February 22, 2006:
The U.S. Marine Corps continues to borrow ideas from the U.S. Army Special Forces. Previously, the marines had trained their infantry battalions to handle various commando type operations. The battalions that achieved the skill levels, were then designated "Special Operations Capable" for the jobs in question (like hostage rescue.) Marines like a challenge, so putting in the extra time and effort required to acquire the "special operations" tag, is seen as a worthy goal. Now the marines are taking that further, and offering individual marines the opportunity, like the Army Special Forces, to be qualified as area specialists. In the Special Forces, this means speaking the language, and understanding the customs, of the particular part of the world their Special Forces Group is assigned to. The marines are using the cultural and language material, currently taught to troops headed off for Iraq or Afghanistan, as a basis for similar material on other parts of the world. With this program, the marines expect to have an increasing number of "area experts" as the years go by. This is actually "Special Forces Lite," as the marines are not looking for a lot of their people to become fluent in Arabic and Chinese. But mastery of key phrases, and a little reading ability, can be a big help in a combat zone. The new program will also do a better job of identifying and using marines who already speak foreign languages, and know the foreign cultures well. With thousands of "culturally aware" marines available, going into these areas to deal with a crises will go a lot more smoothly.