Recently, elements of MARSOC have taken to the sea, getting back to their amphibious roots, if you will. A handful of MSOTs (Marine Special Operations Team) have taken on the kind of training typical of a Force Recon Platoon, conducting a pre-deployment workup for an MEU (Marine Expeditionary Unit). This development has many speculating what this will mean for MARSOC and Force Recon.

For those not familiar with the functions of an MEU, it’s a floating quick reaction force, poised to respond to any global crisis. It is the hallmark of the Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF). Equipped with a reinforced infantry battalion and air assets, the MEU can strike fast and sustain itself until a larger force can support its efforts. Enhancing the MEU’s Ground Combat Element is a reconnaissance section. Within the reconnaissance section is a Force Recon platoon. Their primary duties are Direct Action (DA), Special Reconnaissance (SR) and maritime interdiction missions, referred to as VBSS (Visit, Board, Search and Seizure).

Force Recon conducts VBSS with 26th MEU.Many have questioned MARSOC’s motives for returning to the sea. Why the sudden push to double-down on the ‘cool guy’ capabilities of the MEU? And how will this effect Force Recon?

The most puzzling aspect of this new development is the fact that Force Recon has proven itself more than capable of handling the type of missions for which MARSOC is now training.

The concept of employing Force Recon aboard the MEU was validated in a very public way in the Fall of 2010. When Somali pirates decided to hijack the German shipping vessel, the Magellan Star, they were unaware of the American commandos’ nearby presence.

At the time of the hijacking, the 15th MEU was underway toward the Red Sea, in order to conduct training with Jordanian troops. When the pirates seized the German container ship, the 15th MEU was redirected to assist with potential rescue efforts. Within twenty-four hours of the ship’s capture, the authorization for action came down from the highest levels of government. In the early morning hours of September 9th, members of 1st Force Recon Co, 2nd Platoon departed the USS Dubuque in two rigid-hull inflatable boats (RHIB), and initiated a daring amphibious raid on the besieged vessel. Without a single shot being fired, the men of First Force retook the hijacked ship and liberated the imprisoned crew.

Following the success of the Magellan Star rescue operation, the 15th MEU was called upon to wade into the murky waters of unconventional warfare. The Force Recon element assisted in the search for a high value target in Yemen. The insurgent leader wasn’t located, but the mission highlighted Force Recon’s ability to integrate with unconventional forces, in a non-permissive environment, a role usually reserved for SOF.

Considering the proven capabilities of Force Reconnaissance Marines aboard the MEUs, what can MARSOC offer that Force Recon can’t?