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Book Review – Always Faithful, Always Forward: The Forging of a Special Operations Marine

By Dick Couch; Berkley Caliber Hardcover; 320 pages; 37 B/W photos

Author Dick Couch has written an entire series of books about the making of those who serve in the nation’s special operations forces, including Special Forces (Chosen Soldier: The Making of a Special Forces Warrior); Army Rangers (Sua Sponte: The Forging of a Modern American Ranger); Navy SEALs (The Finishing School: Earning the Navy SEAL Trident and The Warrior Elite: The Forging of SEAL Class 228). Always Faithful, Always Forward: The Forging of a Special Operations Marine does the same for Marine Raiders, and according to Couch’s introduction, is the final book in the series.

Marine Raiders trace their lineage to the months immediately following Pearl Harbor, actually predating the establishment of the first modern Ranger Battalion. But the Raider Battalions were dissolved while World War II was still raging. Why? Along with operational and organizational considerations, one outstanding reason was an institutional bias against an “elite within an elite,” because, the argument went, the Marine Corps was already an elite fighting force. Thus a Marine Corps special operations force was not part of SOCOM when the command was formed in 1986, nor was a Marine contingent a part of SOCOM until early 2006, almost five years after the nature of warfare had changed on Sept. 11.

Always Faithful, Always Forward

Always Faithful, Always Forward: The Forging of a Special Operations Marine; by Dick Couch; Berkley Caliber Hardcover; 320 pages; 37 B/W photos

The result was that Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC) stood up in the middle of a war, and essentially sent a detachment straight into battle. Because the roles and specialties of the other service component special operations forces were well established, the Marines took on roles and missions that required enhancement or expansion. While this story has been told in part, a thorough study of the manning, training, and equipping of Marine Corps special operations forces was overdue, and Always Faithful, Always Forward is a welcome book coming from a well-respected source.

Required reading for those interested in learning about American special operations forces today, Always Faithful, Always Forward makes a complex subject comprehensible even to someone with no knowledge of the military today, and that is something very few writers can accomplish.

A former SEAL platoon leader in Vietnam and later a CIA case officer, Couch began his writing career with novels whose subject matter revolved around SEALs and special operations, but was convinced to try his hand at non-fiction, to the benefit of the special operations community and especially those interested in reading about it.

Couch employs a highly readable style that, despite the rarefied subject matter, gives the lay reader real understanding and insight into the personnel, training, equipment, and operations of special operations forces. Whether describing intensive, repetitive training in an engaging way, explaining the process of aligning M4 sights with the rail-mounted LA-5 laser projector, detailing weapon systems or individual equipment, or, more importantly, describing the personalities and character of special operations Marines, Couch pairs the skill of a novelist with the reportorial authority of someone who has “been there.” He also explains the big picture – why MARSOC evolved as it did, what its specialties are, how it fits in with the other SOCOM components, and what its future is likely to be.

Always Faithful, Always Forward is a worthy addition to Couch’s non-fiction books covering special operations. Required reading for those interested in learning about American special operations forces today, Always Faithful, Always Forward makes a complex subject comprehensible even to someone with no knowledge of the military today, and that is something very few writers can accomplish. Quite simply, no one writes about special operations with more insight and authority than Couch.