There have been some questions lately as to what exactly the difference is between Force Recon and MARSOC. Aside from the fact that Special Operations Marines now have their own MOS, a lot of it comes down to recent history.
In 2003, MCSOCOM Detachment One was stood up, commanded by a former commanding officer of 1st Force Recon Company, Col Robert Coates. Detachment One was a pilot program to see if Marines could make a worthwhile contribution to USSOCOM. As part of the program, the 81 Marines and 5 Navy Corpsmen went through NSW certification, then deployed to Iraq in 2004 with NSW Squadron One. While there was some friction with the Navy side of the house, it was determined by JSOC that the Marines were quite capable of conducting Special Operations missions, specifically Direct Action and Special Reconnaissance.
In 2006, Det One was dissolved, and 1st and 2nd Marine Special Operations Battalions were stood up. In order to accomplish this, 1st and 2nd Force Recon Battalions were dissolved, with approximately 3/4 of their personnel going to the MSOBs, and the other 1/4 going to 1st and 2nd Recon Battalions as the Delta or Deep Recon Companies. All of 1st and 2nd Force’s resources were folded into the MSOBs.
By 2008, it was becoming evident to the Marine Corps that while, MARSOC was doing some good, in spite of certain growing pains, it really worked for USSOCOM, not the Marine Corps. In effect, while expanding the Marine contribution, the Marine Expeditionary Forces had lost the Direct Action and Deep Reconnaissance capability that the Force Companies had owned since Vietnam. While technically the capability was retained in the Deep Recon Companies, these were shadows of what Force had been, in the case of 1st Recon being barely two platoons strong. In 2003, 1st Force Recon Company had had nine.
So it was decided to stand the Force Company back up as a separate entity, once again working for the MEF. In August 2008, Force Recon Company I MEF and Force Recon Company II MEF were officially stood up. The Marine Corps was on its way to getting back the capability that it had effectively ceded to SOCOM.
There have been growing pains. Both Companies are still badly undermanned, and because of it, are still administratively attached to the Recon Bns. Separating from Bn to work as a Force Company has been an uphill battle that is still being waged. The Companies are still struggling for manpower and equipment, not to mention missions.
Technically, Force Recon and MARSOC have similar missions: DA and Reconnaissance. MARSOC has added in FID (Foreign Internal Defense) and CT (Counterterrorism). Thanks to the budget afforded by USSOCOM, MARSOC has been getting the lion’s share of support and missions lately. Hopefully, the Force Companies will once again come into their own, but it’s going to take time.