Marine Special Operations Command, better known as MARSOC, officially came into existence on February 24, 2006. The institution of MARSOC and the Marine Raiders was the result of many years of effort.

Special Operations Command (SOCOM) was instituted in 1986. At the time, the Marine’s elite unit was known as Force Reconnaissance, they were the predecessors of MARSOC. Back then, Marine leadership did not want to join SOCOM, since they felt it would jeopardize Force Recon and its special capabilities under the direction of the Marine Corps. There was a sense that joining SOCOM would result in the downfall of the Marines as a whole.

After the 9/11 attacks, the sentiment towards SOCOM began to change. The importance and relevance of having a dedicated special operations unit attached to SOCOM became apparent for some. In an effort to join SOCOM, the Marines stood up a test unit, MCSOCOM Detachment 1, often simply referred to as Det 1.

Det 1 was stood up in June 2003. The unit was mostly Marines from the 1st and 2nd Force Reconnaissance Companies, along with other especially chosen Marines to fill support roles. Det 1 was deployed to Iraq in 2003 with Navy SEALs from Naval Special Warfare Group One. Over the next three years, Det 1 worked alongside other special operations units. SOCOM reviewed Det 1’s performance and was satisfied with the results. This segwayed into the official formation of MARSOC in 2006 and the standing down of Det 1.

In August of 2014, MARSOC took ownership of the Marine Raider title. The name originates from WWII. The Marine Raiders of WWII are said to have been the first U.S. special operations unit. During the war, these raiders specialized in small-unit, light infantry, amphibious warfare. They were able to penetrate deep behind enemy lines on the Pacific islands. In WWII, the Raiders’ special title, and categorization of being an elite unit, brought some resentment from the rest of the Marine force. Due to the Marines” shifting tactics of implementing large, amphibious assaults, the Raiders’ mission was deemed no longer relevant, and they were disbanded in January of 1944.

Today, MARSOC’s Raiders have become a formidable and highly specialized special operations force. They specialize in Direct Action, Special Reconnaissance, Counter-Terrorism, and Foreign Internal Defense. They train and fight from air, land, and sea. Since MARSOC’s inception, the unit has conducted over 300 deployments to 13 countries.

MARSOC
A U.S. Marine Corps CH-53E Super Stallion is staged during a Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command night raid exercise at Tactical Air Combat Training System Airfield, near Yuma, April 21, 2016. This exercise was conducted during Weapons and Tactics Instructor (WTI) course 2-16. WTI is a seven week training event hosted by Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron One (MAWTS-1) cadre. MAWTS-1 provides standardized advanced tactical training and certification of unit instructor qualifications to support Marine Aviation Training and Readiness and assists in developing and employing aviation weapons and tactics. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Zachary M. Ford, MAWTS-1 COMCAM/ Released)

Joining MARSOC

To join MARSOC, an individual must first enter the conventional Marines. MARSOC has an enlisted route and an officer route. Enlisted Raider members are known as Critical Skills Operators (CSOs) and the officers are Special Operations Officers (SOOs).

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 To enter the MARSOC pipeline as a CSO, an individual must meet the following requirements: 

  •   Must be able to obtain a Secret security clearance
  •   Achieve a minimum GT score of at least 105
  •   Earn a minimum score of 235 on the PFT
  •   Have no more than two Non-Judicial Punishment events on current enlistment
  •   Pass MARSOC’s swim assessment
  •   Be eligible for reenlistment
  •   Meet MARSOC’s medical screening requirements
  •   Have no more than 18 months time in grade as a sergeant upon entering the Individual Training Course (ITC)

 To enter the MARSOC pipeline as an SOO, an individual must meet the following requirements:

  •   Must be able to obtain a Secret security clearance
  •   Achieve a minimum GT/GCT score of at least 110
  •   Earn a minimum score of 235 on the PFT
  •   Pass MARSOC’s swim assessment
  •   Meet MARSOC’s medical screening requirements
  •   Have no more than 24 months time in grade as a captain upon entering the Individual Training Course (ITC)

Training Pipeline

Assessment & Selection:

The MARSOC pipeline is broken up into the Assessment & Selection (A&S) Phase and the Individual Training Course (ITC).

The A&S Phase is broken up into two phases. In Phase 1, candidates are subjected to three weeks of rigorous training which pushes individuals to their physical and mental limits. In this phase, candidates are evaluated in multiple test gates, including:

  •   PFT
  •   Abandon ship drill
  •   300-meter swim
  •   11-minute tread
  •   12-mile ruck
  •   Physical in-test

During Phase 2, which is also three-weeks-long, candidates continue to face more physical and mental challenges. During this phase, individuals are continuously evaluated to determine if they’re the right fit for the MARSOC community.

After the completion of Phase 2, candidates are selected for the Individual Training Course. Just because a Marine is selected for ITC, does not guarantee his/her success through the next nine months of training.

Individual Training Course:

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ITC is nine-months-long and is based at Camp Lejeune, NC. Here, CSOs and SOOs receive extensive training, preparing them for the demands and op-tempo they will face at the Raider battalions and on deployment. Throughout the nine months, students will go through four training phases, participating in training blocks addressing communications, weapons training, small unit tactics, amphibious tactics, urban combat, close-quarters battle (CQB), irregular warfare, special reconnaissance, and combat casualty care. In addition, students will attend the Survival, Evasions, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) course. At the end of ITC, students go through a three-week final training exercise, serving as a culmination of the previous nine months.

