Special Operations: Marines Make MARSOC A Career


August 4, 2014: MARSOC (Marine Corps Special Operations Command) has fixed a problem with its special operations officers by making the job a primary career and not as it is now a secondary one. Until the change marine officers served five years in MARSOC and then went on to a different job. In effect, special operations was a secondary skill and not something a marine officer could spend an entire career in. This change came about because many marine officers wanted to make a career in special operations and it was noted that the other services allowed officers to be career special operations officers and that worked out well. The marines had allowed enlisted personnel to make a career of special operations and that was the preferred approach for most enlisted marines.

One reason the marines need career special operations is because MARSOC is going through a lot of changes at the moment and cannot afford to lose experienced officers because their five years are up. The marines have pulled all their troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan and MARSOC sees its future as working more closely with SOCOM, not providing special operations support for other marines.

Thus in 2013 the three MARSOC special operations battalions (MSOBs) are being moved out of Afghanistan and assigned to SOCOM. The 1st MSOB went to SOCOM Pacific, while the 3rd MSOB went to SOCOM Africa, and the 2nd MSOB was assigned to SOCOM headquarters for use wherever the need is the greatest. Each MSOB has three or four companies each with four 15 man special operations teams. With support personnel, each battalion has 400 to 500 men. The Special Operations Battalions provide a combination of services roughly equal to what the U.S. Army Special Forces and Rangers do, as well as some of the functions of the Force Recon units.

MARSOC has 2,600 personnel organized into a headquarters, a three battalion Special Operations Regiment, a Foreign Military Training Unit, and a Marine Special Operations Support Group. The marines basically lost two of their four Force Recon companies (one of them a reserve unit) in order to build MARSOC. Meanwhile, more troops have been added to division level reconnaissance units, to take up some of that slack. The Special Operations companies (each with about 120 personnel) can provide Force Recon capabilities to marine units they are attached to.

Before MARSOC was created the marines did have about a thousand troops they considered commandos in the classical sense. These are the Force Recon LRRPs Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols). The idea of marine LTTPs goes back to World War II, and was reinforced during Vietnam. Soon each marine division had a company of them.

Force Recon was the only thing to survive Marine Corps experiments with commando operations during World War II. Back then the marines noted the success of the new (invented by the British) commandos and decided that this was just the sort of thing marines could handle. By 1941, selected marines began training to be “raiders”. The training was based on what the British commandos went through. Eventually some 5,000 marines would receive raider training. Four Raider battalions were formed and raiders entered combat in August 1942 at Guadalcanal. While the raiders performed well in Guadalcanal there were not many specific commando missions in the Pacific.

Then the marines began a series of amphibious assaults on heavily defended Japanese islands in late 1943 (Tarawa was the first.) It was obvious during the training of marines for this first assault that some commando techniques were required, but commandos themselves would not have been of much additional use. So it was decided to use the raider battalions to form a marine regiment for a new marine division that was being formed. By early 1944, the Marine Raider Battalions were no more. As far as many marines were concerned, "all marines are commandos."

The army continued using special operations troops (Special Forces and Rangers) after World War II and the navy created SEALs. By the 1980s these forces became so useful and popular that they were organized into their own major command. This was SOCOM (Special Operations Command). The Marine Corps had long resisted contributing special troops to SOCOM, largely because of its belief that Marines are inherently superior warriors, capable of highly specialized missions. This attitude began to change during 2001-2 when marines were assigned to support SOF forces in Afghanistan and saw army Special Forces in action.

That experience gained in working with American special operations personnel led the marines to reconsider its position on special operations forces. By 2004 a specially trained company-sized unit, dubbed "Detachment One", drawn from Force Recon personnel, the most highly trained special operations in the marines, was sent to Iraq. Detachment One was a success in Iraq and that persuaded the marines to form a special operations organization (MARSOC) and attach it to SOCOM. Initially MARSOC used a lot of Force Recon personnel, who were eager to work with SOCOM. The marines also began recruiting other marines for MARSOC and made special operations a career field.




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