With the recent 14th anniversary of Marine Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC), the latest addition to U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), it is important to remember how it all came to be a reality. Much has been discussed about the success of MARSOC, but less is known about why it was formed — and what actually paved the way for its existence.

As 1st Force Reconnaissance Company and 2nd Force Reconnaissance Company rotated to and from Iraq on six-month combat deployments from January 2003 until Jan 2006, many of the officers who served their time in tactical assignments as Force Reconnaissance platoon commanders became severely wounded, injured, killed in action, or left the Marine Corps for civilian opportunities prior to their promotion to the rank of major. When Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld ordered the Marine Corps to create MARSOC in the fall of 2005, the resistant and reluctant Marine Corps ultimately complied with the defense chief’s mandate after they had delayed carrying the order out for years. The Marine Corps was not the only organization resistant to the idea of Marines joining the SOF community; many within SOCOM were very clearly against it as well, albeit for different reasons.

Donald Rumsfeld observed frequent complaints from SOCOM about not having enough resources in support of the early stages of the Global War on Terror (GWOT), and he realized that Force Recon was SOF-like, but was not being employed as such. Rumsfeld was specifically tired of hearing the complaints about not having enough “SOF guys” to do special reconnaissance (SR), which Force Reconnaissance excels at. Rumsfeld also knew that Force Recon could do SR and direct action (DA) for SOCOM, and he wanted to know why they weren’t being utilized.

In late January 2002, a plan was presented to the Marine-SOCOM board. Against strong opposition, it was argued that the Marine Corps already had these capabilities (DA, SR, coalition support, and Foreign Internal Defense) and that with the war being primarily SOF-focused, sooner or later, SOCOM was going to run out of manpower to cover all missions that came up. The Marine Corps’ contribution was offered as a complementary force to keep things moving, fill in the holes, and take up the slack where the SEALs, Rangers, and SF got spread too thin.

In a half-hearted attempt to comply, on December 4, 2002, Marine Corps Bulletin 5400 formally announced the formation of the Marine Corps Special Operations Command Detachment as a two-year test program called MCSOCOM Det One.

SOFREP spoke with a Marine officer who wished to remain anonymous but was assigned to SOCOM headquarters at the time MARSOC was ordered to be activated. He had this to say about the resistance MARSOC encountered within the SOF community:

The average age of a Force Recon Marine at the time was 27.  The Special Forces guys, while very good at what they do, are generally much older and have many responsibilities outside of SR and Direct Action.  Force Recon was capable of so much more than SOCOM — with ranks at the time mostly filled with Army personnel — wanted to give them credit for.  The “experiment” of Det One was officially called a “study” to see if Marines were capable of integrating into SOF, which was a waste of time because of course they were capable.  It was meant to be a delaying tactic, or “slow-rolling” on the part of the Marine Corps and SOCOM until Rumsfeld left office.  The problem for them was that Rumsfeld ended up staying in office!

Rumsfeld had given an ultimatum, which was essentially ignored, and made the Secretary of Defense question why SOCOM was screwing around with Det One instead of starting MARSOC like he asked.  It is not to say that the men of Det One were not high-quality, but the limited size and capacity of Det One was in conflict with the order that Rumsfeld had initially given.  The fact that he asked for MARSOC and was presented with Det One is proof of “slow-rolling” on the part of SOCOM and the Marine Corps.  MARSOC simply wasn’t welcome.  I literally heard General Bryan D. Brown, the SOCOM commander in 2005, say “Marines are Johnny come lately for SOF”.  It became pretty clear that MARSOC would have a tough time being successful with the lack of support that they would encounter.  Ironically, when the Secretary of Defense says that women are to be allowed in SOF, SOCOM and the various military branches are all too eager to comply, but utilize Force recon?  Well, they couldn’t do that without a fight.”