Among elite war fighting institutions, Marine Corps Force Recon falls within a unique realm; considered special operations capable, many of the Corps’ Force Recon Marines have been absorbed by the fairly new Marine Corps Special Operations Command (MARSOC, now called Raiders), but the Corps has also retained a number of Force Recon Marines under its own command hierarchy.
The Marine Corps, historically a holdout when it comes to offering up war fighters into the USSOCOM fold, uses its Force Recon troops for many of the same types of missions that might traditionally be allocated to SOF units, including amphibious reconnaissance, small boat operations, deep reconnaissance, direct action operations, and true to the Marine Corps’ heritage, maritime interdiction and board search and seizure operations.
Although Force Recon Marines undergo training to conduct similar operations to those of the Navy SEALS, the difference between the groups is best depicted in operational strategy. Force Recon, which gained its name upon the group’s creation in the 1950s as a unit that conducts forward reconnaissance of enemy forces, traditionally wasn’t intended as a direct action force. Amphibious reconnaissance operations conducted by Force Recon are considered a success if the Marines are never detected, and never fire a shot. Force Recon Marines’ first priority is intelligence gathering, whereas SEALs are often employed in a more direct combat role.
Of course, Force Recon Marines are highly trained when it comes to direct action operations as well, which has been an ever-increasing priority since the war on terror began in 2001.
Force Recon Marines that aren’t working in direct support of SOCOM typically deploy attached to Marine Expeditionary Units (MEUs) in platoon sized detachments. Within the MEU, Force Recon platoons make up the direct action element of what’s called the Maritime Raid Force – which was established following the capability gap created by the standing up of MARSOC in 2007. The MRF carries out raids aboard maritime objectives, such as ships, oil rigs, and even targets on shore. Often, the MRF participates in anti-piracy operations.
In this brief video provided by the United States Marine Corps, you can see a bit of what it takes to be Force Recon Marine – a Special Operations Capable fighting force that may not get as much recognition as their SOCOM or JSOC affiliated Special Operations counterparts, but nonetheless operate at the highest level of combat capability, stealth reconnaissance, and, in keeping with Marine Corps traditions, small unit leadership.
Image courtesy of the Department of Defense