The U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Special Operations Command, (MARSOC) was stood up midway through the ongoing war in Southwest Asia, immediately deployed, and has been creating its tactics, techniques and procedures, concept of operations, training and equipment requirements, and command and organizational structure while under fire from day one. As with the Corps itself, in relation to the Army, Navy, and Air Force, MARSOC is the smallest service component of the joint U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), and celebrated its fifth birthday on Feb. 24, 2011, with about 2,200 Marines, sailors, and civilians in place out of the original 2,600 authorized by 2014. However, the increased reliance of Central Command (CENTCOM) leadership on special operations has led to new budgets increasing the size of SOCOM – including, despite an overall reduction of some 15,000 in the big Corps, a 44 percent boost in MARSOC end-strength. In November 2009, Maj. Gen. Paul E. Lefebvre became MARSOC’s third commanding officer, after serving as the deputy commanding general of II Marine Expeditionary Force (2009) and deputy commanding general of the Multi-National Corps-Iraq (2008-09). A Penn State football coach prior to joining the Marines in 1977, Lefebvre received the prestigious Leftwich Trophy for outstanding leadership by a combat captain while serving with 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines, in 1987. Other honors include most of the top 10 service awards and medals, among them the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Bronze Star, Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal, Defense Superior Service Medal, and Legion of Merit (two award stars). In mid-March, Lefebvre responded to The Year in Special Operations Senior Writer J.R. Wilson’s questions on the state of MARSOC. The Year in Special Operations: How has the ongoing restructuring of U.S. military forces affected MARSOC’s progress toward full operational capability in 2014? Maj. Gen. Paul E. Lefebvre: MARSOC was continuing its consistent, steady march to our authorized end-strength of 2,600 Marines by 2014, but with the commandant’s recent announcement regarding the Force Structure Review recommendations, MARSOC now will grow an additional 44 percent. Our end-strength will be 3,840 Marines, civilians, U.S. Navy, and U.S. Army personnel once all currently approved structure is achieved. The remaining requirement for 134 Marines and 83 service-funded civilians will be addressed via other methods in the OSD [Office of the Secretary of Defense] manpower process. Currently, MARSOC has just over 550 trained CSOs [Critical Skills Operators], with an end-strength of about 800 CSOs. I think we have recently settled on a sound methodology that will ensure we find the right Marines in terms of quantity and quality. MARSOC is working with both SOCOM and the Marine Corps in the current budget cycle [program objective memorandum 2013] to coordinate the equipment required to outfit the growth in our force, primarily aimed at organic Combat Support and Combat Service Support. We will compete our priorities against other priorities within each component’s topline, SOCOM, and the Marine Corps to get the funding required to fulfill the total force. With that said, our shortfalls are minor on the SOF [special operations forces] side due to our ability to realign monies currently used for contractors as uniformed growth is achieved. What has the withdrawal from Iraq and surge in Afghanistan meant for MARSOC? No matter what clime or place, we have realized that the nature of irregular warfare has become one [to which] special operations forces are well suited. There is no indication that the world will soon revert to a place where large armies fight across open fields or even to a place where the enemy can be easily identified. Marines as a whole thrive in irregular warfare and uncertainty, and this is no different in the future generation of our MARSOC warriors. To what extent has MARSOC been able to move forward in developing a Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force capability? In our ongoing efforts to build a command with long-term relevancy that USSOCOM can employ across the spectrum of SOF engagement methods, my top priority is to select and train Marines who will eventually be capable of conducting missions that can help shape the long-term strategic environment, using capabilities to separate reconcilables from irreconcilables. What percentage of MARSOC Marines have now completed or are currently taking the Individual Training Course (ITC)? It would not be appropriate to answer this question, based on how skewed the numbers look. Just remember that we stood up MARSOC five years ago from nothing – meaning we had to pull from both Force Recon battalions, so a lot of these folks based on the deployments that started right away did not get a chance to attend ITC. There is currently one ITC in session. Have you implemented the advanced skills courses you had planned to take the operators beyond the ITC level? MSOS [Marine Special Operations School] has implemented the MARSOF Breacher Course [MBC], MARSOF Technical Surveillance Course [MTSC], MARSOF Advanced Sniper Course [MASC], and MARSOF Close Quarter Battle Leaders Course [CQBLC] to provide advanced skills to experienced operators in order to build or expand individual and team capability. Additionally, courses like Marine Network Operators Course [MNOC]and Enhanced Network Operators Course [ENOC] provide advanced skill training on communications planning, equipment, and procedures.
