The Marine Corps' Role In Joint Special Operations: Are We Elite Enough?
SUBJECT AREA - Operations
Title: The Marine Corps' Role In Joint Special Operation: Are
We Elite Enough?
Author: Major James B. Laster, U.S. Marine Corps
Thesis: The nation's unified command responsible for special
operation is deprived of the unique maritime capabilities of
Marine Corps forces. The nation and Marine Corps would benefit
by providing certain Marine units to the U.S. Special Operations
Background: The U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) is a
unified combatant command that exercises command over Navy, Army,
and Air Force special operations forces based in the continental
United States. Unlike the other unified commands, USSOCOM is
responsible for the training, combat readiness, and certain
administrative functions of assigned forces. As a result, the
Marine Corps is reluctant to assign forces to USSOCOM for fear
that the Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF) commander would
relinquish authority and responsibility to train and equip his
forces. The U.S. Navy Sea-Air-Land Forces (SEALs) have profited
by their relationship with USSOCOM and have actually expanded in
their roles and functions within the naval service. This
expansion has in many ways caused unnecessary duplication between
the Navy and Marine Corps to the extent that we now have two
naval infantries. The reason for this is simple; the USSOCOM
requires a maritime special operations team, and the SEALs are
the only players eligible for the draft. Providing certain
units, such as the force reconnaissance direct action platoons,
would increase the Marine Corps' employment in a maritime
situation and would increase interoperability with special
operations forces during joint campaigns.
Recommendation: The Marine Corps should provide direct action
platoons of the force reconnaissance companies, radio
reconnaissance platoons of the radio battalions, and riverine
assault craft units to USSOCOM. Another viable solution is to
integrate these units with the U.S. Navy Special Warfare Command
to form a Maritime Special Warfare Command that reports to
THE MARINE CORPS' ROLE IN JOINT SPECIAL OPERATIONS:
ARE WE ELITE ENOUGH?
Thesis: The nation's unified command responsible for special
operations is deprived of the unique maritime capabilities of the
Marine Corps forces. The nation and Marine Corps would benefit
by providing certain Marine units to the U.S. Special Operations
I. Historical overview of special operations
A. Background and origin of commando units
B. Effectiveness and strategic value of special operations
II. Background of U.S. Special Operations Forces
A. Roles and functions prior to 1986
B. Reform and reorganization
1. 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Act
2. 1987 Public Law 100-180
3. 1988 Public Law 100-456
C. Establishment of the U.S. Special operations Command
1. Organizational structure
2. Functions and responsibilities
III. Marine Corps special operations capabilities
A. Unique characteristics of the Marine Air-Ground Task
B. Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable)
C. Subordinate Marine units which meet special operations
IV. Marine Corps' role and relationship to U.S. Special
A. Marine Corps' position regarding assignment of forces
B. SEALs, Marines, and the Maritime Special Purpose Force
C. Disadvantages and problems of assigning Marine forces
D. Advantages of assigning Marine forces to USSOCOM
THE MARINE CORPS' ROLE IN JOINT SPECIAL OPERATIONS:
ARE WE ELITE ENOUGH?
The Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF) and subordinate
units are inherently suited and capable of conducting special
operations; however, Marine forces are not currently assigned
under the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM). The
nation's unified command responsible for special operations is
deprived of the unique maritime capabilities of Marine Corps
forces. The nation and Marine Corps would benefit by providing
certain Marine units to the U.S. Special Operations Command.
Why has the Marine Corps resisted pressure and invitation to
provide forces to USSOCOM? This paper analyzes the problem from
a historical perspective and offers solutions that will give the
nation an extremely versatile maritime special operations
The United States military has a long and colorful history
of conducting unconventional warfare and special operations.
From the light infantry operations of Nathaniel Greene in the
Revolutionary War to the cross border operations of USSOCOM in
the Persian Gulf, the United States has always required forces
capable of conducting strategic operations in support of national
policy objectives. Until establishment of USSOCOM, the nation's
political and military leaders were traditionally hesitant to
commit military force to unconventional conflicts and fund the
operations of special or elite organizations.1 The American
military is structured around very traditional and conventional
doctrine. The bold initiative displayed by special units is
unacceptable to many conventional commanders since they lose
The origin of special operations and unconventional warfare
dates back to the raids by Rome's Legions against Hannibal.
