Special Forces loves the B-1 On Station
Vets taking on Murtha and Moran

Are SOCOM Marines Just "Marines"?

Here's a point for discussion today.  Below, via Seamus, is an article from the Navy's Proceedings journal about the Marine force that will be a part of Special Operations Command.  Prior to this new addition, the Marines were not fully "represented" at SOCOM.  Sure, they took part in operations but were never an asset or resource actively managed by SOCOM - the Command that is an integral part of combating terrorists.

Marines are needed as a player in the SOCOM realm.  Vital, in fact.  Glad to have them on the team.  But I'm not sure about the Marine Generals sticking to calling SOCOM Marines "Marines".  I'm of two minds about it.  I understand the mentality that every Marine is capable.  And the fear that the Marine SOCOM unit would take the best recon and infantry types out of the regular Marine force.  Those are the same arguments made against Special Forces forty years ago.  And Rangers for hundreds of years.

Army Special Forces was viewed the same way and would have been finished in the early '60's if not for the "Special" and the green type headgear.  The Army Generals wanted every Soldier to be "Special" and capable - the fact was that they were not.  I doubt that  every Marine would be able to join the Marine SOCOM unit.  No way.

And there have been plenty of historical precendence of Marine elite units.

I was kind of hoping to have the "Marine Raiders" back.  Seriously.

MarSOC: Just Call Them Marines

Fred L. Schultz

Proceedings, January 2006

The commanding general of the controversial new Marine Corps Special Operations Command--seen here in Iraq, greeting Marines of Gun 6, Battery M, 4th Battalion, 14th Marine Regiment last year—talks to Proceedings.

Not long after he was tapped to lead the first leatherneck contingent into the nation's Special Operations Command, Brigadier Geneal Dennis J. Hejlik was asked by Marine Commandant Michael Hagee if he had settled on a catchy nickname for his troops. General Hejlik nodded.

"Marines," he replied.

Later that day, General Hejlik (pronounced Hey-lik), in an exclusive interview with Proceedings, outlined his plans for the new unit, known as the Marine Corps Special Operations Command (MarSOC).

He also expressed support for the decision to finally make the Marines part of the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCom), a move long opposed by the Corps. From time to time, he revealed bits and pieces about himself. One thing was evident. He travels light. He showed up with a staff of none.

Over lunch at an Irish restaurant here in Annapolis, the 58-year-old career infantryman laughingly recalled how he found out about the new job. Transferred from California to Quantico, he and his wife, Sandy, were having dinner at a restaurant the night before they were to move into new quarters at the northern Virginia Marine base. His cell phone rang. He took it outside, returned an hour later.

"Where are we going now?" his wife asked. Her husband had been a Marine for 35 years. They had been married for all of those years. She knew something was up.

So long, Quantico. Hello, Camp Lejeune.

An Iowa farm boy, General Hejlik enlisted in the Marines in 1968. He got out four years later as a sergeant and headed off to Minnesota State University, Mankato, just across the border from his home state. On graduation day 1975, he received a diploma and a commission in the Corps.

He has since taken on a wide array of Marine assignments, getting his hands dirty with logistics and weaponry as well as earning a Master's degree from the Naval War College. He served as senior military fellow at the influential Council on Foreign Relations and was two-hatted as deputy commanding general of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force and commanding general of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Brigade in Iraq. Especially important in light of his new assignment, he also was chief of staff and director of the Center for Policy, Training, and Readiness at SOCom, of which his new command will soon be a part.

His tour at SOCom, headquartered in Tampa, Florida, means he's no stranger to the snake-eater community, and his familiarity with the organization no doubt played a role in his selection to head the estimated 2,500-member Marine unit now being organized.

In his most recent combat tour, his brigade took on radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his militia in the fall of 2004 for control of the Islamic holy city of An Najaf. In this battle, General Hejlik's troops lived up to his widely quoted promise to "whack 'em."

After the shooting stopped, he returned to the command center in Fallujah, where his boss, Lieutenant General James T. Conway, the expeditionary force commander, greeted him as if bestowing knighthood.

"Marines, ladies and gentlemen, soldiers, sailors, airmenThe Lion of Najaf!"

The title stuck, and General Hejlik says it's all General Conway's fault.

When he spoke with us, at lunch and later at Naval Institute headquarters in Beach Hall, the general was relaxed and seemed to enjoy the interview. But he also had a sense of purpose, points he wanted to convey, and a good idea of how he wanted his new command to look, even at this early stage.

The Marines are anything but charter members of the Special Operations Command. For many years after Congress created the force in 1986, the Corps doggedly resisted contributing troops to it.

For those 20 years, a parade of commandants insisted that there was no need for such an affiliation, asserting that all Marines by definition were capable of special operations. The Marine leadership also maintained that the Corps, because of its small size, could not afford to detach any troops to another outfit. The leadership further feared that prized Marine units such as Force Recon would be prime targets for cherry picking if SOCom were licensed to do so.

