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Low Intensity Conflict, Special Operations, And The Employment Of Reconnaissance

Low Intensity Conflict, Special Operations, And The Employment Of Reconnaissance


CSC 1988


SUBJECT AREA Warfighting
















Susan J. Flores

Major, U.S. Marine Corps

Command and Staff College

March 1988









Acknowledgements ii


Chapter 1 - Introduction 1


Chapter 2 - Reconnaissance Doctrine 7


Figure 2-1 Reconnaissance Organizations 15


Chapter 3 - Evolution 16


Figure 3-1 Special Operations 25

Capabilities Matrix


Chapter 4 - New MEU (SOC) Doctrine 26


Figure 4-1 Sample Chain of Command 38


Figure 4-2 Immediate Response 39



Chapter 5 - Maritime Special Purpose 42

Force (MSPF)


Figure 5-1 Notional MSPF Task 47



Chapter 6 - Impact 48


Figure 6-1 Support for Insurgencies 58


Chapter 7 - Short Term Solutions 60


Chapter 8 - Long Term Solutions 67


Figure 8-1 Spectrum of Conflict 76


Chapter 9 - Final Thoughts 77


Bibliography 81






Since MEU (SOC) is so new to the Marine Corps, most of

the material gathered for this paper came from interviews

with people who are intrinsically involved in the

evolutionary process. To those fine people who consented

to interviews - Bob Aldrich, LtCol Denny Blankenship, Col

Patty Collins, Major "Gator" Duncan, Major Gordy Jackson,

BGen Keys, LtCol Ray McCormick, LtCol Bill Tehan, Capt Tom

Western, and Major G.I. Wilson - I wish to give you all my

special thanks. Without your candor and patience I could

not have completed this project.


Special thanks also goes to Major Jack Farmer and

Major Tom O'Leary for your encouragement and moral support.

The background information you provided was really helpful

in getting me started.


Finally, special, special thanks to Major Joe Flores,

Jr. who not only provided me with background information

and a list of recommended people to interview (interviewees

can blame him), but also for the days that you spent as a

single parent so I could complete this project. You're the









Today's Marine Corps is infused with a new sense of


meaning and determination. It is marching boldly forward,


preparing for, and participating in the low intensity


conflict and special operations arena. In 1985, General P.


X. Kelley, 28th Commandant of the Marine Corps, announced


that the Corps would prepare to conduct a new mission; that


is, the Marine Amphibious Unit (Special Operations Capable)


or MAU (SOC) mission. (This name has now been changed to


Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), or


MEU (SOC).)1


Ever since then, arguments have ensued concerning the


appropriateness of this mission; whether it fits in with


the other Marine Corps missions, or whether it


substantially changes our role in national defense.


Professional publications like the Marine Corps Gazette are


inundated with such articles, and the range of opinions is


as diverse as the range of people writing them.


This phenomenon is very curious when one considers


that the Marine Corps has traditionally, throughout its


history, participated in low intensity conflicts and


special operations. The Marine Corps' first amphibious



1 On 3 February 1988, General A. M. Gray, the current

Commandant of the Marine Corps, published ALMAR 023/88,

which stated that effectuive 5 February 1988, the Marine Air

Ground Task Force designation would change to Marine

Expeditionary Unit (MEU) viceMarine Amphibious Unit (MAU).



operation, conducted in Nassau, Bahamas in March 1776, was


a classic raid. Lieutenant Presley O'Bannon's activities


in Tripoli certainly fall under the category of special


operations. And Marine Corps operations, personified by


Chesty Puller's exploits in both Haiti and Nicaragua while


conducting counterinsurgency operations, can hardly be


considered mid intensity or high intensity conflict.


As a matter of fact, while the major wars are what


stand out the most in our national mind, they are but only


a part of the Marine Corps' history. Nobody forgets World


War I and World War II, but the Corps also participated in


many other campaigns in recent history. For example, from


1800 to 1934, Marines landed 180 times in 37 countries.2


Each landing was in support of some strategic goal in


behalf of the United States. .. .So it is ironic that there


would be so much ado concerning our new MEU (SOC) role.


How did this come about?


Two influences have created the environment in which


we operate today. First, since the advent of the nuclear


age, the conflict of choice has been low intensity. World


powers have carefully avoided conflict escalation that


would infringe upon the nuclear threshhold and embark them


in a war that Clausewitz calls, "pointless and devoid of


sense. They have been careful to weigh political goals


against the cost of the conflict, and so far, nuclear war


2R. Lynn Rylander, "The Future of the Marines in Small

Wars", a paper presented at the Center of Naval Analyses

1986 Sea Power Forum on the Marine Corps.



has not proven to be worth the cost


The second inf luence was the Vietnam War, and its


impact on the United States. Its prosecution without a


well defined strategic goal, and its subsequent


unpopularity with the people, have taken a toll in terms of


the health of the military in the years following the war.


American frustration over Vietnam created a national desire


to avoid conflict of any kind. This desire was translated


into fewer defense dollars for readiness during the


mid-to-late 1970's. It was even manifested within the


military itself. Following the Vietnam War, most special


forces outfits were dismantled or severely cut back. By


the end of that decade, the United States was left with


very little low intensity conflict capability.


The Marine Corps' capabilities suffered through these


years, along with the other branches of the armed forces.


Lack of qualified Marines, ancient equipment, and few


prospects for better resources sapped the Corps' ability to


accomplish even its most basic missions. Our


reconnaissance organizations suffered along with the rest


of the fighting force, victims of our own internal


ostracism. Just as we pride ourselves in being an elite


force; so do we resent any of our members who claim to be


even more elitist than we are.


Following Vietnam, there was a lot of internal


animosity against reconnaissance Marines for what the


infantry organizations felt were failures in reconnaissance


operations during the war.3 Many infantry commanders


felt that they were constantly putting their Marines at


risk to save some reconnaissance team that had gotten into


trouble (the inference being that the they were in trouble


unnecessarily). These inferences often showed a lack of


understanding about the roles the reconnaissance assets


were playing in the overall prosecution of the war. The


animosity carried over into the post-Vietnam era, and so


Marine Corps reconnaissance organizations were allowed to


deteriorate from benign neglect during a time when there


were too few resources to go around anyway. For example,


while serving with the 2d Marine Division from 1976 to


1978, the author witnessed assignment policies to 2d


Reconnaissance Battalion which were primarily "fair share"


with no consideration of requirements and capabilities.


Many problem Marines were assigned to 2d Reconnaissance


Battalion because it was away from the main part of the


base, and they were then "out of the way.


The nation's low intensity conflict capabilities and


assets were largely underemphasized for over a decade after


the Vietnam War, including force allocations, doctrine,


training, and equipment. By the early 1980's, we were


unprepared to fight in the one conflict most likely to


arise - the low intensity conflict. And along with this


erosion in our capabilities was the loss of our ability to



3LtCol Ray M. McCormick, USMC, interview conducted with

the author at Command and Staff College on 13 November 1987.



handle unconventional or special operations.


Since the warfighting environment of the `80s is full


of discussions about low intensity conflict and special


operations, we need to establish their meaning in relation


to this essay. As of this writing, there is no universally


accepted definition of low intensity conflict. Its meaning


is still being discussed at the Department of Defense


level. However, for the purpose of this paper, the reader


need only use the definition in JCS Publication 1:


"A limited politico-military struggle to


achieve political, social, economic, or


psychological objectives. It is of ten protracted


and ranges from diplomatic, economic, and


psychosocial pressures through terrorism and


insurgency. Low intensity conflict is generally


confined to a geographic area and is often


characterized by constraints on the weaponry,


tactics, and the level of violence."


... And the JCS Publication 1 definition for special


operations will also be used:


"Operations conducted by specially trained, equipped,


and organized DoD forces against strategic or


tactical targets in pursuit of national military,


political, economic, or psychological objectives.


These operations may be conducted during periods of


peace or hostilities. They may support conventional


forces or they may be prosecuted independently when


the use of conventional forces is either


inappropriate or infeasible.


The reader can tell, from reading these definitions,


that these two terms, low intensity conflict and special


operations," are not mutually inclusive. Low intensity


conflicts are a type of conflict, while special operations


are a capability to be used in conflict. While special


operations are a frequent part of low intensity conflicts,


they are also a part of mid and high intensity conflicts.


Low intensity conflict and special operations are not


new ideas; they are an inherent element of conflict. It is


their renaissance during this decade to which the Corps


owes a "thank you" for bringing it back to those basic


missions it is designed to perform. With the


reconsideration of its capabilities to ensure it can


accomplish these missions, it has reaffirmed that it is an


expeditionary strike force for our nation, and not another


NATO army designed to fight armored battles over the plains


of Europe.








In order to understand the implications the new MEU


(SOC) mission has on the Marine Corps in general, and on


its reconnaissance organizations specifically, one must


first understand what it is that doctrine requires of


reconnaissance. This doctrine is stated in FMFM 2-2.


Amphibious Reconnaissance.


In the Marine Corps, there are two types of


reconnaissance organizations. These are the force


reconnaissance company, which is a Fleet Marine Force


Headquarters asset; and the reconnaissance battalion, which


belongs to the Marine division. Both operate in stealth to


collect intelligence information about the enemy. But


there is a difference in the level of their operations.


The force reconnaissance company conducts preassault


and deep postassault reconnaissance operations in support


of a landing force and its subordinate elements. The


company is made up of a headquarters section, a supply and


service platoon, and six reconnaissance platoons. (See


figure 2-1.) Each reconnaissance platoon contains three


four-man reconnaissance teams. All members of the


reconnaissance platoons are trained as surface and


underwater (SCUBA) swimmers, and as parachutists.


Employment capabilities specifically discussed in FMFM 2-2




-Observe, identify, and report enemy activity and


collect other information of military significance.


-Engage the enemy in supporting arms, when so directed


or authorized by higher headquaarters.


-Implant sensors.


-Capture selected prisoners.


-Conduct specialized terrain reconnaissance including


beach, route, and helicopter landing zones/drop zones


reconnaissance missions.


-Conduct initial terminal guidance operations.


-Conduct special missions requiring the use of entry


capabilities unique to a force reconnaissance company.


The FMFM 2-2 specifically mentions a special mission


that can be assigned:


"A special mission requiring underwater or parachute


entry is occasionally assigned to a force reconnaissance


company. Missions of this type are not normally


reconnaissance oriented, and any commander who orders the


execution of such a mission must consider the impact of


diverting his reconnaissance capability to accomplish the


task. Additional preparation time will have to be allotted


before the task can be initiated. "1


Reconnaissance battalion conducts ground


reconnaissance and surveillance in support of a Marine




1Department of the Navy, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps,

Fleet Marine Force Manual (FMFM) 2-2. Amphibious

Reconnaissance (Washington, D.C., U.S. Government Printing

Office, 19 March 1976), Para. 204.c(5), p. 8.



division or its subordinate elements. The battalion is


made up of a headquarters and service company and four


reconnaissance companies. (One of these companies has been


cadred for over a decade.) (See figure 2-1.) Each of


these companies is broken down into a company headquarters


and three reconnaissance platoons. Each platoon is then


further broken down into a headquarters and two


reconnaissance squads. And these are finally broken down


into two four-man scout teams. One platoon in each company


has a four-man team qualified in underwater swimming,


providing a limited underwater swimming entry capability to


the battalion.


The capabilities which the FMFM 2-2 identifies for


reconnaissance battalion include the following:


-Collect information on the enemy.


-Engage the enemy by supporting arms, when so directed


or authorized by the division commander.


-Implant sensors.


-Capture selected prisoners.


-Conduct specialized terrain reconnaissance including


beach, road, route, and helicopter landing zone/drop zone


reconnaissance missions.


-Conduct initial terminal guidance operations.


An analysis of both the force reconnaissance company


and the reconnaissance battalion missions reveals few


differences. The overall divergence is in scope. The use


of force reconnaissance company is more strategic in nature


than the use of reconnaissance battalion.


Force reconnaissance company is designed, trained, and


equipped to handle both pre- and postassault deep


reconnaissance for the entire Marine Air Ground Task Force


(MAGTF). Its personnel are intended to be inserted beyond


the forward edge of the battle area (FEBA) in the commander


landing force's (CLF) area of interest, and are parachute


trained as one means of insertion. They are also


designated as the organization to handle the previously


defined "special missions" within the MAGTF.