Tacticians have always known the value of attacking an enemy in
his rear area. As armies became larger, they also became
vulnerable due to their long supply lines and inability to break
away from support bases. Liddell Hart refers to surprise attacks
and raids in the rear area as strategic dislocation by which the
enemy is forced to divert his attention away from his main
Many techniques of raiding and unconventional warfare were
derived from observing native cultures. The Zulu tribe in Africa
was exceptionally skilled in conducting raids against the
British, and the American Indians wrecked havoc on the U.S.
1Frank R. Barnett, Richard H. Schultz, and B. Hugh Tovan
ed., Special Operations in U.S. Strategy (Washington, D.C.:
National Defense University Press and National Strategy
Information Center Inc., 1984), pp. 263-264.
2Lieutenant Colonel Keith R. Grimes, Small Force - Big
Impact, The Strategic Value of World War II Raiding Forces
(Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania: U.S. Army War College, 1972),
3Ibid., pp. 6-7.
Cavalry with only small bands of warriors.4 The word commando
was first used during the 1899-1909 Boer War in South Africa.
The Dutch Boers formed light irregular units that dispersed
throughout the countryside and conducted hit and run ambush
tactics against the British Army. By the height of the war in
1902, 250,000 British soldiers were being tied down and
constantly harassed by only 25,000 Boers. The British were
finally forced to organize their own special commando units to
adapt and counter the unconventional techniques of the Boers.5
With the exception of the Raider Battalions during World War
II, the Marine Corps has resisted creating special units and has
historically adapted and task organized to the situation. The
Seminole Indian campaign in Florida, counterinsurgency in
Nicaragua, and civic action programs in Vietnam are but a few
examples of the Marine Corps' ability to wage unconventional
The United States Army also hesitated to establish permanent
special units and would often disband them at the conclusion of a
conflict. It wasn't until the creation of the Office of
Strategic Services (OSS) during World War II that the Army began
to change its attitude toward special operations units. Major
problems were caused, however, by ad hoc grouping of units, and
activities were rarely coordinated with the operations of other
4Ibid., pp. 1-2.
5Bruce Hoffman, Commando Raids: 1946-1983 (Santa Monica,
California: The Rand Corporation, 1985), pp. 4-5.
services and agencies. In an attempt to correct these problems,
President Truman created the Central Intelligence Group (CIG) in
1946, and the National Security Act of 1947 formally established
the CIG as the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The Central
Intelligence Agency's involvement in special operations and
unconventional warfare expanded in size and scope during the
Korean War. This expansion led to the creation of the U.S. Army
Special Forces and the U.S. Navy Sea-Air-Land (SEAL) Forces by
the Kennedy Administration.6
Special operations units will most likely assume a much
greater role in the next decade. The breakup of the Soviet Union
has caused numerous low intensity conflicts among factions and
cultures. Additionally, Soviet military weapons, particularly
nuclear weapons, are not properly controlled and may be sold to
countries that have hostile intentions toward the United States
and our allies. Future budget cuts in intelligence programs and
national reconnaissance assets will dictate the critical
requirement for special reconnaissance and strike operations.
Deep reconnaissance teams may in fact replace our technical
collection assets. Special operations units will also grow
increasingly important to counter sophisticated state sponsored
terrorism. Future low intensity conflicts may also pose
political and diplomatic gray areas in which unconventional
6Barnett, pp. 264-268.
forces and security assistance offers the only viable options to
our political leaders.7
As a result of the failed Iran hostage rescue attempt in
1980 by ad hoc joint special operations forces, the Holloway
Commission report cited that failure was largely caused by
service parochialism. The investigation revealed that individual
services interfered with the task organization and overall
function of the operation. The investigation also identified the
need for a specific organization and focus on low intensity
conflict and special operations.8
Prior to the Iran hostage situation, special operations were
conducted by either a single service or by an ad hoc organization
of several services. A single command to coordinate training and
operations of all special operations forces did not exist. The
Son Tay prison camp raid in 1970 is an example of a single
service operation that involved only 56 U.S. Army Special Forces
soldiers who flew in helicopters from Thailand to North Vietnam.9
A single service operation normally has the greatest chances for
success because the chain of command is clearly established and
understood by the forces. The Son Tay operation, however, was
relatively simple, covered a short distance over land, and did
7Ross S. Kelly, Special Operations and National Purpose
(Lexington, Massachusetts: Lexington Books, 1989), pp. 159-162.