Behind the Corps' about-face was a growing need to beef up and replenish special operations forces in the midst of draining wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the continuing terrorist threat, along with a strong push for the Marines to get with the program from Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. After a year and a half of negotiations, a meeting on 28 October 2005 among Secretary Rumsfeld, General Hagee, and the SOCom combatant commander, Army General Bryan D. (Doug) Brown, closed the deal.

While General Hejlik believes that senior leaders across the services think the move "is a good thing, good for the country, and good for prosecuting the Global War on Terrorism," it has drawn opposition, both internally and externally. "With continued education," he said, "this will be a win-win for all."

"One of the things that really makes me nervous," General Hejlik said, "is the word 'special.' All Marines are special, all Marines are equal, and all Marines are riflemen." He intends to address this concern, because he doesn't want any Marine being treated differently from a special forces Marine.

He also said he does not expect residual hostility to the move to adversely affect recruiting for his special ops unit. On the contrary, he said, the new command already has an abundance of volunteers.

"The thing we have to be careful with," he stressed, "is that they're Marines, first and foremost." Marines who volunteer must come out of operating forces and will undergo a rigid assessment and selection process. Selectees will train to a standard similar to Army Ranger training. "What exact standard that is has not been fully determined," General Hejlik conceded.

The new command will consist of a Marine special operations regiment of two special forces battalions. A total of nine Marine special operations companies (four on the east coast and five on the west coast) will form the combat core of the command, and each will be from 85 to 110 strong. The force will be split, 75% to 25%, between command, regimental, and battalion headquarters at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, and a battalion headquarters at Camp Pendleton, California.

To complement the special operations companies, two other principal components will be a support unit of radio, communications, and intelligence specialists, and a foreign military training unit, both based at Camp Lejeune.

The foreign training unit will consist of 430 Marines who will train military forces from around the world that lack such training, such as those from some of the poorer central African nations.

Special operations groups will deploy with Marine expeditionary units (MEUs) that already have troops capable of special operations on board amphibious ships. As special operations companies are organized within these groups, the existing Maritime Special Purpose Forcea unit capable of conventional or selected maritime special missionswill be phased out.

Special operations companies will be separable but not separate from expeditionary units, while specific command-and-control relationships are being worked out.

"Right now, it's kind of the best of both worlds," General Hejlik said. "We work with the MEU, but we belong to SOCom as a component. That will fill part of the capability gap. Special operations have suffered a little bit, because the Global War on Terrorism has worn them a little thin."

For those concerned about what all this bodes for the future of Force Reconnaissance, the Marines' elite deep-penetration units and the Corps' answer to special ops in the past, General Hejlik assured that it "will be alive and well. The core of the company will be a Force Recon platoon, which will retain all of its specialized skills, such as deep reconnaissance, advanced communications, precision shooting, and specialized insertion and extraction capabilities."

The general expects his new command to work regularly with Army Rangers and Green Berets. But Marines will be treated as Marines, he said, right down to their gear and weaponry.

"If I'm an 03-21 reconnaissance Marine, I will come with my helmet, my flak jacket, my rucksack, and my warfighting gear. My weapon could be an M-4, M-16A-4, or 9-mm, but if the mission requires special equipment, SOCom will supply it. Hands down, SOCom has the most efficient and proficient acquisition process in the Department of Defense."

Marines have been working with the Special Operations Command since the 1980s, "so this is not a new thing," General Hejlik said.

"In my own experience, the special operations in Najaf and Fallujah were well organized and very interoperable," he emphasized. "The Global War on Terrorism has forced everyone to take a fresh look at the way they fight irregular warfare, which has no rules. This is why special forces have become such sought-after commodities."

General Hejlik said his new command originally was going to be part of a reconnaissance unit that would complement the Special Operations Command. "That's where Det. One [Marine Special Operations Detachment One, set up as proof of the concept that Marines were suited for special operations] came from," he said. But he thinks this new arrangement will be much more effective.

Negotiations prior to the establishment of the Marine Special Operations Command in October were characterized in some press reports as difficult and long. General Hejlik agreed that they were long and acknowledged one major difficulty:

"The difficult part was the cultural aspect. There are always going to be soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen who want things to stay the way they are. They say, 'Let's not change for change's sake.' But this is not the case; change here is necessary. We want to get the Marine Corps fully involved in the.war on terrorism. We want to complement SOCom and fill in some of the gaps. This is the right thing to do. I'm an optimist at heart and by trade, and I think this will work."

General Hejlik learned two major lessons from his most recent service in Iraq. He found that a special operations force borders on the unique, "small in size but packing a great big punch. What such a force brings to the battlefield is much more than just trigger pullers," he said. Lesson two was that today's conventional soldiers or Marines are better trained, better led, and better equipped than any he has seen.

"When you combine conventional war fighters with a Marine special operations team, the culture and the war-fighting ethos are the same, and you've got a force that's unbeatable."

Mr. Schultz is Senior Editor of Proceedings.

Comments