Reconnaissance battalion, on the other hand, is


designed, trained, and equipped to handle reconnaissance


missions which are "closer in." They are the eyes and ears


of the ground combat element, and so their training is


primarily for surface and SCUBA insertion. Doctrinally,


they are not the parachutist; force reconnaissance company


reconnaissance platoon members are. Finally, their


missions do not include "special missions," as the force


reconnaissance missions do. They are intended for


reconnaissance tasks only.


Assignment to both force reconnaissance company and


reconnaissance battalion is not driven by any stringent,


centralized standards. There is a reconnaissance sponsor


in the Ground Combat Requirements Branch, Operations


Division at Headquarters, US Marine Corps who keeps track


of end strength, training quotas, and related issues. This


sponsor has only limited control over the assignment of


Marines to these units. He gives the assignment branch at


Headquarters information regarding the number of Marines


that need to be assigned, and then orders are issued to


send Marines to the major supporting command.


Marines do not normally receive reconnaissance


training until after they have joined a reconnaissance


organization, so the parent command receives basic Marines


with the appropriate infantry, communications, logistics,


etc., military occupational specialty (MOS). These Marines


are then further assigned within the large command based on


its needs. The number of qualified, trainable candidates


that actually join the reconnaissance organization is


dependent upon the priorities of the major command from


whom it derives its support. For example, the infantry


assignment monitor may assign orders to five additional


infantry Marines in a given month, and those Marines will


arrive at 2d Marine Division. The division will further


assign them based on its priorities. If it is building up


an infantry battalion for deployment and has had some


difficulty doing so, those additional five infantry Marines


could be assigned to that battalion in lieu of


Reconnaissance Battalion. The reconnaissance sponsor at


Headquarters does not have the authority to direct Marines


through that parent command into the reconnaissance


organization. He does, however, have the ability to


influence the action by close liaison with command manpower


staffs and personnel officers.


Command qualifications for assignment into the


reconnaissance organizations can also vary considerably,


depending once again on the supporting commanders'


priorities. One commander may feel that his reconnaissance


organization requires Marines with special qualifications,


in healthy numbers; while another may feel that


reconnaissance Marines are infantry Marines with some extra


training, and therefore do not need any special assignment


considerations, either in individual Marine qualifications


or in the reconnaissance organization's unit strengths.


Reconnaissance organizations generally have some kind


of screening process to determine whether the Marines they


receive can be successful reconnaissance Marines. The


screening process differs from one organization to another,


but usually includes a medical check to ensure the Marine


is physically qualified; some kind of physical fitness test


to determine how the Marine handles physical stress (it is


also important to ensure the Marine can swim); and finally,


some kind of interview process to determine whether the


Marine has the aptitude, attitude, and maturity to operate


self-sufficiently in the sometimes isolated circumstances


in which a reconnaissance Marine can find himself.


The reconnaissance organization's ability to fully


implement these standards is once again dependent on the


parent commander. The reassignment of a Marine who becomes


a disciplinary problem or who cannot master the training


is also dependent on the policy set by the parent


Command qualifications for assignment into the


reconnaissance organizations can also vary considerably,


depending once again on the supporting commanders'


priorities. One commander may feel that his reconnaissance


organization requires Marines with special qualifications,


in healthy numbers; while another may feel that


reconnaissance Marines are infantry Marines with some extra


training, and therefore do not need any special assignment


considerations, either in individual Marine qualifications


or in the reconnaissance organization's unit strengths.


Reconnaissance organizations generally have some kind


of screening process to determine whether the Marines they


receive can be successful reconnaissance Marines. The


screening process differs from one organization to another,


but usually includes a medical check to ensure the Marine


is physically qualified; some kind of physical fitness test


to determine how the Marine handles physical stress (it is


also important to ensure the Marine can swim); and finally,


some kind of interview process to determine whether the


Marine has the aptitude, attitude, and maturity to operate


self-sufficiently in the sometimes isolated circumstances


in which a reconnaissance Marine can find himself.


The reconnaissance organization's ability to fully


implement these standards is once again dependent on the


parent commander. The reassignment of a Marine who becomes


a disciplinary problem or who cannot master the training


is also dependent on the policy set by the parent


commander. Some parent commanders allow such reassignments


based solely on the request of the reconnaissance


organization's commander; others require the reconnaissance


organization to keep its ineffectives as the rest of the


command does.


Another way reconnaissance organizations get fresh


talent is from volunteers. Once again, the volunteer


program is dependent upon the priorities of the parent


commander. Some commanders, however, authorize the


transfer of Marines in their command to the reconnaissance


organization. The transfer can be a reward to a hard


charging young Marine for consistently outstanding


performance. Or it can be at the request of a young Marine


who is interested in reconnaissance skills, and who can


pass the screening test. This is a double edged sword.


While the reconnaissance organization commander is getting


a motivated young Marine with some infantry experience, he


is also acquiring a Marine who will receive orders sooner


than a new join would. ... And parent commanders have been


known to saddle their reconnaissance organizations in the


past with an occasional "hard core" recalcitrant, thinking


that the tough training would help straighten him out, or


would at least keep him so busy that he would stay out of




Once the Marine has been accepted by the


reconnaissance organization, his training commences. For


Marines in the reconnaissance battalion, training usually


includes Amphibious Reconnaissance School, and in some


cases, SCUBA School. For force reconnaissance company


Marines, basic reconnaissance training usually includes the


two above schools, plus Airborne School. Additional


schools are also available to both organizations for their


more mature, experienced Marines to gain additional skills.


Once the Marine has had the "basic" reconnaisaance


training outlined above, he is ready to be assigned to a


reconnaissance team and begin training with them as an


effective member.


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The first time the term "special operations forces"


was used in an official U.S. Government document was in the


Defense Guidance of 1981. This document directed all the


armed forces to develop a special operations forces (SOF)


capability.1 However, it wasn't until the Deputy


Secretary of Defense memorandum of 3 October 1983 that the


Marine Corps began to seriously review its special


operations capabilities. This memorandum tasked the


services to revitalize their special operations


capabilities "as a matter of national urgency."2 A


preliminary report was due back to the Secretary of Defense


by March 1984, after each service reviewed its existing SOF


capabilities. These reports would outline what steps


needed to be taken to create an effective level of special


operations capability to combat the current and future low


intensity conflict threat. They had a deadline to complete


any force structure expansion, enhancements in command and


control, and changes in personnel policies, training


programs, and equipment by the end of fiscal year 1990.



1John O. Marsh, Jr., Secretary of the Army, "Keynote

Address to Symposium on The Role of Special Operations in US

Strategy for the 1980s," and published in Barnett, Frank R.;

Tovar, B. Hugh; and Schultz, Richard H. Special Operations

in US Strategy, (Washington, D.C., National Defense

University Press, 1984), pp. 18.

2General Paul X. Kelley, USMC; "The Marine Corps and

Special Operations", Marine Corps Gazette, Vol. 69, No. 10,

October 1985, pp. 22.



As a result of this memorandum, the Commandant of the


Marine Corps, General P. X. Kelley, directed the Commanding


General, Fleet Marine Forces, Atlantic (FMFLant) to conduct


a study and determine what would be required to bring the


Marine Corps in line with the special operations


requirements. The results of the study clearly indicated


that the framework for many special operations already


exists within the current MAGTF structure. Specifically,


the Marine Corps' forward deployed posture, its ability to


task organize and tailor its forces to fit special


missions, and its historical emphasis on such missions as


amphibious raids all lend credence to the solidity of that




Building on these areas, the Commandant announced the


new Marine Amphibious Unit (Special Operations Capable) or


MAU (SOC) (now Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special


Operations Capable) or MEU (SOC)). This unit is basically


the same as the former MAU, but with several enhancements


and some additional training that complement its unique


MAGTF structure and ability to task organize in order to


conduct a broad spectrum of specialized operations in the


low intensity conflict arena.3 It is now specifically


ready to tackle missions in the following low intensity


conflict areas: peacekeeping, contingency response, and


counterterrorism (depending on which definition of




3For further details on what these enhancements are, see

Major Harry M. Murdock, USMC, "MAU(SOC) A Powerful Maritime

Force", Marine Corps Gazette, August 1987, pp. 66-71.


counterterrorism is used). Figure 3-1 shows the


capabilities that the MEU (SOC) has in the low intensity


conflict arena.


Our current Commandant, General A. M. Gray, was the


Commanding General, Fleet Marine Forces, Atlantic when the


study was undertaken, and he is a firm believer in the MEU


(SOC) concept. In fact, he has been heard to call himself


the "AO" (Action Officer) on MEU (SOC)/special operations


issues. He strongly believes that we are the nation's


maritime direct action force - a traditional role which we


should continue to carry out. In his mind, every rifle


company in the Marine Corps should be trained in amphibious


raids,4 since that is our "bread and butter." Since


assuming the office of Commandant, General Gray has been


extremely active as the "AO", ensuring that this new


priority is understood and implemented.


...And what is the plan for implementing our MEU (SOC)


capability? The East Coast now has its Mediterranean


deployments designated as MEU (SOC). The West Coast is in


the process of following suit with its Western Pacific


deployments. First Force Reconnaissance Company was


activated on the West Coast last year, and is due to be


manned at full table of organization (T/O) strength


sometime this spring. In the meantime, elements of First


Reconnaissance Battalion are assuming its MEU (SOC) mission




4LtCol Dennis R. Blankenship, USMC, Special Assistant to

the Commandant, interview conducted with the author at

Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps on 16 December 1987.



in the Pacific Ocean. This will give the National Command


Authority (NCA) certain additional capabilities in both the


Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. While this has been


determined to be a good start, it leaves both the Caribbean


Sea and the Indian Ocean areas without coverage, The Navy


lacks sufficient shipping to routinely transport two


additional MEUs (SOC) to these areas. So how will the


coverage be effected?


There is a plan. The next step in enhancing our SOF


capabilities is the maritime special purpose force (MSPF).


This term applies both to the enhancement of our MEUs (SOC)


already operating, and to specially tailored contingency


forces which could cover the Caribbean Sea and Indian Ocean


areas. Liaison has been made with the Navy with regard to


the contingency force, and they have assured the Marine


Corps that they have the capability to support such a


force.5 The MSPF will be discussed further in a later




To date, our MEU (SOC) capability has remained


uniquely Marine. That is, it has not become a national


asset for use by the Special Operations Command, as many


other special operations forces are. It remains a Marine


Corps asset, to be used through the normal operational


chain of command, by the commanders-in-chief of the various


theaters. A MEU is not even declared MEU (SOC) until it


passes a stringent special operations capable exercise, or





SOCEX, in the third and final phase of its training.


This is an important distinction from other special


operations capable units within the Department of Defense.


Other units are specialists, who spend all their time


preparing for intricately planned operations requiring


highly specialized skills and talents. MEU (SOC) has made


the distinction, however, that its special operations


capabilities are integral to its mission and role in


maritime strategy, and that its MEU (SOC) units are only


effective if they can react as an integral MAGTF team. To


pull out some portion of the MAGTF and turn its operational


control over to the Special Operations Command would be to


take from the operational commander some vital function


that he needs to perform all his missions. Thus far, the


Marine Corps has been successful in fostering this point of


view, and it appears that it will continue to keep its MEU


(SOC) amphibious units as an integral part of its


operational chain of command.


This has an important impact on the Marine Corps'


reconnaissance organizations. There is good news, and


there is bad news. The good news is that the


reconnaissance organizations remain with the MAGTF to


conduct reconnaissance missions in its behalf. Remember,


if they were pulled away to the Special Operations Command


control, the Marine Corps would lose this capability. The


bad news is that they have to improve on some rarely used


skills, and develop some new ones, to meet the requirements


of the MEU (SOC) missions. These are required in addition


to their routine reconnaissance skills, which they must


also maintain at a high proficiency level. What is the


impact, and how is the Marine Corps handling it? These


issues will be discussed in a later chapter. First, the


impact of the evolving MEU (SOC) role on national strategy


must be reviewed, as well as the Marine Corps' plan for




6The Marine Corps' former doctrine on special


operations is published in FMFM 8-1. Special Operations.


Founded on an old definition of special operations, the


Marine Corps historically interpretted such operations to


be environmentally oriented. Hence, FMFM 8-1 is full of


doctrinal information on how to operate in a jungle


environment or an arctic environment. It also includes


some information on variations of amphibious operations,


like noncombatant evacuation operations (NEO), or


amphibious raids. But it does not cover the spectrum and


embodiment of special operations as they are now perceived


and defined by the Joint Chiefs of Staff.


