Everybody wants to know what sets Marine Special Operations Command (MARSOC) apart from the United States Army Special Operations Command (USASOC) and Naval Special Warfare Command (NSWC). It’s a complicated question to answer. What’s more revealing and easier to address is: what traits does MARSOC share with USASOC and NSW? I’d like to focus on MSOT structure, CSO skill sets and mission profiles. By analyzing these three criteria, I would like to paint a clear picture of MARSOC and how it is similar to SOF organizations in the other branches.
I can’t violate any non-disclosure agreements I have signed over the years, but I can give you a glimpse inside your average MSOT, and I think it will interest a lot of readers to learn just how similar we can be to an ODA. Without spilling the beans, it doesn’t take too much imagination to see that your average MSOT is structured similarly to an ODA in the breakdown of responsibilities and skillsets.
MSOTs are supposed to have 14 CSOs; two more operators than an ODA and two fewer than a SEAL platoon. MSOTs are unique in that we only have one commissioned officer; one less than SF (Officer, Warrant Officer) and SEALs (two Officers). A major parallel between MARSOC, NSW, and SF is the regional alignment of commands. MSOBs are regionally dedicated just as SF and NSW Groups are in being operationally responsible for specific areas of the world.
MSOTs differ drastically from NSW and USASOC in that MARSOC has not yet formally designated each team as either jump or dive qualified. Some MSOTs will be HAHO qualified, some will be HALO/HAHO and some will have a decent number of divers. This might appear to be disorganized, but let’s put things into perspective: MARSOC is an organization in its infancy, and it was born in the midst of heavy fighting in Afghanistan, where over 2/3 of the force is devoted to that fight.
Where we differ, as CSOs, is foreign language skills and insert method qualifications. In simpler terms, all CSOs do not attend compulsory language training, free fall or dive school as compared to SEALs or Green Berets. MARSOC has not yet had the luxury to put candidates through dive and free-fall as the SEALs do. And we definitely have not yet committed to putting every CSO through language school like the Green Berets do, during their Q Course.
CSOs have been around for less than five years and a lot can and will change. Currently, on an average MSOT maybe 2-4 Operators will have formal language training. This is radically different from Green Berets, who all undergo language training.
USASOC and NSW have a long history and they have done a great job establishing their training pipelines, but it didn’t happen overnight. In the case of MARSOC, it is much like putting the cart before the horse. The organization was established during a time of war and had the challenge of immediately supplying MSOTs to support the war effort. MARSOC never really had the opportunity to develop a lengthy training pipeline for the simple fact that CSOs needed to deploy hastily.
Although CSOs do not have the opportunity to undergo language, jump or dive during MARSOC’s initial training pipeline, consider this: it can take as little as 11 months for a Marine to successfully complete Selection Preparation & Orientation, Assessment & Selection, and the Individual Training Course; it can take the Army twice as long to produce a Green Beret. Once MARSOC meets its projected troop strength, and operational commitments slow down, then it may be possible to allow all potential CSOs more time to obtain skills such as language, jump and dive.
SOF cannot be mass-produced. Unfortunately for MARSOC, this SOF attribute has been overlooked at times due to pressure from higher to meet operational necessity.
In spite of MARSOC’s youth, the organization has successfully accomplished the entire spectrum of USSOCOM missions: from Direct Action (DA) and Foreign Internal Defense (FID) in Southwest Asia to Counter-Terrorism (CT) and Information Operations (IO) in places unknown.
CSOs have operated on every continent as our brothers in the Army and the Navy. Within the familiar AO of Afghanistan, MSOTs have become interchangeable with SEAL Platoons and SF ODAs. Although we do not have the decades of history that our sister-service operators possess, MARSOC is now receiving the same missions as NSW and USASOC. To have been assigned and trusted to accomplish the same missions as these experienced Operators is the highest form of flattery.
For those who have not had the opportunity to work alongside us CSOs, I hope that understanding the common bond we share with our brothers in the Army, Navy and Air Force is sufficient in answering the question of what makes MARSOC different. The differences can be many and nuanced but what illustrates our professionalism within this community is what we have in common.
This article was written by an active duty Marine Raider.
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