Bowen returning to Iraq with Marine sniper platoon

Having been a Marine for a little over three years, and having already served in Iraq, Marshall Bowen has been assigned back to Iraq. But, Bowen will not be returning to Iraq as a rifleman, “a basic grunt in the Marine Corps,” but as a Corporal in the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Division, Scout Sniper Platoon.

Bowen, son of Ky and Barb Bowen of Philip, originally joined the military because, “I wanted to see something different, to see what else is out there.” While in the Marines, he has seen areas of Africa and Europe, especially Spain. “I have seen a lot of different places and people.”

Bowen decided to specifically join the Marines because, “They are supposed to be the best and the hardest of the military branches. Another influence on me was that my grandfather, Albert Mickelson, was a Marine in World War II.” Becoming a sniper was an extra step for Bowen. He and a friend, Travis Barrett of Minnesota, were offered the chance to try for the sniper division because of their records and being “double experts.” Bowen is an expert with a 9mm pistol and an M16. The rankings go from basic marksman, to sharpshooter, and then up to expert.

Bowen’s weapons now include the M4A3 sniper rifle, which is similar to a 308 caliber but has a textbook accuracy range of 1,000 yards. His second specialty weapon is the Special Application Scope Rifle (SASR), a 50 caliber two-piece shoulder-fire weapon that is “scope good” for 1,800 yards but can reach 2,000 yards.

Before the military, Bowen was not really into hunting. The sniper corp actually prefers this, because then bad shooting habits don’t have to be unlearned. He was in good condition and a quick learner, which is mandatory. If any test or quiz during sniper school is not passed, that candidate is dropped from the program. The first day’s physical fitness test consisted of running three miles in less than 28 minutes (less than 20 is what they were really looking for), doing 100 sit-ups in less than two minutes, and doing at least 20 pull-ups. This was followed by three months of advanced infantry training, or “getting threshed” according to Bowen. “We did PT (physical training) until we were practically dead and you were always put under stress.” Field skills, which include observation and stalking, are what take out many more applicants. The snipers have a 30-40 percent pass rate. Bowen's class of 25 actually had 17 passes, while a class before his had none.

“The whole Iraq question is not really my job to figure out,” said Bowen. “I am more eager in going to Iraq this time than the first time because I will be a scout sniper. I do think there are some good things coming out of us being over there. There are a lot of schools and housing being built. The government is improving.” Bowen explains that previously people running for election, as well as people trying to vote, would have been assassinated. This is not so much the case now, even with the guerrillas and insurgents still causing disruptions. Bowen said that some Iraqi people are still fighting against the United States, but are the least of the military’s worries compared to the hired mercenaries coming across the borders from neighboring countries. “It is real hard to tell who is on your side. They will act friendly to get closer, even kids, but are suicide bombers. You can’t interact much with them; it is not really safe.”

Bowen signed up for four years in August of 2002. He will probably have to stay in until at least October 2006 because he is contracted for at least one year after passing sniper school.

“Joining the military totally depends on the individual person. I suggest that you really look into it before deciding. Talk to people who are in the position you want – not just recruiters. There is not much point in joining the Marines if you want a desk job.”