The new definition, previously quoted in Chapter 1,


includes some specific changes in thought. First, the new


definition identifies "specially trained, equipped, and


organized DoD forces, emphasizing the requirement for



6The information provided in the rest of this chapter is

derived from the Department of the Navy; Headquarters, U.S.

Marine Corps, "Operational Concept for Marine Amphibious

Units being Special Operations Capable", unpublished draft

at the date of this writing.



interoperability between services. It also changes the


emphasis on employment of special operations missions.


Instead of being secondary or supporting operations to a


conventional operation, it is recognized that they can now


be conducted independently in support of national


strategy. And although they can be prosecuted in any level


of conflict, they are now oriented toward the lower


spectrum of conflict intensity. Finally, special


operations may now be used against strategic targets to


meet national objectives.


The Marine Corps has evaluated these new guidelines,


and determined that it needs to be prepared to accomplish


the following special operations missions:7


-A clandestine raid into an objective area in all


types of weather and terrain, particularly during periods


of poor visibility or at night over difficult routes under




-Strike operations such as interdiction of key areas,


and acts of sabotage.


-Pre-emptive seizure operations in support of a MAGTF


operation (e.g., seizing and securing an airfield,


communications centers, command and control facilities, and


key bridges, etc.).


-Selected operations in support of conventional



7The following missions are copied verbatim from the

Department of the Navy; Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps,

"Operational Concept for Marine Amphibious Units being

Special Operations Capable", unpublished draft at the date

of this writing.



counterinsurgency/counter-guerrilla operations to interdict


elusive guerrilla forces or to neutralize their




-Diversionary action to disrupt enemy activities.


-Operations in support of or to complement national


special operations forces (SOF).


And, as stated earlier, the Marine Corps determined


that these special capabilities are complementary to its


current maritime role in support of national strategy


without the addition of "special" or "unique" units to its


organization. In fact, they fit rather neatly into


current missions if some specialized training is included


for the deploying units.


The MEU (SOC) missions were broken down into two


categories: direct action missions and intelligence


gathering missions. The direct action missions which MEUs


(SOC) can perform according to the evolving doctrine are as




-Offensive operations. These can include, but are not


limited to, amphibious raids, special assault tasks (such


as demolition of beach obstacles or securing some key


terrain), and harrassing operations.


-Strike operations to provide rapid penetration


against selected "deep" targets to inflict casualties,


destroy an objective, or interdict the enemy.


-Recovery operations. These include freeing prisoners


of war, rescuing hostages in an in-extremis situation, and


recovering or extracting personnel or sensitive items from


enemy controlled areas.


-Special warfare tasks. Generally speaking, this


means providing support and assistance to other services or


to allies. One example would be to provide military


training teams to allies for limited periods of time.


The intelligence gathering missions fall into two




-Surveillance over a period of time. This is used to


determine patterns in enemy movement, and to develop long


term information collection.


-Reconnaissance to obtain specific information. This


differs from surveillance in that the time element is


usually severely reduced and the patrols are likely to be


more mobile. The information collected in this mode is


usually specific in nature.


In summary, figure 3-1 graphically displays the


special operations capabilities that the MEU (SOC) is


designed to handle, as well as those that are currently


beyond its scope. It also identifies generally which units


will accomplish these tasks. .. .And don't discount the


capabilities beyond the MEU (SOC) scope, because some of


them will be revisited later in this paper.


Click here to view image









The development of MEU (SOC) doctrine is a dynamic


process that is still underway, and will continue for


several years to come. What began as an experiment with


the 26th MAU in the summer of 1985 is now spreading to both


coasts, and will eventually be available for any worldwide


contingency which requires our unique maritime skills.


How is the Marine Corps developing this doctrine? It


is not operating in a vaccuum. The Commandant has


assembled a bevy of experts both from within and outside


the Corps. Members of various Army special forces units


have shared their doctrine, and so has the Federal Bureau


of Investigation (FBI). In fact, the FBI has provided the


Marine Corps with certain "consultant" services, where


their agents assist with various types of training such as


operating in an urban environment and various types of


hostage rescue scenarios. Within the Marine Corps, the


major Fleet Marine Force (FMF) commands are now including


Special Operations Training Groups (SOTG) within their


tables of organization (T/O) to coordinate special


operations training and disseminate the newest in


information and techniques. Their job is to keep each


special operations capable unit within the Marine Corps at


a high level of readiness and expertise. They do this


by ensuring that training is as realistic and as thorough


as possible, and that each new development is provided to


those units quickly.


Nor is the Marine Corps operating in a vaccuum when it


comes to actually working with other services and


agencies. Some of the Corps' special operations billets


are located at commands like the Special Operations


Command, Europe and the Netherlands Counterterrorism Unit.


The intent is to bring the Marine Corps back into the


mainstream of military special operations. In the past,


there has been a tendency to operate in isolation. The


Marine Corps was either not aware that other service,


agency, and country assets were available, or did not know


how to ask for them. And occasionally, the isolation is


fostered because Marines are determined that the mission


can be accomplished without help from "outsiders," as


though it were some admission of weakness to request


outside assistance. In this new special operations arena,


it is imperative to work better with others, and the key


word is now "interoperability." These billets are a key


step in starting such dialogues.


All these billets will receive guidance from a new


directorate under formation at Headquarters, U.S. Marine


Corps - the Special Operations/Low Intensity Conflict


(SO/LIC) Directorate. This directorate will plan, develop,


and coordinate all aspects of Marine Corps activities in


the SO/LIC arena - both within the Corps, and with external


services, agencies, and nationalities.1


Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps2 is also preparing


the operational concept for the employment of MEU (SOC),


which will describe the mission, concept of operation, and


command and control. This concept, once approved, will be


used to develop training, organization, doctrine, and


material programs. It is the cornerstone upon which the


future of MEU (SOC) and its employment rest.


Since the MEU (SOC) concept is still in its infancy,


the future holds many changes and adjustments in its


evolutionary growth. From the first experimental MEU (SOC)


to leave Camp Lejeune in 1985, through the future


development of the MSPF contingency forces, there will be


significant impact in all areas of Marine Corps


organization and management. The MEU's (SOC) growth and


development will depend largely on the inventiveness and


ingenuity of those Headquarters sponsors in charge of the


affected areas.


For example, the manpower sponsors work within


limitations with regard to how many billets they can




1 Information derived from the Special Operations/Low

Intensity Conflict Directorate brief and recommended table

of organization currently under staffing at Headquarters,

U.S. Marine Corps. Copy maintained by author.

2Department of the Navy; Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps,

"Operational Concept for Marine Amphibious Units being

Special Operations Capable", unpublished draft at the date

of this writing.


create. They cannot create more billets than Congress has


allowed them to maintain. The compilation of all these


billets is known as "structure," and it is a finite


resource. These sponsors must find the structure to adjust


tables of organization (T/O), create additional billets,


and possibly change the whole base from which some of our


organizations have traditionally operated. They have to be


able to do this in the face of more structure cuts mandated


by Congress in the next several years, and without


negatively impacting on the health of other important


functions within the Marine Corps. After all, growth in


the operational units must signal compensatory reductions


elsewhere in the Marine Corps' structure. As the reader


will see later in this paper, this area alone could have


significant impact on the way reconnaissance organizations


have traditionally operated in the past.


Another example of the impact this concept will have


is in the training area. The addition of several new


missions to the MEU's repertoire signals the requirement


for new training. In fact, the emphasis on the maritime


direct action role changes the Corps' whole way of thinking


about how it prepares to operate. Instead of spending


time training in mechanized operations or combined arms


operations, it will now have to prioritize its time to


ensure it can conduct its maritime direct action missions -


those missions which have always been its area of


expertise, but which have suffered during the past decade.


The MEU (SOC) units commence training six months prior to


deployment, and build to the level of expertise required to


be declared MEU (SOC) following their SOCEX. The


Commandant has also signaled the desire to see more raid


training within each Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF), and


in courses like The Basic School, the Infantry Officers'


Course, Amphibious Warfare School, and Command and Staff


College.3 The ripple effect of the MEU (SOC) concept


will thus create many new requirements that the training


sponsors will need to find the dollars and the training


time to support. Once again, support for these initiatives


will probably mean that the time and money will have to be


pulled from some other areas, both resources being finite


in nature.


And finally, the changes in equipment and logistical


support will also be impacted by the new concept. As the


doctrine continues to develop, new equipment and logistical


needs will continue to be identified, and once again, the


logistic sponsors will search for creative ways to fill


those needs within our fiscal and shipping space





3LtCol Dennis R. Blankenship, USMC, Special Assistant to

the Commandant, interview conducted with the author at

Headquarters, U.S. Marihne Corps on 16 December 1987.


What does the operational concept say?4 It breaks


MEU (SOC) operations down into two classes: conventional


operations and special operations. Conventional operations


include the traditional Marine Corps direct action or


intelligence gathering missions. They can be conducted


during any level of conflict, whether it is low, mid, or


high intensity. An example of a conventional operation


would be an amphibious assault of a limited duration.


Special operations are also direct action or


intelligence gathering, but they are prosecuted against


tactical or strategic targets in pursuit of national


military, political, economic, or psychological


objectives. They can be conducted either during wartime or


peacetime, either in conjunction with other operations or


independently. They will often use specially trained and


equipped MAGTF forces, and when the operations are


sensitive, they will be authorized by the NCA.


In either type of operation, the MAGTF will have two


methods of carrying out the mission. The first method is


the deliberate operation. This one has been assigned in


advance, and allows time for detailed staff planning and


rehearsal prior to implementation. This method of


operation is more likely to succeed against targets that



4Remainder of chapter derived from the Department of the

Navy; Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, "Operational Concept

for Marine Amphibious Units being Special Operations

Capable", unpublished draft at the date of this writing.


are either highly protected or have strong natural defenses


surrounding them; or which require a lengthy process to




The second method is the rapid response operation. In


this operation, the goal of the MEU (SOC) doctrine is for


the prosecuting MAGTF to carry out the mission within six


hours of receipt. The idea is for the MAGTF to carry out


the mission before the enemy has a chance to react. It


requires a high level of training and proficiency, both at


the individual level and at the unit level, and the


operational concept calls it the "STRONGEST trait of the


entire MEU (SOC) Concept."


It is this rapid response operation that also has the


greatest effect on the changing doctrine's impact on


deploying units. Not only are the MEU (SOC) units training


to meet new variations of missions, but they must also be


able to accomplish them quickly. There will be no time to


rehearse and reacquire forgotten skills. The units and the


individuals in them must be ready to carry out any mission


at any time. And not only must they be competent in all


their skills, but they must be able to work together as a


team. There will be no time for coordination of the finer


details. It will be incumbent on each member of a mission


to know his part and be able to carry it out in consonance


with the others, knowing instinctively what they will do,


in turn.


MEU (SOC) units are designed by doctrine to be


employed in a variety of rapidly changing, complex


situations. They are to be trained to operate in any


environment or weather condition, and actually prefer to


carry out special operations in periods of reduced


visibility. Training is to be geared toward realistic


scenarios, and units should include operating in urban


terrain, specializing in entry and clearing techniques, and


using quick-fire methods, especially during periods of


limited visibility.


MEU (SOC) units are designed to be light infantry by


nature, in keeping with the Marine Corps' expeditionary


role. This limits them with regard to logistical


capabilities, indirect fire support, and heavy weapons


systems. For these reasons, the battalion landing teams'


(BLT) infantry companies are capable of conducting only


limited independent strike operations. They are intended


primarily for use in conducting amphibious operations, with


emphasis on variations of the amphibious raid. For heavier


operations, the MEU (SOC) may require, and should be able


to request, external support.


MEU (SOC) units are also capable of carrying out


conventional offensive operations, when required. Close


combat for prolonged periods of time against


armor/motorized forces is limited by the MEU's limitations


in antitank and indirect fire support. However, the


conventional offensive capability increases significantly


in terrain and/or weather that favors the defender.


During normal peacetime deployments, the MEU (SOC)


will serve as a U.S. military presence, to display a


readiness to immediately commit forces in the national


interest, if so directed. Typical activities the MEU (SOC)


would undertake include staging operations, rehearsing


combat operations, securing base areas for use and


deployment of other forces, and any other significant


activity that would send a signal of U.S. resolve in that


part of the world where it is operating. Although not


trained for such missions, the MEU (SOC) could provide


limited mobile training team (MTT) support for a finite


period of time. Such training would be characterized by


distinct training for a short duration, vice long range


advisory type training.