8U.S. Government Accounting Office, Report to the Chairman,
Senate Armed Services Committee on Special Operations Command;
Progress in Implementing Legislative Mandates, Washington, D.C.,
28 September 1990, pp. 5-6.
9Hoffman, p. 46.
not require the expertise of the other services. The U.S.
merchant ship Mayaquez rescue and raid on Koh Tang Island in 1975
required the participation and expertise of the Navy, Marine
Corps, and Air Force. Although the ship and crew were recovered,
the expedient and ad hoc assembly of the forces caused major
problems. The helicopterborne raid force consisted of 213
Marines from Okinawa who were quickly assembled and moved to
Thailand. The Marine force then linked-up with a U.S. Air Force
helicopter squadron and conducted the raid with little or no
The ad hoc nature of the Iranian rescue operation was driven
by the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff for operational security
reasons. General Jones feared that Soviet intelligence would key
on the movement of several regular units and this resulted in his
decision to task organize from several different services.
General Jones was known to task organize special units in this
manner in order to circumvent the bureaucracy and parochialism of
the services.11 The Holloway Commission report cited that this
ad hoc function caused shortfalls in command and control due to a
foggy chain of command. The report also identified inadequacies
in joint special operations planning and training.12
10Ibid., pp. 46-47.
11John E. Valliere, "Disaster at Desert One: Catalyst for
Change," Parameters (Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania: U.S. Army
War College, Autumn 1992), pp. 76-77.
12U.S. GAO Report, p. 5.
To correct the deficiencies of U.S. forces to conduct joint
special operations, Congress enacted the Cohen-Nunn Amendment of
the Goldwater Nichols Act of 1986. The law in general
facilitated the integration of all the services in joint
operations. In particular, the Cohen-Nunn Amendment established
the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special
Operations and Low Intensity Conflict (ASD, SO/LIC) and the
USSOCOM.13 USSOCOM is a unified combatant command that exercises
command over all special operations forces based in the
continental United States. The Command was activated in April
1987, and its headquarters is located at MacDill Air Force Base
in Tampa, Florida. The Commander in Chief (CINC) of USSOCOM
exercises combatant command (COCOM) over Navy, Army, and Air
Force special operations forces.14
Subsequent Congressional hearings and testimony discovered
resistance within the services to implement the legislation.
Congress followed-up by enacting additional legislation to force
the Department of Defense to integrate special operations
capabilities as a joint team. Public Law 100-180 was enacted in
December 1987 and directed the Secretary of Defense to provide
appropriate resources to USSOCOM. The law also gave the CINC of
USSOCOM head of agency authority and established the Command's
Inspector General. Head of agency authority is significant
13General Carl W. Stiner, "U.S. Special Operations Forces: A
Strategic Perspective," Parameters (Carlisle Barrcks,
Pennsylvania: U.S. Army War College, Autum 1992), pp. 76-77.
14U.S. GAO Report, pp. 76-77.
because it charges the CINC with the responsibility of developing
and acquiring equipment and supplies peculiar to special
operations.15 In Septebber 1988, Congress enacted additional
legislation to ensure further reform within the special
operations community. Public Law 100-456 mandated the following
additional responsibilities to CINC, USSOCOM:
- Submit budget proposals to the Secretary of Defense for
assigned special operations forces.
- Manage and control funds for all special operations
- Insure combat readiness of assigned special operations
- Monitor the combat readiness of special operations
forces while operational control is under another
unified combatant commander.l6
The law established the following missions to USSOCOM:
- Conduct a special operations activity or mission under
the command of the commander of the unified combatant
command in whose geographic area the activity or
mission is to be conducted, unless otherwise directed
by the President or Secretary of Defense.
- Exercise command of a selected special operations
mission, if directed to do so by the President or
Secretary of Defense.17
A major reason for the Marine Corps' reluctance to assign
forces to USSOCOM is the traditional mindset as a general purpose
force, as well as the view that the Marine Corps does not have
15Ibid., pp. 7-8, 51.
16Ibid., pp. 8-9.
17Ibid., p. 47.
special operations forces per se.18 Unlike the other services,
the Marine Corps' approach to special operations after World War
II was to renew old capabilities and expand training standards
within the existing structure of the Marine Air-Ground Task Force
(MAGTF). New units were not created.
