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Marine Special Operations Command

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While the other military services had a presence in United States Special Operations Command, the USMC avoided participation for some time. In the Second World War, various Marine special operations units, principally Raider battalions but also a parachute battalion, were created, but never were greeted enthusiastically by the chain of command. The Marine assumption tends to be that all Marines are "special" and there need to be no special units.

Their Combined Action Platoons (CAP) in the Vietnam War, and recently in the Iraq War, were made up of volunteers from regular Marine units, but did not represent a separate career path such as United States Army Special Forces. Still, the CAP units performed well at the joint doctrinal mission of foreign internal defense [1]

With the growing U.S. emphasis on special operations units, with some observers suggesting that United States Special Operations Command was increasingly becoming a military service of its own, Marine Special Operations Command (MARSOC) was formed on 24 February 2006. The initial organization, now called FMTU is now designated as the Marine Special Operations Advisor Group (MSOAG), was formed to conduct foreign internal defense

There is some tradition of special operations in the Reconnaissance Battalions assigned to Marine divisions, and Force Reconnaissance companies assigned at the MEF level.[2] [3] Deployed MEUs may have an attached Force Recon detachment.

The Force Reconnaissance companies recently transferred to MARSOC, to become the 1st and 2nd Marine Special Operations Battalions. MARSOC also formed the Marine Special Operations Support Group (MSOSG) and the Marine Special Operations School (MSOS). The MSOSG provides combat support and combat service support to MARSOC Units. The MSOS recruits, qualifies, and develops Special Operations Forces (MARSOF) and has responsibility for doctrine development in Foreign Internal Defense (FID), Direct Action (DA), and Special Reconnaissance (SR). MARSOC has also been directed to develop a capability in Unconventional Warfare (UW), Counter Terrorism (CT), and Information Operations (IO).

Plans for new units

Going forward, the base unit of MARSOC will be the 14-man Marine Special Operations Team (MSOT), commanded by a Captain. All MSOTs will have the same organization. MSOTs will be part of a Marine Special Operations Company, commanded by a Major. Each MSOC headquarters will have the same structure. All MSOCs will be elements of an MSOB, commanded by a LtCol. [4]


Marine Raiders

Marine Raiders have a not-unreasonable claim to be the first, or among the first, United States special operations forces. They came into existence due to a combination of urgent needs, junior personnel with access up to Presidential level, and some imaginative senior marine officers.
The Marine Raiders made the initial ground offensives against the Japanese in WW II; they participated in turning around the Japanese advance; the only ground unit that participated in every island assault in the Solomon Islands; following which, Raiders as individuals or units were in virtually every Island hopping event in the Pacific War and the first landing in Japan after it's announced surrender.[5]

There is no question that the first Raider units formed in 1942. There was, indeed, an out-of-channels access to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was aware of Winston Churchill's interest in creating "raider" or "commando" units in the early, dark days of the war. [6] Roosevelt, however, was not the only senior official who played a role, but the idea also appealed to certain senior Marines -- and was disliked by others, who believed "every Marine is special."

Evans F. Carlson, a Marine officer, had been a U.S. observer to Mao's guerrillas in China, and believed guerrilla warfare would become critical to future military operation. In January 1942, Capt. James Roosevelt, the President's son, knew and admired Carlson, and wrote an out-of-channels letter, to the Commandant of the Marine Corps, recommending "a unit for purposes similar to the British Commandos and the Chinese Guerrillas".

Slightly before, William J. Donovan, then an intelligence advisor to Roosevelt, who was to head the Office of Strategic Services, wrote a similar letter to the President in December 1942.

Marine General Holland M. Smith, however, was charged with implementing the existing Marine amphibious doctrine. As a brigadier general, commanding the first large-scale landing exercise in early 1940, realized that insufficient landing craft existed for landing a significant number of marines. As a workaround, he designed company-sized units that could deploy via high-speed transports, converted from destroyers, and secure beaches for the main effort. He selected LTC Merritt A. "Red Mike" Edson to head the teams.

Commandant Holcomb replied, to the younger Roosevelt, that Edson was already organizing such a unit. Holcomb delegated the creation to the commander of the 2nd Marine Division, MG Charles F.B. Price, where Carlson was already setting up a unit. even offered to transfer Edson to the 2d Separate, but in the end the Commandant allowed the commanding general of the 2d Marine Division, Major General Charles F. B. Price, to place Major Carlson in charge. James Roosevelt became the executive officer of Carlson's unit. At Price's suggestion for renaming, Edson's group became the 1st Raiders on 16 February; Carlson's outfit was redesignated to the 2d Raiders three days later.


In the Second World War, the Marines organized the 1st Parachute Battalion, and even scaled up to regiment sized. The staff decided, however, that there was no real requirement for parachutists among a group of amphibious specialists. They also concluded that they did not have, and were unlikely ever to have, enough transport aircraft to drop a unit of useful size.

While there were only training jumps by the "Paramarines", some individuals later transferred to the Office of Strategic Services and made use of individual parachute skills.

Joint Assault and Signal Companies

In World War II, the Marines created Joint Assault and Signal Companies, reporting directly to Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) level. Their mission included what might be termed special reconnaissance today, with the principal mission of "air, artillery and naval gunfire support between the Marines, Army and US Navy".[7] After the war, these were reorganized into ANGLICO (Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company) units, still attached at MEF level, which can be assigned as teams or full companies to U.S. or foreign combat units that need specialists in artillery, naval fies, and air support. "...they travel and train internationally to qualify to control foreign jets as well."


  1. Connable, Ben, "Culture Warriors: Marine Corps Organizational Culture and Adaptation to Cultural Terrain", Small Wars JournalConnable, p. 6
  2. Lanning, Michael Lee & Ray W. Stubbe (1989), Inside Force Recon: Recon Marines in Vietnam, Ballantine Books
  3. Lee, Alex (1996), Force Recon Command, Ballantine
  4. Marine Corps Forces, Special Operations Command, Questions & Responses Page
  5. U.S. Marine Raider Association, Introduction to the Marine Raider Web Site
  6. U.S. Marine Raider Association, Creating the Raiders
  7. 4th Anglico 1st Platoon, USMC, A little history