schools as possible while working with fellow snipers regardless of where they go to work on a daily basis. Nobody has a monopoly on knowledge!

(photo at left: A PRI instructor demonstrating urban camouflage. The sniper is in the mddle of the junk pile with an M82A1 Barrett. The picture was taken at ten yards.)


S.W.A.T.: Could you provide readers with a quick history of LE sniper training?

Neil Morris: When I first got involved in LE sniper training, I was running the scout sniper school at Camp Pendleton, California. Several LE agencies had received permission from the Base Commanding General to work with us and formalize their sniper training. It was rough at first, because there was very little in the way of education for LE shooters at the time. Weapons and equipment were virtually non-existent and there wasn’t anything to use for guidance. They quickly learned what would be required in the way of training standards and weapons and equipment quality to be able to perform at the level that we (USMC) required. Almost immediately, there seemed to be a national interest in long guns. As I stated before, I knew that Lt. Col. Norm Chandler and Carlos Hathcock had already begun to work with some LE on the East Coast. But, it seemed that the desire to train and employ snipers as a standard operating procedure swept across the country in the mid-80s. When I had the Scout Sniper Instructor School at Quantico, it had become mandatory for FBI H RT snipers to complete the entire nine-week school in order to get the H RT billet.

All the schools in the Marine Corps during the mid-80s through June 17, 1997, provided two-week LE schools each summer. These schools were put on for free and gave those that attended a real look at sniper training. We started with all federal agencies at Quantico, FBI, DEA, ATF, Secret Service, etc., and eventually pushed for state and local LE snipers to attend.

It was great for both communities, because we [the instructors] at that time still mainly concentrated on long range precision fire against a pretty definite enemy. As time went on during this period, Marines, Soldiers, and Sailors in sniper billets began to be employed in more special operations and getting a lot of “close proximity” sniping experience. Again, this experience was passed on to our brother LE snipers and much of what the LE snipers had encountered on the streets of this nation was passed on to us. Everybody learns. Everyone is one team and continually successful.

One of the crew that I taught during that period was FBI HRT operator Chris Whitcomb. He’s written a really good book, called Cold Zero, that illustrates my point on military and law enforcement snipers working together.

Neil and the instructor staff at the Scout Sniper Instructor School, Quantico, VAOn June 17, 1997, the military was stopped from providing instruction to LE snipers, except in special circumstances and then only with federal agencies. I can give you the history and reasons for that stupidity if you’d like, but it will take up more space than all we’ve covered so far. As much good as we were able to provide each other in the way of training and education between LE and military snipers, this age also spawned some of the bookworms we’ve talked about as well. These guys attended some of the military training, acquired military manuals and basically re-wrote them in their own words and sold them-and still do to this day. Most of these guys did a few years behind the rifle in some capacity and have managed to get a following based on their” great knowledge and foresight.” Anyway, through the years I’ve watched the improvements in weapons and equipment, doctrine and overall attitude of snipers reach the point that we are at today.

Just over the summer, PRI conducted training with Christian County (Missouri), PA DOC, Dallas PD SWAT, and LASD SEB. All of which have operators that are as capable as any snipers in the world! We were successful in “pushing the envelope” in training in many ways. We conducted aerial platform shooting, large caliber rifles (Barrett .50 cal. M82, Accuracy International .338 Lapua, and Barrett .50 cal. M99), and live-fire scenario shoots integrating the assault or entry elements in dose proximity. We ironed out many of the bugs these fulltime teams had with comms on site, command and control issues, sniper initiated assaults and rapid planning, etc. Let me put it to you like this: If I had to put together a team of the best snipers in this country, no matter where they came from, that team would be comprised of a number of Marines, Soldiers, and Sailors from our special operations and infantry units and an equal number of snipers from LE units I had the privilege to train or work with, as I prefer to call it! I can say this without hesitation because I’ve been fortunate enough to have been involved with all of the above and have an unbiased and educated view of our snipers across the nation.

[Part II of our interview with Master Sniper Morris will be featured in the next issue of S.W.A.T. ~Ed.]

Precision Rifle International
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(936) 597-5371

Tactical Operations, Inc.
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