In 1983, the services were tasked by the Secretary of
Defense to develop special operations capabilities to respond to
future acts of terrorism and low intensity conflict. General
P.X. Kelly, Commandant of the Marine Corps, directed the
Commanding General, Fleet Marine Force Atlantic, to develop a
plan to increase the special operations capabilities of the
Marine Corps. General Kelly's guidance and precept in the
development of this plan was that new units would not be created
within the Marine Corps and that the Marine Corps' capabilities
must remain maritime in nature.19
General Alfred M. Gray, the 29th Commandant, solidified the
MAGTF Special Operations Capable (SOC) concept in 1987. The new
training standards mandated that certain MAGTFs must be capable
of conducting maritime special operations to include overt or
clandestine direct action, recovery operations, and special
intelligence and reconnaissance operations.20 General Gray
18Lieutenant Colonel Joseph J. Rogish, Jr., "Do Marines
Belong in USSOCOM?," Marine Corps Gazette, July 1992, pp. 58-59.
19U.S. Marine Corps, MAGTF Warfighting Center Concept
Publication 8-1, Operational Concept for Marine Expeditionary
Units (Special Operations Capable) (Quantico, Virginia: Marine
Corps Combat Development Command), pp. 1-1, 1-2.
20Ibid., pp. 1-1 to 1-6.
testified in March 1989 before the Senate Armed Services
Committee regarding the special operations capabilities of
certain Marine units. He stated that Marine Expeditionary Units
(MEU) were capable of conducting many of the same operations that
legislation requires of USSOCOM. He further stated that the MEU
(SOC) units routinely worked with USSOCOM units to complement and
not compete with USSOCOM roles and functions.21
The Marine Corps is currently classified by JCS Publication
3-05 as a conventional general purpose force, but may be equipped
and tasked organized to conduct certain special operations.22
Joint Chiefs of Staff Publication-1 (JCS Pub-1) defines special
operations as follows:
Operations conducted by specially trained,
equipped, and organized Department of Defense 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 be
prosecuted independently when the use of conventional
forces is either inappropriate or infeasible.
The capabilities of many Marine Corps units fall under this
definition of special operations. In particular, the Marine
Expeditionary Units (Special Operations Capable) MEU (SOC), the
force reconnaissance companies, and the radio reconnaissance
platoons of the radio battalions clearly perform special missions
commensurate with the JCS Pub-1 definition.
21U.S. GAO Report, pp. 17-18.
22Ibid., p. 18.
The MEU (SOC) is a MAGTF of combined arms that uniquely
integrates air and ground combat power and logistics under one
commander of the same service. It is the nation's only special
operations capable force that lives, trains, and forward deploys
as one team. All MAGTFs are capable of conducting certain
special operations; however, the MEU (SOC) is specifically
tailored to complement USSOCOM forces in order to provide the
CINCs with strategic and operational flexibility.23 Each MEU
(SOC) is capable of conducting conventional operations using
combined arms of infantry, armor, artillery, and close air
support. This unique MAGTF is also certified in 21 selective
special missions prior to deploying to a theater of operations.
Included in these special missions is the capability to conduct
in-extremis hostage recovery when time doesn't allow the
deployment of USSOCOM forces.
The MEU (SOC) gives the warfighting CINCs a versatile means
to execute non-linear operations and apply the doctrine of sea-
air-land battle. Its versatility to conduct conventional and
special operations from the sea allows the CINCs to project power
throughout the depth of their theaters. The capability to
conduct over-the-horizon direct action missions and return to
amphibious ships negates requirements for landward support.
Sustainment and the ability to loiter on amphibious ships is
particularly important. Future crises may require a force to
23U.S. Marine Corps, FMFM 1-2, The Role of the Marine Corps
in the National Defense (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government
Printing Office, 1991), pp. 4-5 to 4-8.
posture offshore for a lengthy period of time, conduct
surveillance, and then strike without restrictions of overflight
and landward support requirements.24
Operation Provide Comfort is one of the many operations that
demonstrated the utility of the MEU (SOC). The humanitarian
mission of Provide Comfort implied the use of both conventional
and special operations. The 24th MEU (S0C) enabled the
introduction and sustainment of the joint task force into
northern Iraq. The 24th MEU (SOC) then established a forward
arming and refueling point (FARP) 450 miles into northern Iraq
with 23 helicopters and security to enable the joint task force
to conduct humanitarian assistance to Kurdish refugees.
Subsequently, force reconnaissance Marines and Navy Seals of the
MEU (SOC) Maritime Special Purpose Force (MSPF) were inserted
deep into northern Iraq to conduct surveillance of Iraqi forces.