The new doctrine cautions that MEU (SOC) units are not


normally to be used as a rear area protection force.


The MEU (SOC) is also capable of conducting strike and


recovery operations. In the concept, these operations are


described as "characterized by surprise to gain proximity


to the target, rapid violent assault to seize the


objective, short defensive/security actions to protect the


force, and quick extraction before reaction by the threat




Finally, MEU (SOC) units may be deployed to


participate in combined training exercises, to accomplish


some important training, while at the same time conveying


our national resolve and capabilities to foreign nations.


The newly written concept also discusses command and


control issues. It gives responsibility for commanding all


USMC special operations capabilities; i.e., the MEU (SOC),


to the appropriate FMF commander. All deployed MEU (SOC)


units will then fall under the operational control of the


Naval fleet under the Navy component of the appropriate


unified command. The MEU (SOC) units are intended to be


used by the NCA to successfully conclude a contingency


operation without having to resort to a higher level of




This is how the responsibilities break down. U.S. or


allied commands may request the MEU (SOC) units by going


through the normal command channels to the appropriate


unified command. That unified command is responsible for


the employment of all forces within its theater, including


the MEU (SOC) unit. By using the normal contingency chain


of command, the MEU (SOC) unit's proper employment can be


most reasonably assured.


The unified commander, through the Navy component


commander, gives the needed support to the MEU (SOC) force


in a contingency operation. The Fleet commander is


responsible for transporting the MEU (SOC) force to the


theater area. It is then up to the MEU (SOC) commander to


provide the intelligence, communications, long range


insertion and extraction assets, and a staff that can carry


out rapid response operations. (See figure 4-1 for a


sample chain of command.5)


How far does the MEU (SOC) commander's authority and


control go? According to the concept, he controls all


components of the MEU, to include any assigned special


operations forces. Whether the entire MEU (SOC) is


committed to an operation, or only an element is required


for a smaller operation, the MEU (SOC) commander retains


operational control. While the MEU (SOC) commander will


normally operate within the chain of command of an


amphibious task force (ATF), he must also remain flexible


enough to orient his command and control procedures to work


with, or in support of, other special operations forces; or


under other joint or Naval task forces, if required.


Communications requirements are more stringent than in


the past. The MEU (SOC) must now always have sufficient


communications support to ensure the availability of


all-source intelligence. The ATF should normally provide


the MEU (SOC) with entry into the Defense Communications


System; but the unit should also have its own FMF mobile


command circuits. The MEU (SOC) is provided with




5Line diagram shown in figure 4-1 taken from Class Student

Outline, "Planning Considerations for Noncombatant

Operations," MEU (SOC) Staff Planning Workshop, Landing

Force Training Command, Atlantic LFTCLant), Norfolk, VA.



specialized and dedicated equipment that is organized


within the force and deploys with the MEU (SOC).


MEU (SOC) communications assets are to be capable of


providing secure links to the unified commander, as well as


to the Special Operations Command Element (SOCSE) and Joint


Command Support Element (JCSE) nets. These nets provide a


direct link with the NCA. And the concept states that


secure satellite communications (SATCOM) and radios with


AM/FM capability are to be the primary means of


communications within the MEU (SOC).


Now that some of the doctrinal concepts under


development at Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps have been


discussed, specifically with regard to the employment


considerations, it is time to revisit those missions that


the MEU (SOC) should be able to accomplish. Figure 4-2


provides a concise description of the missions that a MEU


(SOC) should be qualified to carry out. MEUs (SOC) that


are deployed should be capable of conducting all these


operations, either by themselves, or with other special


purpose forces, when the needs of the mission so dictate.



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Amphibious Raids. The ability to conduct an amphibious

raid, on short notice, at night under EMCON conditions via

helicopter and/or surface means from extended ranges in

order to inflict loss or damage upon opposing forces;

create diversions; and to capture or evacuate individuals

and material by swift incursion into an objective followed

by a planned withdrawal.


Limited Objective Attacks for a spoiling or delaying



Protection or Evacuation of Noncombatants or Installations

in a non-permissive or permissive environment. The units

involved should be able to provide riot control, a

screening force, a security force, a rescue force, and

evacuation control center, medical support, and

transportation of evacuees.


Show-of -Force Operations to demonstrate the capability of

the US military to rapidly support the political resolve of

the United States.


Reinforcement Operations, particularly at night by

helicopter and/or surface means to reinforce both

international and national military forces, that are

normally external to the MAU (SOC). This is to include the

capability to conduct a doctrinal relief-in-place or a

passage of lines.


Security Operations. The units involved must be able to

conduct a security operation in a hostile or non-hostile

foreign environment in order to protect U.S. property and

non-combatants, develop an integrated local security

perimeter, screen for explosive devices, and provide

personal protection to designated individuals.


Mobile Training Teams that are able to provide instruction

to non-U.S. units using approved programs of instruction

concerning weapons, equipment, basic skills, limited

maintenance training and other organic capabilities

including appropriate operational training in concert with

the U.S. Navy regarding the use of amphibious platforms or

other related capabilities.


Civic Action Operations, to include limited medical and

dental care, minor construction repair of civilian

facilities, briefings to local government authorities,

Figure 4-2


1Copied verbatim from the Department of the Navy;

Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, "Operational Concept for

Marine Amphibious Units being Special Operations Capable"

unpublished draft at the date of this writing.


support to local charitable and religious organizations,

and prompt adjudication of foreign national legal claims.


Military Tactical Deception Operations. The MAU (SOC) must

be able to design and conduct missions which mislead

opposing forces by feints, ruses, demonstrations, or

portrayals which cause the adversary to react or fail to

react in a manner that assists in accomplishment of the



Fire Support Control. The MAU (SOC) must be able to

conduct and coordinate close positive control of all

available fire support assets and provide and coordinate

fire support under MAU/Amphibious Task Force (ATF) control

for other services, including those of allied nations.


Counter-intelligence Operations. The MAU (SOC) must have

the ability to work with allied and national networks,

while also providing continuing educational instruction and

training to the MAU.


Initial Terminal Guidance (ITG). By providing ITG to

support the various missions conducted by helicopter,

surface, or fixed wing assets, or a combination thereof.


Signal Intelligence (SIGINT)/Electronic Warfare (EW)

Operations. The MAU (SOC) must be prepared to tactically

rescue or extract downed aircraft, equipment and personnel

in a hostile environment.


Recovery Operations. The MAU (SOC) must be able to enter

an objective area by helicopter or surface means in a

clandestine manner to recover or extract personnel or

equipment while remaining undetected.


Specialized Demolition Operations. The MAU (SOC) must be

prepared to employ specialized demolitions, as required, in

support of other special operations. This includes an

explosive entry capability to support close quarters

combat, and dynamic assault tactics/techniques.


Military Operations in Urban Terrain (MOUT). Conduct

military operations in a built-up area by employing the

appropriate tactics, equipment, and supporting arms.


In-extremis Hostage Rescue. The MAU (SOC) must be able in

an in-extremis situation to conduct an emergency hostage

rescue mission from extended ranges, at night, under EMCON

conditions to rescue hostages and expeditiously withdraw

and transport them to amphibious shipping or another safe

haven. The emergency nature of this capability must be

emphasized. The intent is expressly not to assume hostage

rescue missions/tasks that are appropriately assigned to

other special purpose forces.

Figure 4-2 (cont'd)


Other Missions which include:


-Amphibious operations in support of U.S. and allied

forces in support of various contingency plans.


-Operations ashore in support of various contingency



-Contingency requirements in support of a unified


Figure 4-2 (cont'd)









From the first mention of SOF, the Marine Corps has


emphatically stated that it does not have, nor does it


intend to develop, any unique special operations forces.


Instead, it has steadfastly maintained that the Marine


Corps mission requires it to perform certain special


operations as a part of its general role in national


strategy. Amphibious doctrine, in itself, holds certain


"special" operations which the Marine Corps has


traditionally carried out. The amphibious raid is a


classic example.


When the Secretary of Defense required the services to


review their special operations capabilities and improve


them to be effective in the low intensity conflict


environment in which the world now finds itself, the Marine


Corps started with the traditional MAGTF as the basic




First, planners determined what were realistic special


operations missions to assign the Marine Corps as the


nation's amphibious force. Then they took a pyramid


approach, starting with the basic MAGTF concept, and


gradually building on that foundation to a point whereby


all "maritime" special operations missions could be




Once they had analyzed what missions a MAGTF could


perform without any enhancements, they then proceeded to


the next step. With a few enhancements, they could perform


22 of those missions. (See figure 3-1.) That next


enhancement is the MEU (SOC) formula now being implemented


throughout the Marine Corps. Now the planners are working


on the next step up the pyramid - a more enhanced


capability. That capability is called the maritime special


purpose force (MSPF), and it is currently in the


development stages.


This MSPF force is designed around the Corps' unique


ability to task organize to perform a variety of missions.


It takes that concept, and builds on it for special


operations missions. The MSPF is designed to be an


enhanced special purpose raid force that can be employed in


situations requiring an extra amount of surgical skills


beyond the MEU (SOC) level. These additional special


operations are clandestine recovery, specialized


demolitions, tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel


(TRAP), and in-extremis hostage rescue.


The MSPF operational concept also allows commanders to


tailor their force to meet other situational requirements,




-Reinforcement for, or capture of diplomatic posts or


associated activities.


-Emergency actions to prevent loss of life.


-Reinforcement for, or support of recapture of US


flagged vessels (not underway).


-Recovery or destruction of sensitive US documents or


equipment to prevent exploitation by an adversary.


-Support of other special operations forces.


-Other special operations missions, as directed.


The MSPF, like the entire MEU (SOC), remains under the


control of the MEU (SOC) commander. Its nucleus is


comprised of a command section, a covering unit, and a


strike unit. The commander of the MSPF is an officer from


within the MEU (SOC), who makes recommendations to the MEU


(SOC) commander regarding the MSPF's task organization for


a specific mission, and is responsible for the planning and


execution of the mission. The covering unit is composed of


one reinforced rifle company that has been trained with


emphasis on amphibious raid techniques, small boat


infiltration/exfiltration, helicopter assault, and


clandestine entry techniques. And the strike unit performs


assault, support, security, and reconnaissance functions.


The concept tasks the force reconnaissance detachment


with carrying out the assault function. Additional


capability may be drawn from the division reconnaissance


platoon attached to the battalion landing team (BLT). Any


further mission specific requirements are then covered by


drawing from the other assets within the MEU (SOC), or


other embarked special operations forces.


The air combat element (ACE) is not forgotten in this


force. The ACE maintains a task organized element that


provides assault support, close in fire support, and close


air support. They are required to do tasks like deliver


elements of the MSPF from extended ranges, at low level,


and at night. They need to be proficient in night vision


flying, various insertion/extraction techniques, and


forward area rearming and refueling techniques. Figure 5-1


shows what a notional MSPF would look like.


The MSPF is intended to have complete interoperability


with other special operations forces embarked aboard


amphibious shipping and who may be committed with the MSPF,


like the Naval Special Warfare Forces (SEALs). That


includes other services, as well. The MSPF can operate as


the supporting force, or the supported force, in such




The MSPF can operate in two ways. First, it can


operate as the nucleus special operations element of a


deployed MEU (SOC). In this case, the forces that would be


tasked with the more surgical missions form the basic


organization from which these missions are planned and


executed. To some degree, this type of planning and


operation is already occuring within the MEU (SOC). And as


the doctrine is developed, it will become more finely tuned


and capable.


But an MSPF can also be activated stateside as a


contingency force to be sent to a crisis area requiring the




1Information in this chapter to this point provided from

Department of the Navy; Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps,

"Operational Concept for Marine Amphibious Units being

Special Operations Capable", unpublished draft at the date

of this writing.


Marine Corps' maritime capabilities. The MSPF was touched


on in Chapter 3 as an option to cover the two geographic


areas to which we do not routinely and continuously


deploy. Those areas are the Caribbean Sea and the Indian


Ocean, and the contingency MSPF is the solution. Policy


makers are now looking at the impact of implementing one of


these MSPFs on each coast in the near future. With the


requisite Naval shipping and transportation assured by the


Navy, the contingency MSPF can expect quick movement to the


theater in which it must participate.2



2LtCol Dennis R. Blankenship, USMC, Special Assistant to

the Commandant, interview conducted with the author at

Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps on 16 December 1987.


