A little over 14 years ago, Marine Raiders became a reality.
The Marine Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC) is the latest addition to U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM). Established in 2006, MARSOC has steadily grown ever since, often having to fight skeptics both in the Marine Corps and the Department of Defence (DoD) about its utility. Since their establishment, Marine Raiders have fought alongside their conventional and special operations brethren from the other branches in 12 named operations, spanning 16 countries. They have, moreover, played a key role in other classified operations.
The commanding general of SOCOM, Army General Richard D. Clarke, was present during the ceremony that took place in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, to celebrate the 14th anniversary of the command.
“You have a clear and unambiguous vision of the character required to represent our country,” said General Clarke. “The Marine Corps, perhaps better than any other service, has articulated the values that we must hold dear, both day in and day out.”
Time and again, Marine Raiders have proven their grit and lethality. Earlier this year, a team of Marine Raiders from the 3rd Raider Battalion was key in stopping a terrorist attack in Manda Bay, Kenya.
“As we look forward into a future riddled with uncertainty and ever-evolving threats, MARSOC will remain an essential part of SOCOM,” added General Clarke.
This is an interesting remark as many have perceived — and continue to perceive — MARSOC as redundant and a copy of the Army’s Special Forces Regiment. For example, the basic MARSOC unit, the Marine Special Operations Team (MSOT), is essentially based on the Special Forces Operational Detachment (ODA). To be sure, there is an overlap of capabilities as both units focus on Unconventional Warfare (UW) and Foreign Internal Defence (FID), among other skillsets. But Marine Raiders have been key in supplementing their Army brethren as counterterrorism and FID missions continue to pop up across the globe. And here lies the key question. MARSOC might be an essential part of SOCOM as long low-intensity conflicts are hot. But what will happen when near-peer warfare is back on the menu? That is when MARSOC and SOCOM leaders will have to fight the hardest to retain their capability.
Last year, a study authored by Lieutenant Colonel (retired) Dakota Wood and published by the Heritage Foundation, an influential think tank, asserted that MARSOC has outlived its usefulness.
“MARSOC,” wrote LTC Wood,
“while a boon to U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM or SOCOM) and doing good work for the country, is an opportunity cost for the Corps. The Marines consistently resisted creating a special operations component until directed to do so in 2006, driven by a shortage of special operations teams needed to prosecute the global war on terrorism following the attacks of September 11, 2001. That national emergency has long been over, and the Corps should redirect its efforts to its primary role.”
Somewhat echoing LTC Wood’s findings, MARSOC just consolidated all of its units to the East Coast, a move that many saw as the result of a shrinking budget. Only time will tell if MARSOC will be deactivated.