Battalion Landing Team 2/8 then conducted a conventional
heliborne assault to establish a security zone for the Kurds.
These special and conventional operations were integrated by the
MEU (SOC) commander to enable the MEU Service Support Group
(MSSG) to provide logistics support to the joint and allied
forces and sustain the entire humanitarian effort. The joint and
allied forces, including units of USSOCOM, were incapable of
sustaining themselves without the organic logistics capability of
the 24th MEU (SOC). Once the humanitarian effort was complete,
24Brigadier General Anthony C. Zinni, "Forward Presence and
Stability Missions: The Marine Corps Perspective," Marine Corps
Gazzette, March 1993, pp. 58-61.
the 24th MEU (SOC) covered the withdrawal of U.S. and allied
forces and then returned to amphibious shipping.25
As characterized by Operation Provide Comfort, Army Rangers,
SEALs, and other special operations forces under USSOCOM are not
tailored to provide and sustain the myriad conventional and
special capabilities of the MEU (SOC). Although USSOCOM has
forces more appropriately suited for certain special operations,
they must have time to assemble from different services,
rehearse, and move to the crisis theater. The MEU (SOC) gives
the NCA/CINCs a versatile, forward deployed, and uniquely task
organized team when there is-not time to deploy a special
operations force from the continental United States.
The force reconnaissance company provides significant
special capabilities to the MAGTF. The primary mission of the
force reconnaissance company is to conduct preassault and deep
reconnaissance and surveillance operations in support of the
MAGTF. A secondary mission is to conduct direct action (DA) and
in-extremis hostage recovery (IHR). The company is located
within the Surveillance, Reconnaissance, and Intelligence Group
(SRIG) of the Marine Expeditionary Force. It consists of five
direct action platoons and five deep reconnaissance platoons.
The direct action platoons provide long range direct action and
in-extremis hostage recovery capabilities to the MAGTF commander.
The direct action platoon is structured around three six-man
25Brigadier General James L. Jones, "Operation Provide
Comfort: Humanitarian and Security Assistance in Northern Iraq,"
Marine Corps Gazette, November 1991, pp. 99-107.
assault teams with a total of fifteen teams per company. The
deep reconnaissance platoons conduct deep ground reconnaissance
and surveillance in support of the MAGTF. The Marines of force
reconnaissance company are all highly skilled infantrymen and are
qualified in parachuting, scuba diving, and special close
quarters battle and beaching techniques.26 In the case of the
MEU (SOC), a detachment from the force reconnaissance company is
assigned to the MEU (SOC) commander to provide direct action and
deep reconnaissance and surveillance. This detachment also
serves along with Navy SEALs as the strike unit of the Maritime
Special Purpose Force (MSPF). The MSPF is normally tasked
organized into four elements:
(1) Command element - The commander is selected by the MEU
(2) Covering Unit - This unit normally consists of one or
two rifle companies of the ground combat element that
provides security and covers the withdrawal of the
(3) Strike Unit - This unit is normally a composite force
consisting of Navy SEALs and force reconnaissance
Marines to provide reconnaissance, direct action, and
hostage recovery operations.
(4) Aviation Combat Support Unit - This unit is normally a
composite detachment of the air combat element to
provide air assault, close in fire support, close air
support, and airborne command and control.27
26U.S. Marine Corps, Table of Organization Number 4718, Force
Reconnaissance Company, Surveillance, Reconnaissance and
Intelligence Group, Fleet Marine Force, (Washington, D.C.:
Headquarters Marine Corps), pp. 1-4.
27FMFM 1-2, pp. C-8 to C-9.
The radio reconnaissance platoon of the radio battalion is
also part of the SRIG and is task organized into direct support
teams to conduct signal intelligence (SIGINT) and electronic
warfare operations.28 Members of the platton are airborne
qualified and possess skills necessary for employment in
conjunction with force reconnaissance. A detachment from the
radio reconnaissance platoon normally deploys with the MEU (SOC).
Because of the littoral-brown water threat in several parts
of the world, particularly Latin America, the Marine Corps has
conducted extensive research and exercises to develop expertise
in riverine assault operations. The Marine Corps procured seven
35 ft. riverine assault craft (RAC) and have exercised reinforced
rifle platoons in riverine patrol, raid, and assault operations
in Central America. This concept is regularly exercised in
conjunction with the operations of the U.S. Navy's special boat
units to support the U.S. Southern Command initiatives in
counternarcotics training to numerous Latin American countries.