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1Information taken from Department of the Navy;

Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, "Operational Concept for

Marine Amphibious Units being Special Operations Capable",

unpublished draft at the date of this writing.







The traditional roles of both the force reconnaissance


company and the reconnaissance battalion have now been


examined. The evolution of the new MEU (SOC) role in the


Marine Corps, as well as the more surgical MSPF role, has


also been discussed. But what do these new roles mean to


the reconnaissance field - what is their impact?


One aspect of the MEU (SOC) role is readily apparent -


the special operations missions, particularly the direct


action missions, require extensive skills in some


nontraditional areas of reconnaissance. And the


implementation of these new special operations direct


action missions is changing the face of reconnaissance as


it is now known.


Not only is reconnaissance responsible for clandestine


information gathering missions, but it must also be


eminently capable at missions like tactical recovery of


aircraft and personnel (TRAP), tactical recovery in an


urban environment (TRUE), hostile ship takeovers, and


in-extremis hostage rescues. Such missions require skills


that are training intensive and that need constant use to


prevent atrophy. They are high risk operations that could


have a significant impact on national interests and on


American public opinion.


One thing must be candidly acknowledged: it is the


will of the American people that drives many of our


government's foreign policies. Just as the aftermath of


Vietnam created a decade of benign neglect of the military


and a penchant for noninvolvement in international issues


that required American show-of-force; so will the failure


of many highly publicized hostage recovery missions,


particularly with an unfortunate loss of both hostage and


rescuer lives, create similar outcries and result in


further isolation and lack of involvement by the U.S.




In the meantime, unemcumbered by such considerations,


Soviet and Soviet surrogate support for insurgencies,


terrorism, etc. continues to be highly successful. Since


World War II, the U.S. and U.S. "surrogate" support for


insurgencies totals 8, while Soviet and Soviet surrogate


support for insurgencies totals 32.1 See figure 6-1 for


a listing.


This is not to say that national will rests solely on


the shoulders of the MEU (SOC); in fact, special operations


missions are carried out by a variety of agencies, from the


Central Intelligence Agency to the U.S. Army's Delta


Force. However, the aggregate success or failure of the


publicized missions of any of these agencies will have an


impact on future employment of any specialized forces in



1John M. Collins, Green Berets, SEALs & Spetznaz: U.S. &

Soviet Special Military Operations. (Washington, D.C.,

Pergamon-Brassey's International Defense Publishers, Inc.,

1987), pp. 44-49.



the national interest, so it behooves all of them to be as


professional and well trained as possible. In this sense,


it is important that the training and employment of Marine


Corps reconnaissance assets in direct action special


operations be accomplished with all the finesse of true




The biggest burden rests on the shoulders of the force


reconnaissance company. As the unit with the already


enhanced insertion/extraction capabilities and the


expertise in deep reconnaissance, it is the closest to the


level of accelerated training required to handle the new


missions. Its doctrine also acknowledges that it may


occasionally be used for special missions which are not


reconnaissance oriented. This imposes a heavy


responsibility on it. Not only must it be prepared to


perform its reconnaissnce role, but is must also be


prepared to perform highly technical and delicate


operations requiring skill, intelligence, maturity,


judgement, and audacity.


Nor is the impact isolated to the force reconnaissance


company. The MSPF concept written at Headquarters, U.S.


Marine Corps acknowledges that the division reconnaissance


platoon will act as an additional capability for the force


reconnaissance detachment in carrying out the assault


portion of the mission. So reconnaissance battalion must


spend some time training new skills, as well.


Most experts within the Marine Corps agree that there


will be an inevitable degradation of the deep


reconnaissance skills within the force reconnaissance


company while it trains for the special missions. In the


interim, some of the deep reconnaissance missions may, of


necessity, go to the division reconnaissance platoon to


carry out while the force reconnaissance detachment


concentrates on its new skills.


Until now, the new skills to support special


operations have been discussed in general terms, but with


no specific examples. Here is what one authority, John M.


Collins, has to say about the hostage rescue skills a unit




Hostage rescue units that expect the unexpected


must maintain a mind-boggling array of special skills


on standby, because they cannot predict the nature of


any future emergency. Samples include electronic


eavesdropping, secure communications, and negotiating


techniques, ... along with abilities to break into


buildings or board public conveyances of all kinds--


cellars, skyscrapers, aircraft, trains, buses, cars,


subways, and boats are among them. Procedures to


scale walls, rappel, pick locks, handle delicate


demolitions, and bypass booby traps are essential.


Rescuers also must excel at sharpshooting in crowds


and hand-to-hand combat, be proficient at first aid,


handle hysterical hostages, jump start and drive


strange vehicles,... and work well at night. The


list is almost endless.2


Force reconnaissance company Marines are undergoing


additional training to cover some of these skills In


addition to Sniper School, they are participating in Combat


in Close Quarters training, which teaches them how to


operate in various "tight" environments and to rapidly


identify and shoot the enemy - not the hostage. They are


also taking courses in offensive/defensive driving, and in


technical services, such as picking locks, etc. They are


conducting training in an urban environment, facilitated by


the FBI, to learn the differences of operating in an inner


city environment when performing tactical recovery and


in-extremis hostage rescue missions. They are learning


special parachute skills from High-Altitude-Low-Opening


(HALO) School. And finally, they are undergoing training


to learn how to use a variety of new equipment, from fast


ropes, to the potentially dangerous Draeger self-contained


SCUBA equipment.3


This training is not provided solely to the force


reconnaissance company. The reconnaissance battalion is


also sending Marines to some of this training, schedules


permitting, to provide some depth and backup capability.




2Ibid, pp. 87.

3Training information derived from several sources:

Major W. G. Duncan, Jr., USMC, interview conducted on 17

December 1987;

Major Gordon R. Jackson, USMC, interview conducted on 3

December 1987; and

Captain Thomas F. Western, USMC, interview conducted on 30

December 1987.


In fact, the impact is probably worse on the reconnaissance


battalion, because in addition to their primary tasks, they


are assuming more of the force reconnaissance company's


deep reconnaissance missions as well as preparing for the


backup role for special operations missions.


The MEU (SOC) mission is here to stay. So is the


MSPF. The impact on our reconnaissance organizations is


significant. It affects their manpower requirements,


training needs, equipment needs - even the foundation of


how they are organized. Does the Marine Corps intend to


leave them in largely the same form from which they now


operate, or are there some changes planned?


The Marine Corps is a dynamic organization, always


changing. But complex changes occur in increments, and it


takes time for all the related parts to develop and be


implemented. The MEU (SOC) mission has created some


elemental shifts in the way the Marine Corps has looked at


its capabilities over the past decade. In the late `70s


and early `80s it was interested in the M-198 and the M-1


tank as weapon systems of choice, and tactical thinking


centered around mechanized/anti-mechanized operations.


Priorities were not with light infantry/quick reaction type


roles. Now Headquarters is orienting in a new direction,


and that takes time and a willingness by the various staff


agencies to change.


..And some change is definitely needed. For the


short term, while MEU (SOC) skills are still under


development, the Marine Corps can afford some


inconsistencies in its doctrine. It is a very adaptable


organization, and can be flexible. But in the long range,


these inconsistencies are bound to eventually catch up with


the Corps and degrade its ability to accomplish an


important mission. They must be addressed.


The changes fall into two categories, based on ease of


implementation: short and long term.


Some of the short term solutions that can be addressed




-Tighter controls on the quality of Marines entering


the reconnaissance field.


-Stability and retention of expertise within the


reconnaissance organization and field.


-Temporary reassignment of some missions to


reconnaissance battalion. (This will assist force


reconnaissance company, but will compound the problem for


reconnaissance battalion.)


-Streamlined training pipeline.


-Continued equipment enhancements to facilitate


accomplishment of missions.


The long term solutions, which are more in-depth, lie


with a realignment of reconnaissance organizational


structure and doctrine to meet new roles and requirements,


and a complete reevaluation and revamping of the training


requirements and procedures. The structural realignment


would be a major undertaking that would impact upon the


entire Marine Corps, because it requires extensive


realignment of a finite structure base. Such a change


would have to be accomplished using the existing number of


billets within the reconnaissance organizations, or by


using billets "found" or "taken" from another


organization's manpower assets. It could also mean a basic


change in the way reconnaissance does business, including


ownership of the particular reconnaissance asset, in some




In April 1987, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps hosted


an Amphibious Reconnaissance Conference at Landing Force


Training Command, Atlantic (LFTCLANT) to discuss some of


these problems and issues.4 Commanding officers and


operations officers from active duty reconnaissance


organizations attended. So did Inspector-Instructors from


Reserve reconnaissance units, and action officers from


various reconnaissance schools and support billets. A


number of issues were discussed, and a consensus of opinion


was sought on them. Among the issues discussed were:


-The development of a light armored reconnaissance


battalion, incorporating the assets of reconnaissance


battalion and light armored vehicle battalion (LAVB).


-Creation of a third force reconnaissance company; and


a growth from six operational platoons to eight in each





4Department of the Navy; Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps

after action report, "Amphibious Reconnaissance Conference;

Report of", CMC ltr POG-13 1655C of 19 June 1987.


-Eventual development of a reconnaissance organization


containing all the MAGTF's ground reconnaissance assets and


intelligence gathering capabilities; i.e., remote piloted


vehicle (RPV) company, sensor control and management


platoon (SCAMP), and radio battalion.


-Evaluation and subsequent adjustment of


reconnaissance roles and missions: first, with regard to


the light armored reconnaissance battalion; and second,


with regard to force reconnaissance company's expanded MEU


(SOC) role.


-The development of military occupational specialty


(MOS) 0321 for privates first class (PFC) through staff


sergeants (SSGT). This MOS would be a "feeder" into MOS


0369 commencing in the staff noncommissioned officer (SNCO)


ranks, giving the reconnaissance MOS some progressive


structure for a career pattern.


-The selection of some universal evaluation standards


for use in screening reconnaissance Marines. There is a


wide divergence throughout the Marine Corps on what


standards are being used. Conferees agreed to the


following standards:


.Prior FMF experience


.First class physical fitness test (PFT)


.First class swimmer


.Pass essential subjects test (EST)


.Pass land navigation examination


.Commanding officer's evaluation


-Finally, the conferees discussed the establishment of


a reconnaissance officer's billet at the Doctrine Center


(now renamed the Warfighting Center) to act as a single


point of contact for doctrine formulation and revision.


Operations Division, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps


took these recommendations for action, and in most cases,


agreed to staff proposals through Headquarters for


concurrence and implementation. As will be seen in later


chapters, all of these recommendations (or variations


thereof) are still under active consideration.



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1Information on this page and the next taken from John M.


Collins, Green Berets. SEALs and Spetsnaz: U.S. & Soviet


Special Military Operations, (Washington, D.C.,


Fergamon-Brassey's International Defense Publishers, Inc.,


1987), pp.45 and 48.


Click here to view image








Any commander of a reconnaissance organization today


will state that it is a challenge to ensure his deploying


units are ready to go. In a force reconnaissance company,


there is usually one platoon where the Marines are still


attending schools, one platoon that is finally conducting


preliminary training of its reconnaissance teams, one


platoon with additional Marines (since a MEU (SOC)


detachment is usually slightly larger than a platoon) that


is stabilized and in the six month predeployment training


cycle, and one detachment (a platoon plus) that is actually


deployed. This prevents the commander from having a lot of


flexibility to absorb additional missions from his parent


command; nor does it leave him with much depth in the event


he has a large turnover of personnel and/or some training


shortfalls, He is constantly struggling to ensure that the


detachment being deployed is trained, seasoned, and ready.


One of the greatest causes of turmoil within


reconnaissance organizations is the receipt of young


Marines to become reconnaissance men, none of whom are yet


reconnaissance trained. It takes several schools and


months of on-the-job training to become proficient in


reconnaissance skills, and the commander has to be creative


in determining ways to get them all trained without


degrading his other missions and tasks.


The greatest difficulty is the retention of seasoned


team leaders from the noncommissioned officer (NCO) ranks.


With two years on station, these Marines become eligible


for special duty assignments like recruiting duty and drill


instructor duty, and when their name is identified, they


usually receive orders and are gone within several months.


