MARSOC: Building Capacity and Capability

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MARSOC: Building Capacity and Capability

Throughout American history, only a few have earned the title of Marine. Among this elite fighting force, fewer still are chosen to operate in the most challenging areas of the world. Today, approximately 1,558 have joined the ranks of U.S. Marine Corps Special Operations Command.

By Congressman Walter B. Jones


Throughout American history, only a few have earned the title of Marine. Among this elite fighting force, fewer still are chosen to operate in the most challenging areas of the world. Today, approximately 1,558 have joined the ranks of U.S. Marine Corps Special Operations Command (MARSOC), which will build to an ultimate end-strength of 2,500.


As the United States congressman for Eastern North Carolina’s third district, I am proud to represent the brave men and women of Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, home of MARSOC. I am also honored to have portions of Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point and Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in my district. I have served on the House Armed Services Committee since 1995, and my respect and admiration for the men and women of our armed forces, and particularly our Marines, has continued to grow.
Today, we are in the midst of a worldwide ideological struggle. Our belief in democracy is under assault by enemies who use terrorism and propaganda to attack us. The best defense against this assault is persistent presence and engagement in developing nations. Democracy and capitalism are powerful self-replicating ideas. Assisting developing nations in providing their own defense against instability and developing their own democracies can only lead to greater security for the United States.


While this type of development is not primarily a military activity, the military is needed to help create a supportive security environment. Our first line of defense is composed of small teams, deployed to the far corners of the globe, which help nations create the environment for development. These teams must be mature, well-trained, culturally sensitive and able to speak the local language. The best military forces for this task are special operations forces. Our nation has a large and growing requirement for SOF. MARSOC was created to help fill this need.
U.S. Special Operations Command celebrated its 20th anniversary in April and remains the only combatant command established by Congress with the passage of the Nunn-Cohen amendment to the Goldwater-Nichols Act in 1986. MARSOC was activated on February 24, 2006 as the Marine Corps component of USSOCOM. The 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) stated the Department of Defense’s decision to “Establish a Marine Corps Special Operations Command composed of 2,600 Marines and Navy personnel to train foreign military units and conduct direct action and special reconnaissance.”


There are nine SOF core tasks. Although MARSOC was originally assigned three of these core tasks, USSOCOM expanded MARSOC’s requirements to include counterterrorism, unconventional warfare and information operations. MARSOC is currently deploying units to conduct foreign internal defense, direct action and special reconnaissance despite 62 percent manning. MARSOC is also developing its capability in the added tasks of counterterrorism, unconventional warfare and information operations.
Five subordinate units comprise MARSOC: the Marine Special Operations Advisor Group (MSOAG), two Marine special operations battalions (MSOB) (1st MSOB at Camp Pendleton, Calif., and 2nd MSOB at Camp Lejeune, N.C.), the Marine Special Operations Support Group and the Marine Special Operations School.


The MSOAG was originally formed as the Foreign Military Training Unit under the 4th Marine Expeditionary Brigade and transferred to MARSOC upon activation of the component. The FMTU was redesignated as the MSOAG on May 29, 2007. MSOAG is tasked with foreign internal defense and is developing a capability in unconventional warfare.

MSOAG aggressively implemented an innovative training program involving intensive training in tactics, communication, leadership instruction and foreign language skills. Currently, the languages taught are French, Spanish, Russian, Tagalog and Arabic. These skills have a direct impact on MARSOC’s ability to meet its core tasks of foreign internal defense and unconventional warfare.


As an example of MSOAG’s readiness, “A” Company, the first of two planned companies, activated on March 10, 2006—less than a month after MARSOC’s inception. In August of 2006, MSOAG (then the FMTU) completed an operational readiness exercise in Puerto Rico and deployed teams to remote regions in Africa and South America to carry out FID missions. In October, four teams successfully completed their missions and returned home.


The 2nd MSOB was activated on May 15, 2006, only three months after MARSOC was established. On October 26, 2006, the 1st MSOB came online. Many of the Marines comprising the MSOBs are battle-hardened veterans of the force reconnaissance companies. They continue a rigorous training program to meet or exceed SOF standards in preparation for deployments in support of the theater special operations commands. Given the prior collective experience of these Marines, MARSOC has a well-developed capability in direct action and special reconnaissance. 1st and 2nd MSOB are also developing a capability in counterterrorism.


In January 2007, the first Marine special operations company deployed from the east coast with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit and they were immediately tasked by a theater special operations command in support of ongoing operations. Two more MSOCs have since deployed on similar missions.


MARSOC deploys MSOAG teams and Marine special operations companies around the world to conduct direct action and special reconnaissance in support of the global war on terror. While direct action, special reconnaissance and counterterrorism are immediately necessary, they are short-term efforts that address current threats from terrorists or terrorist supporters. Foreign internal defense and unconventional warfare are long-term solutions, which can shape the environment and stop the spread of extremism around the world. Conducting foreign internal defense establishes relationships with countries and their militaries. Our assistance helps those countries provide internal security and defend against internal and external extremists.


MARSOC has a strong commitment to the missions of foreign internal defense and unconventional warfare and has regionally aligned their teams to ensure that Marines develop language ability, cultural knowledge, and long-term relationships with host nation military units. MARSOC’s commitment to these long-term goals helps shape the global security environment and contributes to America’s long-term security.
Technology complements the SOF operator, but the most important element in special operations is the operator. New ways must be found to develop and retain competent operators. Focus and new paradigms will help us build the force that can ensure our long-term security against today’s threats.


While MARSOC has no research and development function, they actively participate in USSOCOM requirement and technology development programs. The lessons learned from MARSOC missions and operational experience from MARSOC Marines help shape the future requirements and technology employed by USSOCOM.


MARSOC was formed to add additional SOF capacity to USSOCOM in support of our global war on terror. MARSOC has clearly studied today’s threats and organized to develop a flexible force composed of mature, well-trained, culturally sensitive Marines who are able to speak the local language. MARSOC has aggressively built their capability and capacity while deploying Marines around the world. The addition of MARSOC to USSOCOM adds the capacity for persistent presence and engagement which will improve the security of our nation. I am proud of the work that the Marines of MARSOC have already accomplished and I look forward to witnessing their future achievements.



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