Shortly after the attacks of September 11, 2001, Lt. Colonel J. Giles Kyser was assigned to reinvigorate the lapsed relationship between the USMC and USSOCOM. LtCol. Kyser had previously done a staff tour at SOCEur (Special Operations Command Europe) and had a working knowledge of how SOCOM ran. The ranking Marine filling a billet at SOCOM, Col Paul Hand, was, in contrast, a regular infantry officer, with no Recon, Force Recon, or other special operations background. Only a few months before LtCol Kyser’s arrival, Col Hand had published an article in the Marine Corps Gazette on the subject of a possible Marine force within SOCOM. His conclusion was essentially “It’s a good idea, but no.”
At the time there was no actual consideration of a Marine SOCOM unit; the sole duty of both Col. Hand and LtCol. Kyser was to repair the relationship between SOCOM and the Marine Corps, and reinstate the moribund USMC-SOCOM cooperation board. They encountered strong opposition from both sides. A lot of SOCOM felt the Marine Corps had gotten its chance back in ’86, didn’t want to play, so they could go do their thing. It was felt that the Marines didn’t have anything to offer SOCOM. On the other side, there was the belief that anything SOCOM could do, the Marine Corps could do just as well, maybe better. There was also the fear that a SOCOM unit would drain quality Marines from the Fleet Marine Force.
LtCol. Kyser knew from his personal experiences that the fears and prejudices on both sides were spurious, and worked hard shuttling back and forth between HQUSMC in Washington and SOCOM in Tampa. Commandant Gen James Jones was already shifting the Marine Corps’ official attitude toward SOCOM, especially in the wake of 9/11 and the Special Forces operations in Afghanistan. It was becoming increasingly clear that if the Marine Corps wanted a role in a SOF-centered war, they were going to have to venture more fully into the Special Operations realm, and that meant working with, or even within, SOCOM.
Shortly after 9/11, in fact, General Jones offered forces to SOCOM, in the form of a Force Reconnaissance Platoon. The offer was a major subject for discussion when the Marine-SOCOM board met again for the first time in January, 2002. The NSW representative argued that if a Force Recon platoon was given to SOCOM, it should fall under NSW’s umbrella, as the Marines had a maritime background. USASOC’s rep argued otherwise, urging the Marines to be placed with Army SOF. While at the time, Col. Hand didn’t lean one way or another, he later admitted that he thought it would have been a good idea to partner with USASOC.
The main problem presented in handing over a Force Recon Platoon to SOCOM was that ultimately, the unit was too small. The troop-to-task ratio wasn’t favorable, and it would soon be either over-tasked, or become something of a novelty. LtCol. Kyser was already at work with two MSgts who had already served with SOCOM to develop the plan that would eventually become Det One.
MSgt Joseph Settelen and MSgt Troy Mitchell were both long-time Recon Marines, who had served on the Recon Operational Advisory Group or ROAG. Both had previously served in classified billets at SOCOM, so they not only knew the Marine Reconnaissance community inside and out, but they knew SOCOM’s workings, as well. LtCol Kyser set these two to designing the Marine force to be added to SOCOM.
The concept had to strike a balance between capability, time, and size. Too large, and the Marine Corps could not support the manpower requirements in addition to its other operational commitments. The Marine Corps has always been a small force, with a maximum manning at the time of 175,000. It also, in the interests of being able to field the unit soon, had to consist of capabilities that the Marine Corps possessed at the time.
The capability requirements boiled down to: Direct Action, Special Reconnaissance, Coalition Support, and Foreign Internal Defense. All were doable by Force Reconnaissance, with some further support. The unit had to be able to act alone or in concert with conventional forces, other SOF, or foreign allies. LtCol Kyser gave MSgt Settelen and MSgt Mitchell the assignment to design this unit at 1100, and said he wanted a plan by 1600. The two of them went to the Navy Annex’s cafeteria with a sheet of butcher paper, pencils, and a pot of coffee, and emerged with a plan three hours later.
The plan was, in MSgt Settelen’s words, “A 900lb gorilla that could do surgery.” It was essentially the MEU (SOC)’s MSPF with a heightened capability. The core of the unit would be a Force Reconnaissance Platoon, with a hefty support element with an emphasis on intelligence. The original plan called for 110 Marines, all experienced–no enthusiastic first-termers. In order to assuage fears that the Marine Corps would lose good Marines forever into SOCOM, the plan also included provisions to rotate Marines back into the FMF after a certain period of time with the SOF unit.
In late January, 2002, LtCol. Kyser presented the plan to the Marine-SOCOM board. He argued, against some strong opposition, that the Marine Corps already had these capabilities (DA, SR, Coalition Support, and FID), and that with the war being primarily SOF-focused, sooner or later, SOCOM was going to run out of manpower to cover all missions that came up. He offered the Marine Corps’ contribution as a complimentary force to keep things moving, fill in the holes, take up the slack where the SEALs, Rangers, and SF got spread too thin.
Some of the strongest opposition to the Marine unit seemed to come from the SEALs. While NSW offered to help, and take the Marines under their wing, ostensibly because of a common maritime background, Kyser, Mitchell, and Settelen got the impression from the SEALs that they really weren’t welcome. In spite of the friction, they got to work building the unit anyway.
MSgt Settelen was tasked with developing the Table of Equipment. A major stumbling block was going to be money for equipment and training–SOCOM wasn’t going to provide it; it had to come from the Marine Corps. After a lot of work, MSgt Settelen was able to nail down an initial budget of $27 million.
They also began selecting personnel for the unit, drawing from Force Reconnaissance, the intel community, and ANGLICO (Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company). Almost immediately, the recent commander of 1st Force Reconnaissance Company, Col Robert Coates, was selected to command the new unit. They also added the 1st Marine Raiders patch to the unit logo, granting the new unit a lineage going back to WWII.
On December 4, 2002, Marine Corps Bulletin 5400 formally announced the formation of the Marine Corps Special Operations Command Detachment as a 2-year test program.
MCSOCOM Det One was born.