The hide is a sniper’s safe haven. It’s a hole they dig, cover with camouflage and live in for days or weeks at a time. But what happens when a sniper and his team find a bomb in their hide?
For Sgt. Michael G. Dowling, it was a no-brainer.
“He made sure everyone of us got out first,” said Cpl. Daniel Hilsdorf, a scout sniper with 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment. “He was the last one out and refused to leave until he knew we were all safe. That’s just the kind of guy he is. He’s a good leader."
Dowling, a scout sniper who currently serves as the noncommissioned officer in charge for Regional Operations and Plans, U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific, has deployed to combat four times. When asked about his experiences, he remains humble and insists he was simply doing his job.
On July 6, Dowling was recognized for what he chalks up to just doing what Marines do. He was awarded a Bronze Star Medal with a “V” device for valor for his actions while serving in Afghanistan as a scout sniper team leader with Scout Sniper Platoon, G Company, 2/3, in 2009.
Dowling’s road to heroism began almost nine years ago. On his way to college, he turned on his radio and was shocked by what he heard.
The day was Sept. 11, 2001.
Filled with anger and debating what to do with the rest of his life, he enlisted six days later as a Marine infantryman.
“It was something I had always wanted to do,” Dowling said. “A lot of my family members were former Marines. I hadn’t been to my classes for a while and I just kept putting off talking to a recruiter. 9/11 sealed the deal for me.”
In 2003, Dowling deployed to the Persian Golf in support of the initial invasion of Iraq. He deployed to Iraq in 2005 as a fire team leader and again in 2006 as a squad leader.
Always seeking to challenge himself and prove his worth, Dowling decided it was time for a change and became a scout sniper.
“It was the next logical step,” he said. “As a sniper, I got to operate more independently and there was a lot more responsibility. As a squad leader, I was given missions, told where to go and what to do. As a sniper, I worked directly for the company commander. I had a lot more input in how my team was used.”
In 2008, he did his final Iraq deployment as a scout sniper team leader. Then came his 2009 tour in Afghanistan.
The Andover, Conn., native’s exploits in Afghanistan didn’t end with saving his team in their hide, however.
According to his award’s summary of action, Dowling’s abilities and willingness to get in harm’s way to accomplish any mission exceeded the expectations of the sniper community.
He led more than 30 scout sniper missions, which included raids, ambushes, protecting Marine forces, reconnaissance, surveillance and foot patrols. He also operated for seven days straight deep within enemy territory and earned himself a reputation as an expert regarding operations in the Now Zad District in Afghanistan.
“He’ll never admit it, but he went above and beyond what is required from a sniper team leader,” said Hilsdorf, who served as Dowling’s assistant team leader. “Whenever he went on a mission, he always carried the heaviest pack. He’s the kind of guy who leads by example, is very knowledgeable and works hard.”
Another moment Dowling demonstrated his decisiveness was when a Marine stepped on a mine. His Marines remember him reacting immediately to care for the Marine and assess if any of the others were injured. He then instructed a team of engineers to clear a route, called for additional troops, continuously monitored everyone in his team to ensure they did not stray from the path and called for a medical evacuation.
He then took the responsibility of helping to carry the Marine, a duty any of his subordinates could have performed, but he chose to bear the burden.
“Sgt. Dowling kept his Marines focused on the mission at hand in this trying time; a time when a leader’s abilities would be challenged,” Capt. Zachary D. Martin wrote in the summary of action. “Sgt. Dowling acquitted himself as only a Marine [noncommissioned officer] can; with poise, dignity and absolute professionalism.”
Now a reservist on active duty orders, Dowling continues to be humble about what he has done and thinks only of what his Marines have accomplished when awarded for his valor.
“It’s really not a big deal,” Dowling said. “I did my job. Any team leader would have done the same thing. If I deserve this award, every member of my team deserves nothing less.”