The Marine forces of Colombia, Peru, Venezuela, Guatemala,
Ecuador, and Argentina have specifically requested the assistance
of the U.S. Marine Corps in developing riverine capabilities.
The primary mission of these Latin American Marine forces is to
combat illicit cocaine operations along the maze of river
networks. These numerous river networks of the Amazon Basin
serve as the principal lines of communications throughout many of
28U.S. Marine Corps, FMFM 3-21, MAGTF Intelligence
Operations, (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office,
1991), pp. 7-19.
the Latin American countries. During the period May to July
1990, the Marine Corps assisted the Colombian Marine Corps in
training a riverine counternarcotics strike force. Since then,
numerous combined U.S. Navy and Marine Corps riverine exercises
have been conducted in numerous Latin American countries to
assist in the development of their riverine interdiction and
assault capabilities. These exercises were requested by both the
country teams and CINC, U.S. Southern Command to enhance the
theater objectives of developing a viable riverine force
capability.29 A significant aspect of these exercises is that
the participation by the U.S. Navy special boat units are under
the command of USSOCOM. Additionally, many joint ancillary
operations are conducted in Latin America by Marines and USSOCOM
SEALs and Army Special Forces working together within the same
The Marine Corps Special Operations and Low Intensity
Conflict Branch (SO/LIC) indicates that Mr. David Locher,
Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations (ASD,
SO/LIC), is currently seeking to establish a Marine Component
Commander and assign Marine forces to USSOCOM. To date, the
Marine Corps has an exemption from assigning forces to USSOCOM.
There are several reasons why the Marine Corps is hesitant to
participate in USSOCOM. Unlike the other unified commands,
29Colonel James Magee, Information Paper prepared for General
A.M. Gray, "Potential Questions That May Be Asked of the CMC
During FY91 Congressional Hearings" (Washington, D.C.:
Headquarters Marine Corps (SO/LIC), 5 February 1991), pp. 3-8.
USSOCOM is responsible for the training, combat readiness, and
certain administrative functions of assigned forces. Training
and combat readiness are normally the responsibility of the
component providing the forces to the unified commander. As a
result, the Marine Corps is reluctant to assign forces to USSOCOM
for fear that the MAGTF commander would relinquish authority and
responsibility to train and equip his forces. Most senior Marine
leaders favor the continued support of USSOCOM operations with
both conventional and special missions, but desire to retain
control of training and administrative functions. In a report to
the Secretary of Defense in Septebber 1989, Admiral Crowe made
the following statement concerning the establishment of USSOCOM:
...In 1950, the military departments became
separate administrative headquarters to provide forces
to the unified and specified commanders who, together
with the national command authorities, now constituted
the chain of command. Recently, we have come full
circle in the evolution of functions with the
establishment of USSOCOM - a command which embodies the
pre-1947 organizations in modern guise as a unified
command with both administrative and combatant
While the foregoing explains the Marine Corps' guarded
position, there are many positive aspects of Marine forces being
assigned to USSOCOM. The Navy SEALs were assigned to USSOCOM
immediately upon its establishment as an operational
headquarters. The SEALs have profited by their relationship with
USSOCOM and have actually expanded in their roles and functions
within the Naval Service.30 This expansion has in many ways
30Rogish, p. 58.
caused unnecessary duplication between the Navy and Marine Corps
to the extent that the nation now has two naval infantries. The
traditional function of the Navy SEALs was to conduct
hydrographic reconnaissance and other pre-assault tasks in
support of amphibious operations. Over the last several years,
SEALs have added the following ground operations to their menu:
- Direct Action (DA)
- Counterterrorism (CT)
- Foreign Internal Defense/Mobile Training Teams (FID/MTT)
The problem is that SEALs are not properly trained in the
infantry skills, tactics, and techniques required to conduct
complex infantry-related operations of direct action and raids.
The lack of infantry skills were noted during the SEALs
participation in Operation Just Cause, and General Stiner
subsequently mandated that all SEAL officers attend the U.S. Army
Ranger School. Additionally, the Navy Special Warfare Command is
requesting to send SEAL officers to the Marine Corps Infantry
Officers Course at The Basic School.31 The reason for this is
simple; the USSOCOM requires a maritime special operations team,
and the SEALs are the only players eligible for the draft.
General Stiner, Commander in Chief, U.S. Special Operations
Command recently stated that USSOCOM forces were involved in many
31Major John R. Allen, Information Paper, "Attendance of U.S.