These young Marines are difficult to replace, because


replacements have to be "built" from the ranks.


It takes time and training to season a young


reconnaissance Marine, and a young reconnaissance officer,


as well. Just because a reconnaissance organization's end


strength looks healthy is no indication that its


capabilities have matured. Manpower instability further


degrades the reconnaissance organization's ability to


produce special operations capable reconnaissance Marines.


The Commandant has already taken several first steps


toward easing the personnel turmoil and training crunch.


First, he has mandated that the force reconnaissance


company will become an "excepted" command; that is, that


the manpower pool will not drive its end strength. It will


be manned at 100%. Second, at the General Officers'


Symposium, he discussed with his commanders the importance


of supporting the reconnaissance organizations' personnel


needs, including keeping them at 100% strength, ensuring


they are being assigned quality personnel, and weeding out


the nonperformers.


The parent commanders have the ability to set some


beneficial local policies with regard to their


reconnaissance organizations By strengthening their


support for the screening process, and by prioritizing the


other missions they give their reconnaissance


organizations, they can have an impact on their health.


One of the common reconnaissance complaints has been that


they are not utilized properly by the organizations they


support. The parent commander has the capability to either


make the reconnaissance organization a general support


asset, and allow his G-2 Intelligence staff to control its


missions and employment; or at the very least, he can set


some policies that would preclude misuse of reconnaissance


assets and lessen the propensity for overcommitment that


seems to always occur.


Manpower sponsors at Headquarters, Marine Corps are


also looking at the identification/stabilization issue,


with an eye toward lessening some of the turmoil. But


here, once again, the "elitist versus generalist" argument


arises. While there is genuine interest in fixing some of


the problems that hamper mission capabilities, many of the


sponsors are hesitant to create an "elite" force that is


specially identified and trained. A common view would thus


be stated: "These guys are just infantry Marines with a


few extra skills. Any infantry rifleman can do this


mission with the extra training..."


The same goes for designation of a separate


occupational field for reconnaissance. The fear of


creating an "elite" force, along with some inherent


problems in establishing fair career patterns for


reconnaissance Marines, has created a predisposition not to


separate them from the infantry MOS.


At any rate, as a result of the Amphibious


Reconnaissance Conference recommendations, and after some


prodding by reconnaissance and MEU (SOC) experts,


Headquarters is looking at better identifiers of


reconnaissance skills than the current MOS structure. They


are also studying the MOS Manual and are considering


publication of tighter requirements for attainment of the


reconnaissance MOS.


Since the Commandant has a real interest in developing


the most professional MEU (SOC) capability consistent with


Marine Corps missions and goals, there is the possibility


that some priority will be placed on the stability of


Marines within the operating forces, especially those with


highly developed, perishable skills. To continue to be


effective with these skills, Marines need some assurance of


continued employment in the reconnaissance field, either in


their own organization, or at least within reconnaissance


organizations, in general.


By spring 1988, the manpower officials will have some


courses of action identified, along with their impact


(advantages and disadvantages). Some definite decisions


will be made concerning the best ways to stabilize the


reconnaissance field and keep it healthy.1


For the short term, there are no moves afoot to


streamline the training pipeline. All training has been


locally driven in the past, and will continue in that mode


for the near future. Short term fixes have been foregone


in favor of a more extensive, all-encompassing long term


solution. From time to time, reconnaissance organizations


have been able to make trips to the Infantry Training


Schools to screen possible candidates for reconnaissance


duties, and have been able to identify young candidates


with excellent potential for success in the field.


However, there is a tradeoff which comes from taking


Marines so inexperienced, in that they have not served any


time learning basic rifleman skills outside of their


schooling, and so they join the reconnaissance outfit


behind from the start. It takes longer to develop these


young Marines.


With Department of Defense emphasis on the development


of special operations skills has come funding to modernize


the affected organizations. Within the Marine Corps, there


has already been a spate of new, state-of-the-art equipment


included in the MEU (SOC) Table of Equipment (T/E), and



1BGen William M. Keys, USMC, Director, Personnel

Management Division, Headquarters, U. S. Marine Corps,

interview held with the author on 21 December 1987.



there is continued development of still more.


Communications were a significant problem, with the


requirement to have an all-source intelligence capability,


and the need for interoperability among the various


deployed elements. For example, force reconnaissance


detachment radios were not compatible with the CH-46s that


inserted/extracted them. Limited satellite communications


equipment was purchased for those helicopters working with


the reconnaissance teams, and the reconnaissance teams


changed to radios that were compatible with the


helicopters.2 Moreover, during the past several years,


the Navy has spent 38 million dollars upgrading their


intelligence/communications systems.3


Other items to facilitate mission accomplishment, such


as fast ropes, HNK MP5 SD German made 9mm "suppressed"


submachine guns, and Draeger self-contained SCUBA equipment


have been obtained. Also, the Marine Corps is now looking


at a new small unit navigation system that can tell a


Marine where he is, within 6 meters.4


Continued development and use of such equipment


benefits mission accomplishment, but it also has a price in



2Major W. G. Duncan, Jr., USMC, former Operations Officer

for 22d MAU Composite Squadron, interview conducted with the

author at Command and Staff College on 17 December 1987.

3LtCol Dennis R. Blankenship, USMC, Special Assistant to

the Commandant, interview conducted with the author at

Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps on 16 December 1987.

4Western, T. F., Capt, USMC, Reconnaissance Officer,

Marine Corps Research, Development, and Acquisition Command

(MCRDAC), interview conducted with the author at the

Development Center on 30 December 1987.


terms of the increased need for Marines to be trained in


its use. And training time is one of the big problems in


the readiness equation.


These are the short term "tweaks" that are being


applied to the reconnaissance organization problems. They


are creating relief, but they will not create permanent


solutions. The solutions required are more long range and


complex in nature. But even the hard, long range solutions


are being worked, as the next chapter will delineate.









The possible changes discussed in this chapter are


called long term because they are the "big ticket items."


They could cost the Marine Corps significantly in terms of


manpower structure, training time, making a permanent


change to the way reconnaissance operates, and the cost


that some other facet of the Marine Corps may pay in


sacrifice to support these changes.


Marine Corps specialists in the area of amphibious and


special operations are looking at the reconnaissance


function to determine how it can best be employed to


accomplish the goals that have been set for it. Other


staff officers are looking at ways to identify structure


(manpower spaces that could be converted to reconnaissance


billets) to support any possible changes. Some structure


has been identified, and its identification appears


consistent with a rational plan.


Before discussing this plan, it is necessary to become


familiar with the spectrum of conflict chart shown at


Figure 8-1. Note that while the greatest potential damage


can be done at the higher levels of conflict, it is the


lower levels of conflict that are most likely to occur.


Until the early to mid 1980s, the United States has spent a


large preponderance of its military resources preparing for


and/or deterring mid and high intensity conflicts. With


the Secretary of Defense's memorandum in 1983, the military


began reviewing its capabilities to deal with low intensity


conflict and found itself sadly deficient.


As a part of the defense establishment for our


country, the Marine Corps spent the `70s looking at mid to


high intensity conflicts. It spent a lot of time working


on mechanized/anti-mechanized battles and heavier fighting


equipment. With the birth of MEU (SOC), its priorities are


beginning to change.


Now the Marine Corps finds itself in need of some


structural and manpower changes to put its priorities back


where the amphibious rubber meets the road. The Commandant


has made the Fleet Marine Forces (FMF) a staffing priority


to ensure their health. He has directed that rifle


companies, reconnaissance organizations, radio battalions,


communications battalions, and air and naval gunfire


companies (ANGLICO) be manned at 100% of their tables of


organization (T/O).


If the Marine Corps reviews the most likely conflicts


in which it will find itself in the next decade, they will


probably be low intensity. Yet, it has acquired a healthy


capability to deal in mid intensity conflicts with its


M-198s and emphasis on mechanized operations.


Planners are looking at those units that have


developed a largely mid intensity conflict capability with


an eye toward taking those manpower spaces for the more


immediate low intensity needs1. For example, they are


looking at reverting the 4th artillery battalion in each


division to the Reserves. That battalion is a general


support battalion, whose function would be put to best use


in a conflict in which a larger MAGTF is committed. It has


little applicability in the low intensity conflict arena


If it were placed in the Reserves, the capability would


still be available during a conflict that would be serious


enough to call up the Reserves - exactly the type of


conflict for which it is best suited. In the meantime,


those billets could be reallocated to ensure enough


manpower is "purchased" in the budget each year to cover


the additional billets to be filled in the infantry,


reconnaissance, communications, etc., outfits, with some


billets left over.


The large majority of those billets will be used to


fill out the table of organization of the light armored


vehicle battalion (LAVB). A concept has been approved that


will make the LAVB a "scout infantry" outfit, with light


infantry Marines assigned to the LAVs. They will handle


the "mobile/mechanized reconnaissance" role within the


ground combat element, freeing reconnaissance assets from



1The following plans were conveyed to the author by Major

Gordon R. Jackson, USMC, Ground Combat Requirements Branch,

Operations Division, HQMC, interview held at HQMC on 3

December 1987.



having to accomplish this mission.


The extra few billets are being looked at to augment


the structure of the force reconnaissance company.


Planners are looking at increasing the officer strength of


the company by 5 officers, and the enlisted strength by


about 30 to 36 Marines. There are two plans. The first is


to create 6 headquarters elements for the detachments with


these additional Marines. The second plan, espoused by the


West Coast reconnaissance community, is to turn the


reconnaissance teams into 6 man teams vice 4 man teams.


There aren't enough manpower resources to accomplish both


plans, so only one could be chosen for implementation. In


either case, it is hoped that the additional manpower will


help alleviate some of the pressure the company is now


feeling in keeping abreast of all its missions.


But there are even bigger plans afoot; more


all-encompassing plans that address some of the larger


issues facing our reconnaissance organizations today.


Reconnaissance has traditionally been a function of the


cavalry's role in an army. Some experts feel that this


cavalry role should also be cultivated within the Marine


Corps; that without a well rounded cavalry capability, the


Marine Corps has a deficiency in the way it operates. A


healthy cavalry role is characterized by not only a


reconnaissance capability, but also economy of force and


screening. Cavalry is designed to be highly mobile,


allowing it to seek out the enemy,2


One of the shortcomings of our reconnaissance


organizations is their lack of mobility. Although they can


move well strategically, they are reduced mainly to foot


movement at the tactical level, once they have been


inserted. This is particularly true of the reconnaissance


battalion with its mission in support of the ground combat


element (GCE).


In addition to reviewing reconnaissance organizational


structure to determine the best configuration to handle


both reconnaissance and special operations functions, the


experts are also looking at the issue of our deficient


cavalry capability and lack of mobility. The


configurations they are discussing address all these




Taking a different approach to such a study, on 5


January 1988, the Commandant convened a "think tank" at


Marine CorpsCombat Development Center (MCCDC) to discuss


reconnaissance and other fleet structure issues, and create


a new Fleet Marine Force (FMF) structure to more closely


match the Marine Corps' missions. This Force Structure


Study Group was composed of 29 officers from throughout the


Marine Corps. Their ranks ranged from captain to colonel,


and they represented all facets of the Fleet Marine Force



2Col Patrick G. Collins, USMC, Special Assistant to the

Commandant, interview conducted with the author at the

Education Center on 2 November 1987.


(FMF), including air, ground, combat service support, and


Marine Corps Base personnel.


When the Commandant convened this group, he gave them


some guidelines.3 He wanted an active force with


greater capabilities while reducing the number of Marines.


The active force should focus on constant readiness for low


to mid intensity conflict capabilities, and should not


exceed 134,000 Marines. All elements of the active force


should be capable of deploying anyhere worldwide within 90


days. It should not depend on the mobilization of the


Reserves to be effective.


The group was to also review the Reserve forces, and


tailor their structure to around 43,600. This would bring


the total Marine Corps structure to around 177,000 - a very


cost effective end strength. The total force should then


be capable of general war against fully modern enemies.


The group was to cut the air and combat service


support elements by 2 percent each, and increase the ground


element by about 4 percent. They could do away with mirror


imaging between major commands. But the Commandant


specifically wanted surveillance, reconnaissance, and


intelligence capabilities maximized. ...And they had about


45 days to do all this so the results could be included in


the fiscal year `90 POM process.



