The Marine Corps hadn’t had a Special Operations unit since World War II, but all of that changed in 2003 when on June of that year, the Marine Corps and USSOCOM formed Marine Corps Special Operations Command Detachment One (MCSOCOM Det 1) to explore unit level Marine Corps participation in USSOCOM. Prior to this, Marine Corps brass were vocal against an “elite within an elite” as they considered all Marine Corps units elite.

MCSOCOM Det One deployed with a Naval Special Warfare unit in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2004.

After the deployment, the Marine Corps contributions were studied, and in October 2005, the Secretary of Defense directed the formation of a Marine component of U.S. Special Operations Command. It was determined the Marine Corps would initially form a unit of approximately 2,500 to serve within the Special Operations Forces (SOF) community.

On Feb. 24, 2006, MARSOC was activated at Camp Lejeune, N.C. MARSOC initially consisted of a small headquarters staff and a battalion level unit which had been formed to train, advise, and assist partner nation militaries by conducting the mission of Foreign Internal Defense.

Just a couple of years ago, the MARSOC Operators decided to choose the name “Raiders” to celebrate their lineage and unconventional nature of their mission. The Raiders were back in the Corps after a long hiatus.

The Marine Raiders from World War II were only active for about 2 years between 1942 until they were officially disbanded in 1944. But they had an impressive combat record and gave the Japanese a taste of their own medicine during battles in the Solomon Islands. The modern MARSOC Special Operations draws its lineage from these Raider battalions. Perhaps the best example of a Marine Special Operations officer was Major Evans F. Carlson.

Carlson was a maverick who was an intelligence officer in China, had fought guerrillas in Nicaragua and spoken out publicly about the plight of the Chinese. When given command of the Marine 2nd Raider Bn., he broke ranks with many of the traditional ways of doing things and operated in an entirely unconventional manner.

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Every man regardless of rank would have a say in things and were expected to say what they thought. Their motto became the Chinese term “Gung-ho” which means “work together.”

Carlson was brilliantly innovative. He implemented an important change to the Raider organization where instead of the usual eight-man squad, he created a 10-man unit composed of a squad leader and three fire teams of three men each. Each fire team had good firepower with a Thompson submachine gun, a Browning automatic rifle (BAR), and a rifleman with the Garand M-1 semiautomatic rifles.

He was building an unconventional warfare unit that could operate as he envisioned like a guerrilla unit. He set up a training program that leaned heavily on long-range movement, weapons and demolitions training, hand-to-hand combat, and physical conditioning.

Today’s Raiders are even better trained than their counterparts. Once a Marine has three years of service, he or she can volunteer for the Raiders of MARSOC.

Like other Special Operations Forces, the Marines are looking for self-starters, operators with the initiative who will always seek to improve themselves. Team players who will seek the knowledge of others to make the unit much more proficient.

For Marines designated as Critical Skills Operators (CSO) with the MOS 0372, for officers 0370, they must first pass Assessment and Selection (A&S). A&S is a 21 day mentally and physically challenging evaluation. The first phase starts with a Physical Fitness Test, or PFT, a swim and an 8-mile rucksack march. It ends with another PFT, an abandon ship drill, 300-meter swim in fatigues with no boots, 11 minutes of treading water and a 12-mile rucksack march in under three hours with a 45-pound ruck.

Those Marines that successfully complete A&S attend the MARSOC Individual Training Course (ITC). Much of it is like the other Selection and Assessment courses run by the other services. It places a high premium on a candidate’s physical fitness and the ability to think on his feet while tired and under a great deal of stress.

ITC is a physically and mentally challenging course designed to provide MARSOC Raiders with a basic foundation of essential special operations skills. Some of the skills taught in the course include SERE, Medical, Communications, Small unit tactics (SMU), Amphibious Training, Special Reconnaissance, Close-Quarters Battle (CQB), Urban Combat, Combat marksmanship and Irregular Warfare.

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Training and educating the Raiders does not end with ITC. Operators will continue training once assigned to their designated unit. All MARSOC Marines are required to undergo continual language training, with designated Marines attending follow-on language training at an Advanced Linguist Course.

MARSOC Marine Raiders also attend advanced-level courses in a number of subject areas such as Airborne and Static Line Jumpmaster, Military Free Fall and HALO Jumpmaster, Sniper, Breaching, and Weapons Employment as well as many others. A total of 85 Advanced Training courses are available to the MARSOC Raiders in their operational units.

The basic operating is a 14-man team consisting of 1 Officer, 4-6 Senior NCOs, 4-6 Sergeants and 2 Navy Corpsmen. The team is broken down by an HQ element and two Tactical Elements. The HQ Element is comprised of a Captain Team Leader, Master Sergeant Team Chief, Gunnery Sergeant Operations Chief, and a Staff Sergeant Assistant Operations Chief.

The two Tactical Elements consist of 4 Marines and a Navy Corpsman. The team can function as one unit or split into two smaller tactical ones. The MARSOC Raiders have conducted Direct Action, Foreign Internal Defense, Special Reconnaissance, Counter-Insurgency, Security Force Assistance, and preparation of the environment missions in over 40 countries since their inception just over a decade ago.

They are still Marines first and Special Operators next but with the changes making them a permanent part of the Marine Corps, they now have the MOS to stay in Special Operations for the remainder of their careers. It makes for a better unit with superior operators with better training. Major Carlson would approve.

Photos Courtesy US Marine Corps

This article was originally published on SpecialOperations.com and written by