Navy Special Warfare Officers (SEALs) at the Infantry Officers
Course" (Quantico, Virginia: The Basic School, Marine Corps
Combat Development Command, 8 November 1991), pp. 1-5.
of the same operations predominantly conducted by Marine forces
such as Eastern Exit, Sea Angel, and Provide Comfort.32 Finally,
the Marine Corps' absence from USSOCOM caused major problems
during Operation Desert Storm because only USSOCOM forces were
authorized to conduct cross border deep reconnaissance and
surveillance operations. Therefore, Marine force reconnaissance
assets were not employed prior to the ground campaign.33
This problem must be solved. Is it really in the best
interest of the nation and U.S. Naval Service for Navy SEALs to
conduct complex infantry-related missions to include training
foreign nations in infantry tactics? Can Marine infantry
battalions trained in the MEU(SOC) program conduct many of the
same missions currently being conducted by U.S. Army Rangers
under USSOCOM? Has the Marine Corps lost opportunities for
employment as a maritime special purposed force of choice due only
to our absence in USSOCOM? These questions address both the
benefits and negative concerns of assigning Marine forces to
USSOCOM. The negative concerns are mostly based on old
traditional and parochial values. Finally, the Marine Corps'
current position concerning assignment of forces to USSOCOM may
give the impression to Congressional leaders that Marines are
resisting jointness and refusing to implement the spirit and
intent of the Goldwater-Nichols Act.
32Stiner, pp. 1-12.
33Interview with Major Cletus Davis, U.S. Marine Corps,
Marine Corps Command and Staff College, Quantico, Virginia, 14
The Marine Corps should look beyond old traditional and
parochial values and provide certain units to USSOCOM. This step
would increase opportunities for employment in a maritime
situation and would increase interoperability with special
operations forces during joint campaigns. Additionally, the
Marine Corps would benefit from the special and exclusive USSOCOM
training standards. Designated Marine units would also benefit
from USSOCOM funding for special training and equipment. The
following alternative solutions are feasible and practical.
Acceptability will be determined by forward thinking senior
1. Provide the direct action platoons of the force
reconnaissance companies, radio reconnaissance platoons
of the radio battalions, and riverine assault craft
units to USSOCOM.
2. Integrate the above units with the U.S. Navy
Special Warfare Command to form a Maritime Special
Warfare Command that reports to USSOCOM.
The first solution, providing certain Marine units directly
to USSOCOM is practical and relatively easy to implement. The
Marine Corps' fear that these assets would be lost forever is
unfounded. The direct action platoons and radio reconnaissance
platoons would ramain at their current home bases and would
continue to deploy with the Marine Expeditionary Units (MEU). An
example in this case is that SEAL detachments of USSOCOM have
continued to deploy with the MEUs to form the Maritime Special
Purpose Force (MSPF) over the last several years. The only
change is that training and operational employment of these
units, while in CONUS, would be under the direction of the
Commander in Chief, U.S. Special Operations Command.34
Although the Marines of these special units are
exceptionally skilled and closely screened, there are certain
techniques and resources that only national level assets of
USSOCCM can provide. After-action reports of Marine special
operations capable exercises indicate weakness in clandestine
insertion and extraction as well as weakness in certain
techniques of the hostage recovery mission.35 The Marine Corps
would benefit overall by providing units to USSOCOM through the
exchange of special tactics and techniques and interoperability
with the other special units of sister services. This exchange
of certain training would most likely spread throughout the
Marine Corps through the Special Operations Training Group (SOTG)
and would enhance the basic skills of our conventional units
deploying with a MEU(SOC).*
The second solution is also feasible and practical, but
would most likely involve extensive debate and negotiation
between the Navy and Marine Corps. As previously discussed, the
SEALs have expanded and are conducting many infantry related
functions. This is because USSOCOM requires a maritime special
34Rogish, p. 59.
35U.S. Marine Corps, Lessons Learned System Report 71854-
82294 (00751), subiitted by 24th MEU.