3Information concerning the Force Structure Study Group

guidelines provided by G. I. Wilson, Major, USMC, Special

Operations/Low Intensity Conflict Unit, Warfighting Center,

MCCDC, and member of the Study Group.


The group concluded its work in late February,


providing the Commandant with options to meet his


requirements. Although the results of the study are still


under review and have not yet been widely published, the


Commandant has made a decision to pursue the


recommendations concerning the reconnaissance


structure.4 Some of those recommendations include the




First, the fourth company within the division


reconnaissance battalion is to be reactivated. This will


give the division a stronger, more flexible reconnaissance


capability, with plenty of depth in expertise,


Second, a surveillance, reconnaissance, and


intelligence group is to be formed within each of the three


Marine Expeditionary Forces, to work for the force


commander. This group will contain a headquarters and


service company which will include structure for a special


operations training group (SOTG), radio battalion with


enhanced structure to include two radio reconnaissance


platoons and an aerial reconnaissance platoon,


communications battalion, force reconnaissance company


expanded to include direct action platoons, remote piloted


vehicle (RPV) company, air and naval gunfire company


(ANGLICO) with enhanced structure, and an intelligence



4Department of the Navy; Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps

Chief of Staff Memorandum 5000 SPD/PAT of 9 March 1988.



company. The intelligence company will bring under one


colander a force imagery interpretation unit, topographic


platoon, a counterintelligence team, an


interrogator-translator team, a sensor control and


management platoon (SCAMP), a tactical deception platoon,


and the personnel and equipment of the intelligence


analysis center. "5


These units will be coordinated to provide a combined,


well integrated intelligence gathering capability for the


force. They will be utilized through the use of


taskorganized detachments provided to deploying Marine


Air-Ground Task Forces (MAGTFs).


Several structural options for the force


reconnaissance company were provided to the Commandant.


The configuration that has been subsequently briefed and


that is most likely to be implemented in some form is shown


in figure 8-2. It shows a total of 11 platoons, broken


down into 6 traditional long range reconnaissance platoons


that will carry out the traditional reconnaissance


missions, and 5 direct action platoons that will be


specially configured and trained to carry out special


operations missions in support of the MEU (SOC) concept.


In the final configuration, these numbers may vary.


But whatever the breakdown ultimately decided, it is



5Quote comes from Creation of a Surveillance/Reconnais-

sance/Intelligence Group, a working paper prepared during

the conference.



important to note that the overlap in missions at the force


reconnaissance company level is solved by the creation of


these new platoons. Now the reconnaissance platoons can


maintain their long range reconnaissance skills, and the


direct action platoons can focus on those special skills


required to carry out direct action missions. Highly


perishable skills on both sides can get the time and


attention they deserve to be viable.


As with the structure issues, the Commandant has a


small pocket of duty experts working on a reconnaissance


training program.6 The approach here is to completely


restructure the training, using a building block approach.


The training for the reconnaissance Marine is closely tied


to the new Basic Warrior Training. The potential


reconnaissance Marine, like all Marines, will begin with a


12 week recruit training course which will dwell primarily


on individual Marine Corps skills and knowledge. Recruit


training will be followed by a 4 week School of Infantry,


which will emphasize more collective skills, such as basic


fire team tactics, where the Marine learns to operate as an


integrated member of a unit. From the School of Infantry,


the Marines assigned combat service support military


occupational specialties (MOS) will go to their MOS



6Training information provided by Col Patrick G. Collins,

USMC, Special Assistant to the Commandant, interview

conducted with the author at Command and Staff College on 19

February 1988.



schools. The combat and combat support Marines then go


through several more weeks learning MOS 0311 skills in more


depth. Finally, the combat support Marines are sent to


their respective MOS schools, and the infantry Marines


reach the final basic building block, a short course


designed to polish the 0311 skills and teach crew served


weapons skills. After this course, they will be assigned


to their fleet infantry unit.


Note that none of these Marines are assigned to


reconnaissance organizations. There is a strong conviction


that to be good at reconnaissance, a Marine must first be


skilled and seasoned in basic infantry skills. There is


also a quality that has thus far eluded identification and


measurement. Because of the reconnaissance Marine's


mission to conduct deep, long range reconnaissance, often


behind enemy lines, but always in isolation from friendly


forces, it takes a strong degree of maturity and a special


independence of character to withstand the unique stress


that isolation and "present danger" create. The additional


requirements of the MEU (SOC) direct action type missions


especially require this quality, And the Commandant's


planners are trying to find a way to screen for this


quality in the reconnaissance training process.


While they are brainstorming ways to identify and


measure such special qualities, the planners are moving


forward with the next step in evaluating the more basic


reconnaissance skills. Armed with a completed task


analysis, they are now starting from the beginning in


analyzing exactly what a reconnaissance Marine should be


able to do, and what is the best way to train him. When


they have completed this analysis, they will begin to build


an all new training program tailored to meet those needs.


In their search for more streamlined, tailored


training, these planners intend to coordinate with the Navy


Special Warfare Training Center to explore interfaces in


their training requirements. They plan to also review what


training is to be shared from Army resources. Then they


will build a program that the reconnaissance Marine will go


through before he becomes qualified in MOS 0321,


reconnaissance man. This training will result in his


qualification in MOS 0321 as a primary MOS, vice its


current secondary MOS status. The primary status will


require some changes in the enlisted infantry occupational


field structure, but they, too, have been mapped out for




The planners anticipate that the major portion of this


work can be completed within the next 6 months. By that


time, they will have a definite idea where they intend to


take the reconnaissance training. Implementation times


will then be dependent upon how long the intra-Marine Corps


and interservice coordinations will take.


One thing is certain: the approach to solving the


training problems is an all-encompassing one, starting from


the ground up. It will not be a piecemeal efforts The end


result will be that the potential reconnaissance Marine


will undergo comprehensive screening and training prior to


his utilization within the reconnaissance organization.


The reconnaissance commander will be able to delete the


scheduling problems created by the current decentralized


training methods from his list of challenges, and can deal


more completely with the missions he must accomplish.


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The MEU (SOC) mission is a solid, integral part of


contemporary Marine Corps operations. Although still in


its infancy, with special attention and nurturing, it is


maturing in relatively good health.


In researching this paper, the author expected to find


disparities between-the theoretical concept of MEU (SOC)


and its practical application in real life; particularly


with regard to its impact on reconnaissance. As the


previous chapters attest, there are numerous "mismatches"


between what is expected of reconnaissance organizations,


and for what they can realistically train and prepare to


carry out. The additional direct action missions carry a


heavy burden in specialized skills and equipment that can


only impact adversely on the maintenance of their


traditional reconnaissance and surveillance skills. This


conclusion was no surprise.


What is surprising, is that not only does an intimate


knowledge of those disparities exist within the command


structure; but that there are definite ideas - and plans -


to correct many of them at the higher levels within


Headquarters. Specifically, those individuals who are


developing the final changes in the MEU (SOC) doctrine are


in positions of influence that will help them overcome the


bureaucracy that normally resists change in any form.


Under General Grays these planners have been given


full rein to move as quickly as possible to complete the


planning and implementation process to bring the MEU (SOC)


mission to its full fruition. These planners are often


working independently of the staffs that would normally


handle various aspects of these changes. Although the


routine use of this tactic would eventually cause chaos


within a large organization, in this case it is cutting


through a lot of red tape.


As a result, all the issues identified in previous


chapters are under discussion, and moving toward


solutions. The issue of personnel turbulence within the


reconnaissance organizations has been addressed to all


commanding generals at the General Officers' Symposium. It


was also a topic in General Gray's first report to


Congress, where he emphasized the need to "create cohesive,


stable units by eliminating-personnel turbulence." And his


Manpower Division has been tasked to provide a plan of


action to lessen the turbulence, with a milestone schedule


for completion.1


The problems created by the locally driven training


programs, where young Marines often report to


reconnaissance organizations with no prior experience, are



1Department of the Navy; Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps

Chief of Staff Memorandum 5000 SPD/PAT of 9 March 1988.



moving toward resolution. The inception of the basic


warrior training, and the planned follow-on training


tailored for reconnaissance Marines, will develop a young


Marine who has been screened, trained in reconnaissance


skills, and is ready to perform his mission when he joins


the organization.


And the biggest problem - the mismatch between the


size and capabilities of the reconnaissance organizations


and the numbers of specialized missions they are required


to perform - that, too, is now being resolved. The Force


Structure Study Group developed a reconnaissance structure


that can capably handle all the missions it is tasked to


perform. The direct action platoons developed within the


surveillance, reconnaissance, and intelligence groups'


force reconnaissance companies will handle those special


missions created as part of the MEU (SOC) concept.


Meanwhile, the long range reconnaissance mission remains in


tact with the traditional force reconnaissance platoons


once again available to undertake it. And the division's


reconnaissance capability is increased by the reactivation


of the fourth reconnaissance company.


Through the interviews held to obtain information for


this paper, the author learned that there are as many


opinions concerning what constitutes the health of the MEU


(SOC) mission and reconnaissance organizations as there are


staffers working the issues. Not everyone shares the


Commandant's perceptions, views, and sense of urgency


concerning the MEU (SOC) mission.


For example, there is still considerable discussion


about the "elitism issue." Many staffers hesitate to


manipulate the structure, training process, or assignment


policies. Some are in fear of creating an "elite force"


within the Marine Corps. Others don't believe that there


is anything innately special or different in the direct


action missions that a well trained infantry rifleman


couldn't perform.


From the beginning of the planning process for the MEU


(SOC) doctrine, planners have been careful to choose only


those special operations missions that fit into the Marine


Corps role in supporting national security. The whole


development of the MEU (SOC) concept has been based on


increasing levels of expertise within the Fleet Marine


Force structure - a building block approach.


The Commandant is adamant in his belief that the


Marine Corps is responsible for carrying out national


security policies within the amphibious environment,


especially where they relate to any island nations.2 If


the Corps is to carry out special operations missions like


the in-extremis hostage rescue in such locales, it must be


well trained, tested, and able to carry them out at a



2Source who provided this information identified in

author's personal notes.



moment's notice. Mistakes would mean failure by the Marine


Corps to carry out advertised capabilities, And as


discussed earlier, many of these capabilities and skills


are highly perishable.


Motor transport mechanics go to school to learn


mechanic skills. Marines in aviation supply administration


attend schools to learn these special skills. However,


there is no connotation of "elitism" simply because they


have skills that the infantry rifleman lacks. It seems


only logical that the Marine Corps should also cultivate


those special skills the reconnaissance Marines need to


successfully complete the MEU (SOC) missions. That is not


encouraging elitism; it is training an identified group of


Marines to accomplish a specific mission, and it makes




It is only with well trained, qualified Marines that


the Marine Corps can creditably carry out MEU (SOC)


capabilities. To accept - intentionally develop - a


structure and training program that offers inferior skills


is to also ensure inferior results.


Nonetheless, the elitism issue continues to impact on


the speed and completeness with which the reconnaissance


issues are being dealt. And so, in this case, it is


probably just as well that the Commandant has some special


staff officers assigned to continue the implementation of


the MEU (SOC) program within the Marine Corps. He has been


very vocal in remonstrating the Headquarters for its


bureaucratic red tape, and he will certainly continue to


press to keep this new mission from bogging down.


The next three years promise to be full of change and


growth; not only for the reconnaissance organizations, but


for the Marine Corps as a whole. The creative thinkers


within the ranks now have an opportunity to impact on the


relative health of the Corps as they never have before. It


is in this environment that MEU (SOC) will grow to


fruition, as will the more specialized maritime special


purpose force (MSPF). And it is in this environment that


reconnaissance organizations will finally reemerge as


professionally trained forces with mature skills whose


employment is vital to the prosecution of the Marine Corps'






Primary Sources




Aldrich, Robert, Federal Bureau of Investigation. Inter-

view conducted with the author at Headquarters, U.S.

Marine Corps on 9 December 1987.

Provided information concerning assistance generally

provided by the FBI as training "consultants,"

especially in the area of urban reconnaissance and

operations. The FBI has access to urban training

facilities which the Marine Corps would otherwise

have to do without.


Blankenship, Dennis R., LtCol, USMC, Special Assistant

to the Commandant. Interview conducted with the

author at Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps on 16

December 1987.

Provided a wealth of information regarding the

background and development of MEU (SOC), its

current status, and future plans. Discussed

philosophy behind pursuit of greater special

operations capabilities within the Marine Corps,

and where that philosophy is leading us.


