Force Reconnaissance has long been at the tip of the Marine Corps’ spear. Performing what is considered “deep reconnaissance,” these Marines were traditionally the best-trained, most mature individuals from the reconnaissance community, and were entrusted with missions commensurate with those attributes.

Today, the Force Reconnaissance Companies have been integrated into the Reconnaissance Battalions’ fourth company. What happened to these units? Who is now performing their missions? Did MARSOC usurp the Force Reconnaissance mission? To understand the answers to these questions, a short analysis of the recent history of the reconnaissance community is needed.

No single event or individual is responsible for the integration of the Force Companies. Instead, the process has been a sequence of decisions that, while having the best of intentions, have created ripples that have shaken the reconnaissance community to its core. When MARSOC was created, and the proposed mission analyzed, there was only one pool of men to draw on, and they came from the recon community, with a heavy emphasis on Force Recon. This had the effect of essentially downsizing the Force Recon Company to a level that was barely sustainable. To combat this problem, new blood was needed. The Force Recon Company had long been the goal of any recon Marine who wished to stay in for more than an enlistment.

Being a member of Force Recon was virtually a requirement for holding the billets of platoon sergeant or operations chief within the reconnaissance community, and it provided valuable skillsets to the Marines who were still within the recon battalions. After the rush of personnel to stand up the MARSOC Battalions, some of the most experienced Marines from the Reconnaissance Battalions were pulled into the Force Recon Companies to bolster their numbers.

While this stabilized the Force Reconnaissance Companies, it had the effect of transferring a large percentage of the most experienced Marines out of their team leader and assistant team leader billets while the Recon Battalions’ deployment cycles were still quite high.  This move, in turn, forced more junior Marines into leadership billets.

While this is not always a negative, to have so many move into those billets degraded the—until then—highly effective reconnaissance units in their subsequent deployments. The men of the Reconnaissance Battalions have always performed at a high level no matter what, but their effectiveness would have been greater had they been able to keep their experienced non-commissioned officers for another deployment.

With all three units stabilized, another problem began to arise. Reconnaissance Marines, never in great quantity, now began to feed not just the Force Recon Companies, but MARSOC as well. This had the net effect of further reducing the number of available, experienced Marines in the Reconnaissance Battalions and reducing the throughput to the Force Recon Companies, which became part of the basis for the re-integration of the Force Companies into the Recon Battalions.

Eventually, the Force Reconnaissance Companies were dissolved and their personnel re-allocated to the Recon Battalions. This proved a boon to the battalions, with a glut of experienced personnel now to draw on, but took the preeminent deep-reconnaissance force out of the Marine Corps. It was expected that MARSOC would make up for this void—an expectation which was never realized due to the specific mission sets tasked to them by SOCOM (Special Operations Command).