Camp Negotiation in the Development of a Marine Corps Scout Sniper Platoon
Written by First Lieutenant James Camp, Co-Owner of Camp Negotiations
I am a Marine Corps Scout Sniper Platoon Commander. The platoon I lead is a peculiar construct within an infantry battalion. The battalion is made up of over one thousand Marines and split into a Headquarters Company, three traditional infantry companies, and one Weapons Company. Each company has subordinate platoons, and the scout sniper platoon usually falls under Weapons Company. In order for the battalion commander to make operational decisions, teams from the scout sniper platoon (approximately 24 Marines) are sent ahead of all other units to gather information on terrain and adversaries. For this reason, the scout sniper platoon is indispensable. But training to become one of those 24 Marines is only available to those who have served in some other capacity within an infantry unit, rather than immediately after basic training, the way most infantry specialties work. Not only must a Marine decide to change jobs and attend scout sniper training, but scout sniper school usually has around 75 percent attrition. So on the one hand, the scout sniper platoon fills a critical role for an infantry battalion. But on the other, it can only accomplish the mission if this manpower dilemma is reconciled amongst commanders within the battalion.
This presents a unique challenge from the platoon commander’s perspective: negotiate with other commanders and individual Marines to cannibalize the appropriate manpower from their teams, or cease to exist. Scout sniper platoons are not assigned trained Marines who are ready to do this niche job. Prospective members must be not only proficient in basic infantry skills, such as “shoot, move, and communicate,” but must also be the strongest athletes, have mental fortitude, specialized communication skills, and enhanced marksmanship. These Marines distinguish themselves on a daily basis within every infantry unit to their commander, and commanders grow to cherish their ability to lead by example and set the standard in whatever role they have. As the scout sniper platoon commander, I must convince commanders to give up these impressive performers. This requires decisions to be made at various echelons, both internal and external to the platoon:
- The individual Marine must decide that they want to be evaluated for potential service in a scout sniper team, and agree to undergo a grueling try-out, otherwise not required by their current commander.
- The current platoon commander and company commander of said Marine (usually their top performer) must agree to allow them to try out for the platoon, and know that successful performance and selection will result in that Marine transitioning from their current unit.
- Existing team members must agree on how prospects will be accepted or denied entry to the platoon so that when the new teams are composited, the old team members have buy-in and can trust the new-joins’ ability to perform.
Throughout my young adult life, I have participated in countless strategic discussions regarding Camp Negotiations as well as analytical debates regarding specific tactical principles taught in my grandfather’s book, “Start With No.” This exposure helped me recognize that as a Scout Sniper Platoon Commander, I was going to face a serious professional negotiation with other commanders. Additionally, Camp Negotiations provided me with a proven method of approach for navigating the different issues at hand and players involved. I took command of my platoon in May 2018 when there were only six Marines in the platoon, two of whom were unsure as to whether or not they would re-enlist to stay for the next deployment. I employed the following strategies from “Start With No”:
- Define the Platoon’s Mission and Purpose.
“Effective negotiation is effective decision making, plain and simple, and the foundation of effective decision making is a valid mission and purpose to guide it.” (Chapter Four – Success Comes From this Foundation. Develop Your Mission and Purpose, pg.69)
The Marine Corps is a very clear-cut organization, and it encourages strict precision in language for the sake of maximizing the effectiveness of limited amounts of communication. However, there was no concise mission statement for a Marine Scout Sniper Platoon. My first priority as platoon commander was therefore to synthesize publications to craft one. My goal was to give all audiences a clear understanding of what the scout sniper platoon would ultimately bring to the table. Our mission and purpose was the following: “Report timely tactical data on the enemy’s location and activities in accordance with information requirements in order to provide the supported unit commander with extended area observation.”
- Build the Team Leader’s Vision.
“The single most important fuel that you have, the most important behavioral goal and habit you can develop, is your ability to ask questions…After we’ve made our emotion-based decision, we need time to get the clear picture, the clear vision with which to rationally judge that decision…No vision, no real decision: this is a rule of human nature.” (Chapter Six – What Do You Say? Fuels of the Camp System: Questions, pg. 101)
Can we grow and mold junior Marines from the very beginning of their career? What would it take to foster the right tactical preparation without first having to break bad habits? Initially, this was counter-intuitive to Team Leaders. All they wanted were strong and experienced Marines, but they were measuring trust by the wrong metric. By asking those types of questions, Team Leaders were forced to re-assess the qualities they were looking for in future scouts. On top of physical and mental aptitude, our platoon focused on selecting Marines that we knew would not quit and displayed an eagerness to learn and grow.
- Orient on the Decision Maker.
“…the decision making process within your adversary’s organization must be discovered and understood at the very beginning of the negotiation, or as soon thereafter as possible…In many, many instances, the biggest problem you’ll encounter in this discovery process is someone on your adversary’s team telling you, assuring you, promising you, guaranteeing you, that he is the decision maker when he’s not.” (Chapter Eleven – The Shell Game. Be Sure You Know the Real Decision Makers, pg. 203)
Within an infantry battalion, there are a high number of “blockers” that need to approve of your concept before endorsing it up the chain to the actual decision maker: the battalion commander. As a platoon commander at the lowest level of the organization, this structure can ruin the integrity and hinder the progression of an original idea to fruition because these “blockers” (company leadership, operations/intelligence staff, etc.) force their own changes at the lower level. I mitigated this by carefully and chronologically prioritizing decision points, achieving buy-in from potential blockers, and then immediately communicating agreements to the battalion commander. First, agree to my platoon’s mission statement. Second, agree to the size of force required to accomplish that mission. Third, approve my assessment and selection construct. Fourth, approve individual additions to the platoon that meet our criteria. In that sequence, every potential blocker endorsed every recommendation to the battalion commander, who ultimately decided to approve the much-needed personnel additions to my platoon.
My platoon is now the most robust scout sniper unit in the division with regards to manpower and equipment. We have met 100% of our manpower goals. We not only exist, but we have thrived in fulfilling the mission statement the battalion commander bought into from the very beginning. I am confident that we have the right Marines and the right support because we recognized and followed foundations established by Camp Negotiations.
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