Collins, Patrick G., Col, USMC, Special Assistant to the

Commandant. Interviews conducted with the author at

Command and Staff College, Marine Corps Combat

Development Command on 2 November 1987, and 19 and 22

February 1988.

Gave specific background information on the philosophy

behind the development of MEU (SOC), along with infor-

mation and ideas concerning what the future holds for

reconnaissance in the MEU (SOC)/MSPF environment.

Special emphasis was placed on the future training

requirements under development for reconnaissance



Duncan, Jr., W. G., Major, USMC, former Squadron Operations

Officer, 22d MEU (SOC). Interview conducted with the

author at Command and Staff College, Marine Corps

Combat Development Command, on 17 December 1987.

Gave insight into into operational training aspects

of standing up a MEU (SOC). Discussed comparisons

of theory versus practice. Major Duncan helped

develop tactics for carrying out the new MEU (SOC)



Jackson, Gordon R., Major, USMC, Ground Combat Requirements

Branch, Operations Division, Headquarters, U.S.

Marine Corps. Interview conducted with the author

at Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps on 3 December 1987.

Discussed impact of MEU (SOC) on reconnaissance,

especially force reconnaissance company, with regard

to training and operations. Explained plans for

adjusting force structure within the Marine Corps to

accomodate the needs of reconnaissance. Discussed

new equipment, and possibly, new structure.


Keys, William M., BGEN, USMC, Director, Personnel

Management Division, Headquarters, U.S. Marine

Corps. Interview conducted with the author at

Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps on 21 December


BGen Keys acknowledged that there were some

changes under discussion with regard to

reconnaissance; but was reluctant to discuss them

before research and review were completed and a

course of action decided. He indicated that

Congressionally mandated strength cuts may have

further adverse impact on any plans/proposals, and

that by Spring, all these factors should be molded

into a course of action.


McCormick, Ray M., LtCol, USMC, Low Intensity Conflict

Instructor, Command and Staff College and former

Commanding Officer, 2d Reconnaissance Battalion.

Interview conducted with the author at Command

and Staff College, Marine Corps Combat Development

Command on 13 November 1987.

Good start on background of LIC and Special Opera-

tions. Also provided some personal insights from a

reconnaissance battalion commander' s perspective.

Finally, gave some thoughts on the "ideal' recon-

naissance organization - what would work, and what

would not work.


Tehan, William J., LtCol, USMC, former Commanding

Officer of 3d Reconnaissance Battalion, and member of

other reconnaissance units. Interview conducted

with the author at Marine Corps Combat Development

Command on 27 January 1988.

Discussed background and changes within the recon-

naissance community. He was especially helpful in

helping me solidify thoughts concerning training

requirements and streamlining of the "pipeline."


Western, T. F., Capt, USMC, Reconnaissance Officer, Marine

Corps Research, Development, and Acquisition Command

(MCRDAC), and former Executive Officer, 2d Force

Reconnaissance Company. Interview conducted with the

author at Marine Corps Research, Development, and

Acquisition Command (MCRDAC) on 30 December 1987.

Provided a wealth of information, both as Reconnais-

sance Officer at MCRDAC, and as a force reconnais-

sance company executive officer. Showed author

samples of many new equipment items being tested

and/or fielded. Discussed training/readiness

problems, schools, etc.


Wilson, G. I., Major, USMC, Special Operations/Low

Intensity Conflict Unit, Warfighting Center, Marine

Corps Combat Development Center. Interview conducted

with the author at the Warfighting Center on 18 March


Provided valuable information and insight into the

results of the Force Structure Study Group's recom-

mendations concerning the surveillance, reconnais-

sance, and intelligence group development.


Doctrinal Publications. etc.


Commandant of the Marine Corps. "ALMAR 023/88 Change of

Marine Corps Task Unit Designations." Washington,

D.C., msg 031956Z Feb 88.

Changed Marine Amphibious Unit (Special Operations

Capable) to Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special

Operations Capable).


Department of the Navy; Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps

Chief of Staff Memorandum 5000 SPD/PAT of 9 March


Document that assigned responsibility to various staff

agencies within the headquarters to create plans of

action and milestones (POAM) to implement those

portions of the Force Structure Study Group recom-

mendations that have been approved by the Commandant.


Department of the Navy; Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps.

Fleet Marine Force Manual (FMFM) 2-2. Amphibious

Reconnaissance. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government

Printing Office, 1981.

Provided the doctrinal base for reconnaissance

organizational structures, missions, and capabilities.

Used as the basis for comparison with the new opera-

tional concept which provides the MEU (SOC) missions.


Department of the Navy; Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps.

Fleet Marine Force Manual (FMI'M) 8-1. Special

Operations. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government

Printing Office, 1984.

Provided USMC doctrine on special operations.


Department of the Navy; Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps.

Fleet Marine Force Manual (FMFM) 8-2. Counterinsur-

gency Operations. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government

Printing Office, 1980.


Provided USMC doctrine on counterinsurgency opera



Department of the Navy; Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps.

"Operational Concept for Marine Amphibious Units

Being Special Operations Capable." Unpublished draft

as of this writing.

Used as the basis for determining changes in the role

of reconnaissance as a result of the new MEU (SOC)

mission. Contained in-depth information on the expec-

tations for MEU (SOC) capabilities.


Department of the Navy; Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps.

Special Operations/Low Intensity Conflict Directorate

brief and recommended table of organization currently

under staffing at Headquarters, U.S Marine Corps.

Provided information on the structural foundation that

will support new MEU (SOC) and other special opera-

tions efforts within the Corps.


Force Structure Study Group. Creation of a Surveillance/

Reconnaissance/Intelligence Group. Working paper

prepared during the study.

Provided background concerning the development of the

surveillance, reconnaissance, and intelligence group.


Headquarters, Department of the Army. Field Manual (FM

100-20) Low Intensity Conflict. Washington, D.C.:

U.S. Government Printing Office, 1982.

Provided background information on low intensity

conflict in general.


Joint Chiefs of Staff. Department of Defense Dictionary

of Military and Associated Terms (JCS Pub 1).

Washington, D.C.: U.S. Governemnt Printing Office,


Provided several key definitions on low intensity

conflict and special operations.






Secondary Sources




Barnett, Frank R.; B. Hugh Tovar; and Richard H. Shultz.

Special Operations in U.S. Strategy. Washington,

D.C.: National Defense University Press, 1984.

This was the book which aroused my curiosity on how

the Marine Corps is dealing with its reconnaissance

assets in conducting special operations and handling

low intensity conflict. It is a summary of the

discussions held at the symposium sponsored in March

1983 sponsored by the National Strategy Information

Center, the National Securities Study Program at

Georgetown University, and the National Defense

University. The symposium was entitled, "The Role

of Special Operations in U.S. Strategy for the



Beckwith, Charlie A., Col., USA(Ret). Delta Force.

New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1983.

Book provided information on the development of the

Army's counterterrorism unit. Of particular interest

were the descriptions of the selection process they

developed, and the types of training they conducted.


Collins, John M. Green Berets. SEALs & Spetsnaz: U.S.

& Soviet Military Operations. Washington, D.C.:

Pergamon-Brassey's International Defense Publishers,


Outstanding reference for comparison of low intensity

conflict participation/sponsorship, and special

operations capabilities, both U.S. and Soviet.


Davis, Burke. Marine! The Life of LtGen Lewis B. (Chesty)

Puller. USMC (Ret). Boston: Little, Brown and

Company, 1962.

Gave examples of campaigns in which Chesty Puller

participated, in both Nicaragua and Haiti, which were

counterinsurgency operations in nature.


U.S. Air Force, Air University. Low-Intensity Conflict.

The Hidden Challenge. Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Air

Command and Staff College, 1986.

Contained articles of interest concerning many

aspects of low intensity conflict. Also had

spectrum of conflict chart, which tied in to my

discussion in Chapter 8.


Smith, Charles R. Marines in the Revolution: A History of

the Continental Marines in the American Revolution

1775-1783. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing

Office, 1975.

Had history of first amphibious raid, which I used as

background in my paper.


Magazine Articles, Papers


Anderson, Jr., A. E., LtCol, USMC(Ret). "The Corps and

Special Operations." Marine Corps Gazette, Vol.

69, Iss. 12, December 1985, pp. 16-17.

Author argued that conventional MAGTF is designed

to handle special operations missions. Showed

examples from Vietnam, Iran, Beirut, etc.


Coates, Robert J., Capt., USMC. "Does Reconnaissance

Need Fixing?" Marine Corps Gazette. Vol. 72, Iss. 1,

January 1988, pp. 47-48.

Discussed requirement for reconnaissance Marines to

1) get entry level training, 2) better screening, and

3) a special MOS. Good logic.


Fox, Wesley J., Col.1 USMC. "Fixing the Reconnaissance

Problem." Marine Corps Gazette. Vol. 72, Iss. 1,

January 1988, pp. 44-47.

Good article. Followed thinking to reconf igure

reconnaissance organizations to better handle MEU

(SOC) roles.


Hensman, Jonathan R., LtCol, Royal Marines. "Taking

Terrorism, Low-Intensity Conflict, and Special

Operations in Context." Marine Corps Gazette.

Vol. 71, Iss. 2, February 1987, pp. 44-50.

Good analysis of low intensity conflict and its

relevance for the Marine Corps. It contained

discussion on the need for more training at all

levels within the Marine Corps.


Kelley, F. X., General, USMC. "The Marine Corps and

Special Operations." Marine Corps Gazette. Vol.

69, Iss. 10, October 1985, pp. 22-23.

Excellent article for developing a foundation in my

paper. Expressed the Commandant's logic for why and

how he intends to expand the MEU's role to MEU (SOC).


Leeper, Arthur J., Capt, USMC. "Armored Reconnaissance

Battalion." Marine Corps Gazette. Vol. 72, Iss. 1,

January 1988, pp. 49-52.

Interesting discussion of marriage between light

armored vehicle battalion and reconnaissance. Fits

into the idea of "expanded cavalry" capability -

better tactical mobility, etc.


Melshen, Paul, Major, USMCR. "Taking on Low-Intensity

Conflicts." Marine Corps Gazette. Vol. 71, Iss, 1,

January 1987, pp. 44-50.

Good philosophical discussion of the Marine Corps'

place in carrying out low intensity conflict in

behalf of the U.S., however, it had no specific

thoughts or recommendations regarding the employment

of reconnaissance.


Murdock, Harry M., Major, USMC. "MAU (SOC) - A Powerful

Maritime Force." Marine Corps Gazette. Vol. 71,

Iss. 8, August 1987, pp. 66-71.

Good discussion of "MAGTF" aspect of MEU (SOC),

especially each element's part in the functioning

of the whole.


Rylander, R. Lynn. "The Future of Marines in Small Wars.

Paper presented at the Center for Naval Analyses 1986

Sea Power Forum on the Marine Corps.

Provided good information about the MEU (SOC) capabil-

ities. Discussed the threat, U.S. strategy, and then

fit the Marines' role into that picture.


Tomka, Thomas G., WO, USMC. "The Future MAU (SOC)."

Marine Corps Gazette. Vol. 70, Iss. 3, March 1986,

pp. 41-42.

Made some recommendations on how to make MEU (SOC)

more effective in its counterterrorism role. Gave

many historic examples of special operations missions

the Corps has performed.


Trainor, B. E., LtGen, USMC(Ret). "Recon Operations

in Southeast Asia 1970-1971." Marine Corps Gazette.

Vol. 70, Iss. 5, May 1988, pp. 54-59.

Good historical perspective on how reconnaissance

teams were employed in Vietnam.


Walker, Anthony, Col., USMC(Ret). "Reconnaissance and

Light Armor." Marine Corps Gazette. Vol. 72, Iss. 1,

January 1988, pp. 52-54.

Discussed "marriage" between reconnaissance and light

armored vehicle organizations in terms of increased

mobility, cavalry functions, etc.


Western, T. F., Capt, USMC. "Countering Terrorism

with the MAU." Marine Corps Gazette. Vol. 70, Iss.

3, March 1986, pp. 40-41.

Advised caution in deploying MEUs in some special

operations. They are not highly trained enough to

handle some missions. Discussed weaknesses in in-

serting reconnaissance assets with current aviation

capabilities. Concluded that doctrine must be dev-

eloped to cover MEU roles in countering terrorism.


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One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger - by Matthew Yglesias