Defense Media Network

Newest Defense Media Network Promotion

MARSOC: Leaning Forward

Marine Corps Forces, Special Operations Command (MARSOC) prepared for its fourth change of command, a new sergeant major, and, possibly, a name change as it celebrated its eighth anniversary as the newest special operations force in USSOCOM.

“I think one thing that has been helpful is, even though you have different people coming into various staff positions, we have been consistent with our vision and mission,” said Maj. Gen. Mark Clark, MARSOC’s fourth commander, who is transitioning (a term he prefers to “retiring”) from the Marine Corps in mid-2014. “Our priorities remain the same – supporting the current fight and global SOF [special operations forces] network while, in many ways, getting into our regionalization effort and Preservation of the Force and Family initiative. And, of course, our response to resourcing.”

MARSOC units began operating in Afghanistan and Iraq only six months after it was created as a major command within the Marine Corps and a co-equal component of the U.S. Special Operations Command alongside Army, Air Force, and Navy SOF commands. Since then, it has grown steadily in size, capability, missions, and leadership roles within SOCOM.

MARSOC units began operating in Afghanistan and Iraq only six months after it was created as a major command within the Marine Corps and a co-equal component of the U.S. Special Operations Command alongside Army, Air Force, and Navy SOF commands. Since then, it has grown steadily in size, capability, missions, and leadership roles within SOCOM.

During Clark’s two years as commander, special operations also has become an official career path for enlisted personnel; now he hopes to see something similar for the officer corps.

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel

Maj. Gen. Mark Clark, commanding general, U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Special Operations Command (MARSOC), escort U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel around Stone Bay, Camp Lejeune, N.C., July 17, 2013. Hagel visited with Marines and sailors of MARSOC to provide them an update of the forces and thank them for their service. Hagel is the first secretary of defense to visit MARSOC since its inception. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Chadwick de Bree

“We have a closed-loop MOS for enlisted, but not for our officers. So we’re working with SOCOM and the Marine Corps to determine what is the right path for them, one that maintains credibility in the SOF community, but also credibility and promotability in the big Corps,” he said. “One thing I think will come out of our current staff talks will be a proposed career path that will provide our officers with some kind of predictability, but also predictability for SOCOM, so they have a path to follow when they leave MARSOC and should they return later. That also will be a career path that is considered promotable at the same rate as their big Corps peers, even though each may not have been in his primary MOS for part of that time.”

While he does not see any devastating effects on MARSOC from ongoing budget cuts and sequestration, Clark does acknowledge they have suspended the command’s growth. As funding grew tighter in 2013, he “adjusted the concept of building the MARSOC force to building the ‘right’ force,” which now will be smaller than was anticipated as late as early 2013.

“The commandant has been very supportive of MARSOC and, although we have not grown to what was originally programmed, I think we have reached a good number, given what is going on – 2,742 is the magic number to have what we need. Where we have taken some loss in not realizing full growth is in some of our combat support,” he said. “But working with the Corps, they are leaning forward in how they can help fill some of those gaps – not necessarily permanently, but at the time of deployment. So I’ve been pretty happy.

“The commandant has been very supportive of MARSOC and, although we have not grown to what was originally programmed, I think we have reached a good number, given what is going on – 2,742 is the magic number to have what we need. Where we have taken some loss in not realizing full growth is in some of our combat support,” he said. “But working with the Corps, they are leaning forward in how they can help fill some of those gaps – not necessarily permanently, but at the time of deployment. So I’ve been pretty happy.”

“It has caused us to relook at our organization and adjust to the environment, which we’ve done a good job at, aligning our support battalions with our operations battalions, which has helped us deal with some of the areas we did not grow in. That said, we certainly have plans in place, if we are ever able to realize any additional growth, to flesh out those areas where we have gaps now. We’re not counting on it, but will be able to take full advantage of it should the opportunity arise.”

One such relook was the creation of a new at-sea component to work with Marine Expeditionary Units (MEUs) afloat. That does not mean MARSOC is returning to one of the original concepts of putting full MARSOC teams on ships as part of the Pacific pivot.

“We addressed that in last year’s SOCOM-Corps war games. We determined it was best to allow SOCOM and MARSOC to provide assistance to general purpose forces, but also figure out how to tie together the MAGTFs [Marine Air-Ground Task Forces] and special purpose Corps units with SOF,” Clark said.

1st Marine Special Operations Battalion

Members of 1st Marine Special Operations Battalion practice boarding and searching ships, May 21, 2013. Marines train for visit, board, search, and seizure (VBSS) at the highest level. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Robert Storm

“So we came up with the concept of the SOF Liaison Element – SOFLE – where we take an O5 [lieutenant colonel] and build a team behind him that represents the SOF community. They provide the capability for the local commanders to tap into the SOF network, whether in predeployment training or actual deployment. You have this small group on the ship with them that ties them into the SOF network and TSOC [Theater Special Operations Command]. So if there are exercises or crisis response, they can use the SOFLE to do that.”

A SOFLE deployed with the Corps’ West Coast MEU in spring 2014 and another to the East Coast MEU.

“This will be proof-of-concept; we believe they will be value-added to the MEUs as they go out. A SOFLE is a six-man team, headed by an O5. The first is from MARSOC, but could be from another SOF organization. We’re still sorting out which organization is the best to head up a SOFLE. The members do not have to be naval; you have a menu of options to tap into the entire SOF capability, with a USASOC individual or AFSOC or Navy SEAL providing specific expertise,” he explained.

“There will be no standing MARSOC team on ships unless a specific mission requires it. That works out for us, because there may be something else required of that team, such as persistent engagement on the ground. That also relieves some of the pressure on the MEUs; every time you add something on the ship, something else has to come off.”

MARSOC will be working closely with the Corps and SOCOM to develop the new at-sea liaison, especially as part of exercises.

“There will be a lot of discovery and learning on the SOFLE concept. The SOFLE attached to the West Coast MEU recently did an exercise that worked out pretty well,” Clark added. “So now we’re looking at Alligator, Dawn Blitz, and other bigger exercises to see how to best integrate SOF and general purpose forces that take advantage of what SOF can provide, whether it is special reconnaissance, direct action, preparation of environment, etc. – and how do we write that into some of our doctrine out there.”

A naval aviator who flew USMC CH-53E Super Stallions and V-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft as well as the MH-53J Pave Low while an exchange pilot with the Air Force 20th Special Operations Squadron, Clark has spent the bulk of his career since 9/11 in special ops – first as current operations officer with the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force (K-Bar) in Afghanistan, then Joint Operations Center chief for the Combined Joint Force Special Operations Command in Qatar and, just prior to assuming command of MARSOC, as director of operations and then acting deputy director of SOCOM.

Prev Page 1 2 Next Page

By

J.R. Wilson has been a full-time freelance writer, focusing primarily on aerospace, defense and high...