CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. — Marine special operators will have their own military occupational specialty in coming weeks, according to the Corps’ recently retired spec ops commander.
The move will benefit members of Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command by allowing manpower officials to keep closer tabs on their career progression — and it could set the stage for targeted re-enlistment bonuses for the Corps’ commando community, Maj. Gen. Mastin Robeson said Nov. 20 after his retirement ceremony at Camp Lejeune, where MarSOC is based.
MarSOC officials say the MOS will be reserved for Marines who graduate from the command’s Individual Training Course, a seven-month program tailored to Marine special operations. ITC covers a wealth of spec ops disciplines, including training in foreign internal defense, direct action and close-quarters battle, among others.
Robeson, who was replaced at MarSOC by Maj. Gen. Paul Lefebvre, said creation of a spec ops MOS represents a smart step forward for the young command. Less than four years old, MarSOC needs to focus on retaining the Marines it trains rather than returning them to the conventional force as it does now, he said.
It’s not immediately clear whether special operators will receive a primary or secondary MOS. Marines compete for promotion and vie for re-enlistments in their primary job skill. Secondary MOSs can include tours as recruiters, drill instructors or marksmanship instructors.
It’s also unclear what benefits would be available to those who earn the spec ops MOS, or whether this is indeed a first step to keeping Marine special operators on a spec ops career path.
Getting in and staying in
MarSOC’s first commander, Lt. Gen. Dennis Hejlik, argued that returning Marines to the regular Corps allows them an opportunity to climb the career ladder. But the idea has been unpopular among Marines who want to go and stay spec ops in a manner similar to Navy’s SEALs.
“The right discussion is the career tracking,” Robeson said. “What’s the career path of a Marine special operator? What you want is a healthy, rotational career tracking that allows you to develop not just your skills as an operator, but your skills within the special operations community that prepares you to be a senior staff noncommissioned officer and a senior officer in the Marine Corps and U.S. Special Operations Command.”
A special operator should serve a four- to six-year operational tour in MarSOC, he said, and then spend time doing something else in special operations, such as teaching at the command’s schoolhouse, completing a joint SOCom staff tour or elsewhere within SOCom. Ideally, Robeson said, that Marine would then come back for another operational tour in MarSOC.
The Corps already is moving in that direction, he noted, pulling Marines from MarSOC battalions to serve as ITC instructors and then allowing them to go back to being operators.
But Marines who want to join MarSOC may have a long wait before they can become special operators. Currently, the command doesn’t have enough instructors to run simultaneous ITCs, something officials had hoped to start this year.
Only one ITC — about 60 Marines — has graduated in 2009. Marines going through the second ITC are on track to graduate in February. Once that happens, another course will begin.
The goal, Robeson said, is to conduct three to four courses in a year.
Running more courses will allow MarSOC to reach its end-strength of 2,600 operators and support staff. Right now, the command has nearly 2,200 Marines, sailors, soldiers and civilians. Robeson said MarSOC needs to grow by another 1,000, pushing the total force to 3,600.
MarSOC also needs more combat support and combat service support Marines, including those in human intelligence, explosive ordnance disposal and military working dogs, who can “right-size” the command, he said. Those additional Marines would give every team downrange a slice of those capabilities, Robeson said.
It remains to be seen if Lefebvre shares Robeson’s objectives. The general was not immediately available to discuss his agenda for the command.
“This is not about the ability to kick a door in and shoot somebody,” Robeson said. “It’s about the ability to influence in a positive way a region that is susceptible to insurgency, to terrorism and to factions and actions that would be counter to that nation’s health.”