After graduating from ITC, the new Raiders will be assigned to a Raider battalion, where they will participate in a pre-deployment work-up, typically lasting 10-12 months. MARSOC deployments can last anywhere from 90 days to eight months.

Marine Raiders prepare for a jump
U.S. Marines with Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron One (MAWTS-1) and 2nd Marine Raider Battalion, Marine Raider Regiment prepare to jump out of a KC-130J Hercules during Weapons and Tactics Instructor (WTI) course 2-16 at Site 54, near Wellton, Ariz., April 15, 2016. WTI is a seven week training event hosted by Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron One (MAWTS-1) cadre. MAWTS-1 provides standardized advanced tactical training and certification of unit instructor qualifications to support Marine Aviation Training and Readiness and assists in developing and employing aviation weapons and tactics. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Zachary M. Ford, MAWTS-1 COMCAM/ Released)

MARSOC Specialists and Support

MARSOC offers Marines the unique opportunity to come into the community as dedicated specialists and support personnel.

To support the unique, dynamic, and challenging environments that Raiders operate in, MARSOC uses Special Operations Capability Specialists (SOCSs) to help complete the mission. These SOCSs specialize in specific areas such as intelligence, fire support, communications, dog handling, and explosives. SOCSs receive advanced special operations training and often deploy alongside CSOs and SOOs.

There is also Combat Service Support (CSS) personnel. These individuals support all aspects of the MARSOC community, such as administration, logistics, and motor transport. These individuals often receive additional special operations training to allow them to properly integrate into the special operations world. CSSs will spend one full tour at a Raider unit and will then be rotated back to the conventional Marine force.

Command Structure

The Marine Raider Regiment is split between Camp Lejeune, NC and Camp Pendleton, CA. The Marine Raider Regiment (headquarters), Support Group, Training Center, and the 2nd and 3rd Marine Raider Battalions are located at Camp Lejeune, NC. The 1st Raider Battalion is located at Camp Pendleton, CA.

Each Battalion consists of four Companies, and each Company is comprised of four, 14-man teams. These 14-man teams, known as Marine Special Operations Teams (MSOTs), are split up into an HQ element and two identical tactical squads. The HQ element consists of an SOO, the Team Chief (CSO Master Sergeant), Operations SNCO (CSO Gunnery Sergeant), and a Communications SNCO. Each tactical squad has four CSOs and a Special Amphibious Reconnaissance Corpsman (SARC). Each squad is led by an element leader.

Weapons

Marine Raiders are armed with a variety of weapons. Their go-to sidearm is the 9mm Glock 19, which was placed into service with MARSOC in 2015. They also have multiple rifles at their disposal. The most common and well known is the Mk 18 Mod 1, which is a specialized M4, outfitted with a 10.3″ barrel, known as a Close Quarters Battle Receiver (CQBR) and of course a SOPMOD package. These rifles are designed for fighting in confined spaces and to be easily carried while traversing vehicles, aircraft, and ships. Marine Raiders also carry the Mk 17 and Mk 16, also known as the SCAR-H and SCAR-L. The SCAR-H shoots a 7.62 mm round while the SCAR-L shoots a 5.56 mm. These rifles are very accurate, and although they are not classified as sniper rifles, they are outstanding marksmanship rifles, which are good weapons to have in long-range engagements.

For heavy weapons, Raiders use the Mk 48 Mod 1 machine gun, a mainstay in the U.S. Special Operation’s arsenal. The MK 48 is a compact machine gun, stemming from the origins of the M60 and M240. The Mk 48 shoots a 7.62mm round. Weighing in at just 24 pounds, the machine gun can pack quite a punch and can be used as an individual weapon in the field for an extended period of time.

MARSOC in Afghanistan
A Marine Special Forces Soldier scans the terrain after a short night’s sleep during a three-day mission through the mountains of Bagwa, Farah province, Afghanistan Feb. 25.

Notable Missions and Engagements

During 2012, MARSOC was operating in western Afghanistan, including Badghis and Helmand Provinces. In July of that year, a group of Afghan Commandos in Badghis were ambushed by insurgents that were holed up in buildings. Three Afghans were wounded immediately. MARSOC operators Gunnery Sergeants Jonathan Gifford and Daniel Price drove towards the wounded commandos on their ATVs, under enemy fire. They retrieved the wounded men and took them back to a secure location, where a MEDEVAC helicopter was able to evacuate the wounded commandos. Price and Gifford then proceeded to head back into the firefight, engaging in a close-quarters battle with the enemy. To shift the tide of the battle, Price and Gifford began dropping grenades down the chimneys, where the entrenched insurgents were located. While doing this, they were struck by PKM fire and were both killed. Price was posthumously awarded the Silver Star and Gifford received the Navy Cross.

In 2016, the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion was participating in operations to liberate Mosul, Iraq from ISIS’s grip, in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. In October of that year, a group of Marine Raiders received small arms fire and took control of an area between two enemy-held positions. They soon came under attack by a group of about 25 ISIS fighters and a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED). One of the Raiders began engaging the enemy with a sniper rifle. He then proceeded to climb on top of one of the vehicles, where he picked up a Javelin rocket launcher and proceeded to destroy the VBIED. For his actions, he was awarded the Silver Star.

After so much fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Marine Raider community has been no stranger to hardship. Between 2007 and 2019, Marine Raiders received over 300 awards for valor, but have also seen 41 Raiders killed in combat and training. There’s no doubt that the Marine Raider Regiment will continue to answer America’s call for years to come.