Have there been any additions or changes to the schoolhouse in the past year, in terms of instructors, training equipment, focus, etc.? The training focus at MSOS has remained fairly consistent over the last 18 months, save the introduction of the Assessment and Selection [Preparation] and Orientation Course [ASPOC] that precedes A&S [assessment and selection]. This course allows MARSOC to aid candidates in their preparation for the rigors of A&S, as well as mentor candidates on the profession they are attempting to enter. MSOS has also enjoyed the use of its new multi-classroom Academic Facility in order to train its students and continued growth in experienced MARSOC operators joining its ranks as instructors as they complete their initial tours in the operational teams, which in turn facilitates improvements to the curriculum. Finally, MSOS was relieved of its exercise control mission for the Raven series exercises [pre-deployment special skills reinforcement] with the creation of the G7 [Provost Marshal’s Office] within MARSOC. How would you assess the new Leaders Course and its goal of establishing a standardized look at complex, rapid expeditionary planning, and deployment of assets? The purpose of the MARSOF Leader’s Course – to prepare Marine Special Operations Team [MSOT] leadership to effectively employ talent and assets while fostering dynamic critical thinking in the leaders who will be conducting operations worldwide – has not changed. By giving our Marine Special Operations Team leadership increased situational awareness, problem-solving skills and planning experience, we will prepare them to work independently under any circumstance. As experienced officers and staff non-commissioned officers [many of whom have recently returned from deployments to Afghanistan or elsewhere] cycle through the course, their after-action comments allow the MSOR [Marine Special Operations Regiment] to refine and improve the course curriculum to suit the unique needs of MARSOC’s team leadership. These refinements will be increasingly important as the course population continues to shift from experienced MARSOC operators to recent graduates of the Individual Training Course. To what extent have MARSOC training programs been assisted by or coordinated with the Joint Special Operations University? We have received a good bit of instructor support for both our MARSOC Leaders Course and Staff Orientation Course. Topics covered include plans overviews to Advanced Planning and Irregular Warfare in classes as well as an introduction to SOF courses. Their Joint Mobile Education Team [JMET] provided courses to our MSOCs [Marine Special Operations Companies] and MSOTs in Joint Civil Military Operations [JCMO] Contemporary Insurgent Warfare and Advanced Special Ops Planning. In 2011, we expect to receive the same level of support, with the addition of two tailored JMETs in support of 1st Marine Special Operations Battalion’s pre-deployment training plan, specifically with the IW Course and JCMO, with a focus on civil affairs, information operations, and NATO planning. With the Leaders Course now in place, what remains to be done to complete your concept of a three-chessboard approach to SOF: ITC for basic skills, the schoolhouse for information operations (advanced language courses and the cultural immersion program), and the Leaders Course to apply lessons learned in Southwest Asia, interagency relationships, integrating with local forces, etc.? We have made a great deal of progress in our education and training that has enabled us to provide a very skilled capability across the spectrum of special operations. As in virtually everything we do, we capture lessons learned and after-action reviews from a variety of events, to include training, deployments, and operations to enable us to continue to refine in an effort to continually become better and more efficient. How have recent budget cuts and program realignments affected MARSOC’s equipment needs? MARSOC has been able to adjust internally to meet our equipment requirements by leveraging USMC resources for service-common capabilities while focusing our special operations-peculiar resources to meet more specific mission needs. What do you still need in terms of equipment, beyond what is provided by the big Corps or other SOCOM or service components? Minor open-market purchases are the only other sources for equipment outside of USMC and SOCOM programs of record that MARSOC utilizes. This avenue covers the need for items at the unit level that have been identified as requirements, but are not covered by an existing program of record. Most public attention has been on Southwest Asia, but what role has MARSOC played elsewhere in the world? While supporting operations in Afghanistan, MARSOC has been involved in many missions that span the globe. To date, we have conducted missions in over 15 different countries. The majority of these missions have been partnered missions focusing on training and increasing host-nation capabilities, assisting in counter-narcoterrorism [CNT] efforts, and providing other subject-matter expert guidance. Specifically, we have conducted events in AFRICOM [U.S. African Command], including exchange training and exercises, predominantly in countries such as Mauritania, Kenya, Mali, and Senegal. We have participated in PACOM [U.S. Pacific Command] events, such as exchange training and CNT in