When USSOCOM was established by the Nunn-Cohen Act in 1987, the Marine Corps declined to contribute forces to the new joint entity.  There were a number of reasons, including the Marine Corps’ belief that becoming involved in SOCOM, or even running it (it had been suggested that SOCOM be placed under Marine Corps command), would interfere with the Marine Corps’ flexibility and maritime capability.  There was also a good deal of distrust toward Special Operations at the time, with the debacle at Desert One still in everyone’s mind.

This did not mean that the Marine Corps was uninterested in Special Operations.  In 1983 Secretary of Defense Weinberger issued a memo, in which he directed the comprehensive review and improvement in the organization of Special Operations Forces.  The memo went out to each service, instructing them to “assign special operations forces and related activities sufficient resource allocation priority.”  In other words, “Let’s get a little more concentration on this area.”  In accordance with Secretary Weinberger’s instructions, on September 14, 1984, Commandant Kelley assigned Lt. Gen. Al Gray (later to become Commandant himself) to conduct a study of Marine special operations capabilities, and to come up with suggestions to improve them.

The review went at II MAF (Marine Amphibious Force) Headquarters at Camp Lejeune, NC, from November 19th to December 17th of that year.  The end result was a document entitled “Examination of Marine Corps Special Operations Enhancements.”

The review went over the Marine Corps’ history with Special Operations, both as a whole, in specific units, and as individuals.  There is a considerable history of Marines conducting what would be considered Special Operations missions, even outside of the Marine Raiders and Marine Parachutists.  (Both units were disbanded before the end of WWII, though their successors in the Amphibious Recon Companies continued on.)  Marines had regularly conducted amphibious raids and rescue missions of civilians and prisoners.

Going by the new, more specific DoD definition of “Special Operations,” the study group developed a list of three types of Special Operations:

“Type A.  The capability to conduct special operations tasks such as special purpose raids.  This capability required unique skills, highly specialized equipment, and training far beyond that normally provided conventional forces.  The forces involved were small and were to be used in operations of short duration.

Type B.  The capability to conduct amphibious raids and support other special operations missions with conventionally organized forces (normally a unit of company-size) which have been designated, intensively trained, and equipped for special operations.

Type C. The capability to conduct amphibious raids, NEO (Noncombatant Extraction Operations) operations, and support of other special operations missions with a large, conventionally organized and equipped combined arms force.”