*I credit the first solution of this paper to Lieutenant
Colonel Joseph J. Rogish, Jr. His article, "Do Marines Belong in
USSOCOM?", introduced this idea in the July 1992 edition of the
Marine Corps Gazette.
purpose force capable of conducting a wide range of special
operations in support of national policies to include direct
action, special reconnaissance, hostage recovery, and foreign
internal defense. After the collapse of the Soviet Union and its
blue water threat, the Navy shifted its focus to littoral or
brown water warfare and has worked closely with the Marine Corps
in developing a Naval expeditionary force doctrine titled,
"Maneuver From The Sea." The two services recently agreed to
establish the Naval Doctrine Command manned by both sailors and
Marines and alternately commanded by Navy and Marine officers.36
The Marine Corps has also recently agreed to rotate F/A-18
squadrons to deploy with Navy carrier battle groups.
With the closer integration of the Navy and Marine Corps to
form Naval expeditionary forces, then it also seems logical to
integrate the maritime special operations capabilities of both
services under USSOCOM. Marines, SEALs, and Navy special boat
units currently deploy together as task units to Central and
South America to conduct JCS directed exercises and foreign
internal defense in support of the counternarcotics program.
These task units of USSOCOM SEALs and Marines are often commanded
by a Marine infantry officer.
The integration of certain Marine units and SEALs to form
one command would give the National Command Authority and unified
36Secretary Sean C. O'Keefe, Admiral Frank B. Kelso, and
General Carl E. Mundy, Jr., ". . . From the Sea: A New Direction
for the Naval Services," Marine Corps Gazette, November 1992, pp.
combatant commanders a unique maritime strike force capable of
supporting national policy objectives. As with the first
solution, the MAGTF Commanders would retain complete control of
their deep reconnaissance assets, and the direct action platoons
and radio reconnaissance detachments would continue to train and
deploy with their SEAL counterparts of the MEU(SOC) prcgram.
Like the plan to man the Naval Doctrine Command with both sailors
and Marines, the Maritime Special Warfare Command would also
consist of an integrated Navy and Marine staff and commanders
would alternate between Navy and Marine officers. This commander
would also serve as the maritime special warfare component
commander to USSOCOM.
Whether the first or second solution is adopted, a formal
agreement in the form of a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) or
Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) should be established directly
between the Marine Corps and USSOCOM concerning operational
support during a special operation. Currently, USSOCOM employs
units of the U.S. Army 75th Ranger Regiment to conduct
conventional infantry covering force operations to isolate an
objective area and to cover the insertion and withdrawal of
special operations forces. A situation may arise in the future
that requires the conventional infantry battalion and
reconnaissance elements of the MEU(SOC) to isolate a strategic
objective and conduct reconnaissance and surveillance prior to
the arrival of national level units of USSOCOM. Procedures
should be established and rehearsed for this type of scenario to
include battle handover between the MEU(SOC) and USSOCOM forces.
Of course, this scenario becomes largely academic if either of
the solutions is adopted.
Senator Nunn has recently debated excess military programs
and unnecessary duplication among the military services in
context of what is best for the nation. Although the first
solution is viable and would solve the problem, the second
solution would clearly benefit the nation and entire Naval
Service. The recent emphasis on Naval expeditionary forces in
forward presence and crisis response roles dictates the
importance of integrating certain Navy and Marine forces to form
the Maritime Special Warfare Command. Finally, the second
solution would impress our Congressional leaders that the Navy-
Marine Corps team is fully cooperating to implement the spirit
and intent of the Goldwater-Nichols Act.
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Navy Special Warfare Officers (SEALs) at the Infantry
Officers Course." Quantico, Virginia: The Basic
School, Marine Corps Combat Development Command, 8
2. Barnett, Frank R.; Schultz, Richard H.; and Tovan, Hugh B.
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D.C.: National Defense University Press and National
Strategy Information Center Inc., 1984.
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College, Quantico, Virginia. Interview, 14 January
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6. Jones, Brigadier General James L. "Operation Provide
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Questions That May Be Asked of the CMC During FY91
Congressional Hearings." Washington, D. C.:
Headquarters Marine Corps (SO/LIC), 5 February 1991.
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Mundy, General Carl E., Jr. ". . . From The Sea: A
New Direction for the Naval Services." Marine Corps
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10. Rogish, Lieutenant Colonel Joseph J., Jr. "Do Marines
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Stragegic Perspective." Parameters. Carlisle
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Reconnaissance Company, Surveillance, Reconnaissance
and Intelligence Group, Fleet Marine Force. Washington,
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17. U.S. Marine Corps. Lessons Learned System Report: 71854-
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18. Valliere, John E. "Disaster at Desert One: Catalyst for
Change." Parameters. Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania:
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19. Zinni, Brigadier General Anthony C. "Forward Presence and
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