the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia. In SOUTHCOM [U.S. Southern Command], our involvement includes exchange training and CNT in places like the Dominican Republic, as well as humanitarian assistance/disaster relief [HADR] in Haiti. CENTCOM, where we have been the busiest, has seen MARSOC conduct missions in support of OEF-A, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, and Yemen. Have you been able to concentrate on specific regions and missions to better train MARSOC operators in the languages, cultures, and local/regional conflicts they are likely to encounter? The commander of SOCOM has assigned MARSOC focus areas that have allowed us to tailor the pre-deployment training for MARSOC operators in order to maximize our capabilities in languages and become more culturally attuned to the areas we believe are key today and for the future. MARSOC teams operate in small groups in remote areas beyond the front lines, tasked with forging relationships that cross national and cultural barriers. This integration into and acceptance by local populaces allows long-term impacts on the stability of a region. You once said a key MARSOC strength is the development of team leaders and senior staff NCOs – E-7s and E-8s – with unique operational expertise. How would you assess that effort to date? I think we are doing pretty well. As experienced officers and staff NCOs who have completed the course return from deployments to Afghanistan and other AOs [areas of operation], we are capitalizing on their experience and knowledge in conducting portions of the training of the Leader’s Course. Their candid after-action comments and discussions, identifying strengths and weaknesses of their units, as well as the successes and failures they experienced, create an environment for significant thought and discussion between them and the student population. What is the status of your efforts to develop and implement a performance and resiliency philosophy as an integral part of MARSOC operations? The PerRes [Performance and Resiliency] program has adopted the mission statement of developing a spiritus invictus – an unconquerable spirit for the MARSOC community. We are successfully integrating a holistic approach capable of rehabilitating and enhancing physical, mental, and spiritual performance while maintaining overall resilience – the individual and unit’s capacity to withstand stress and hardship and remain functionally and holistically able to group and self-renew. On the physical front, PerRes has integrated a staff of one physical therapist and two strength coaches assigned to each battalion and the schoolhouse and active-duty Navy physical therapy and strength and conditioning support to MSOSG [Marine Special Operations Support Group] and MSOR. We also have a PerRes dietician, providing nutritional consultation and educational support across the command. A PerRes physical performance methodology has been developed that will be introduced as the Marine begins the ASPOC, continue throughout ITC and then be systematic into the battalions and command. The PerRes Mental and Spiritual staff has been vital in the development of two programs that are critical to the resilience of our Marines. In September , the Human Factors Council was developed to identify high-risk Marines and address their issues through an integrated application of multiple resources and services at the command or in the SOF community. Another initiative is our Third Location Decompression [TLD], which was developed to provide decompression and reintegration for the Marine while transitioning from combat to home. This program includes a Transition and PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] signs and symptoms brief from the PerRes Mental and Spiritual staff and a 10- to 15-minute evaluation by the command and assistant command psychologists to screen for the rare cases that require timely clinical attention. As of today – and looking back to MARSOC’s creation at the midpoint of the ongoing war in Southwest Asia – how has the command evolved toward its initial goals? We have made great progress in our contributions to SOCOM in the last five years. We have and currently are consistently deploying to a number [of] priority locations in support of our nation’s security objectives. We have established great relationships with a host of individuals and established superb rapport with a number of host- and partner-nation militaries. Our language and cultural exposure and appreciation have risen substantially, which will better serve us in the future in various regions throughout the world. What do you see for MARSOC five years from now, in terms of its role in SOCOM, relationships with other service SOFs and with the big Corps, its status as a fully developed operational command, and what it will provide to the combatant commanders and the nation’s defense? U.S. special operators have been the cornerstone of our military operations since the beginning of the Global War on Terror. We must continue to develop our Marines and sailors into regional experts who can operate in an area and work by, with, and through the native population. All of SOCOM is now in high gear, a tempo we expect to maintain for a long time. In order to chart the proper course, we must be able to visualize the end-state we intend to achieve – quite simply, to see a picture of how successful special operations forces will operate in the future. This interview first appeared in The Year in Special Operations 2011-2012 Edition.