As the Marine Corps Forces, Special Operations Command (MARSOC) prepared for its third change of command – with Maj. Gen. Mark A. Clark replacing Maj. Gen. Paul E. Lefebvre as the unit’s fourth commanding general in August – MARSOC felt it had overcome all of the questions raised when it first stood up in 2006.
“Our operations in Afghanistan and elsewhere over the last 18 months have demonstrated our maturation as a command and have proven the value of our operational construct,” Lefebvre reported. “MARSOC has worked, trained, and fought alongside our SOF [special operations forces] brethren and our partner forces. Our missions have come into greater focus with Adm. [Bill] McRaven’s guidance to ‘globalize SOF forces’ and become more joint in nature [McRaven assumed command of the U.S. Special Operations Command – SOCOM – in August 2011].
“MARSOC will continue to push operations and intelligence integration down to the lowest level of command and control [C2] and our use of full-spectrum distributed operations on the battlefield will remain our bread and butter capability. Any of our successes at the MSOC [Marine Special Operations Company] level are proof that one MSOC’s span of control can make a huge difference in paving the future; our Marines are in high demand due to their performance to date. As we stride into the future, we will continue to develop our littoral capability, with an eye toward maritime employment options, including MAGTF [Marine Air-Ground Task Force] interoperability.”
Deployed into combat in Southwest Asia immediately after its creation, and a constant presence there and around the world even as it went through the standard progression of any new command from stand up to full capability, MARSOC most recently has been tapped to play major roles – including lead – in expanding SOCOM operations. Those have included Joint Combined Exchange Training (JCET) outside Afghanistan and advanced operating bases (AOBs) – which might be described as “combat diplomacy” – in Afghanistan.
“MARSOC provides task-organized, scalable, sustainable, and responsive forces to SOCOM for both the kinetic and non-kinetic fight. Our core strengths are our scalable teams and companies and our command and control – where we push decision-making down to the strategic corporal, knowing those individual decision-makers are strong, mature, agile, and intelligent Marines who can make quick, critical decisions in the face of adversity and austere conditions,” Lefebvre added. “These individual critical skills operators are hand-picked after screening and evaluation to be multidimensional operators – our silent professionals, who operate as warrior diplomats, operating by, with, and through the native populations to have strategic impacts.
“MARSOC has great relations with all SOCOM components and our tactical interoperability has increased and developed exponentially with each SOTF [Special Operations Task Force] rotation in Afghanistan. Our MSOCs in Afghanistan, for example, are very effectively commanding, coordinating, and supporting up to eight different units of action from MARSOC, USASOC [U.S. Army Special Operations Command], and NSWC [Naval Special Warfare Command – SEALs] and our SOTF provides C2 for SOF units across a 100,000-square-mile area.”
During 2011, about two-thirds of the Marine Special Operations Regiment (MSOR) was deployed to Afghanistan, according to Regimental Commander Col. Steve Grass. Operations there included company- and battalion-sized persistent deployments and forming MSOCs and SOTFs in support of SOCOM and Theater Special Operations Commands (TSOCs).
“Our bread and butter is doing village-to-village operations in Afghanistan. We’ve made some great gains in our understanding of the environment there and the three ‘chessboards’ – tactical, strategic, and effects. Those start with tactical actions and stretch through understanding the people to the point of acutely bolstering their defense forces and strengthening government leading to transition,” he said. “We have focused on intel and ops integration, which is critical to the major fight we’re in right now.
“From a C2 perspective, we have SEAL platoons and ODAs [Operational Detachments Alpha-A] working under our companies and we in turn work largely for Army-based SOTFs. I was in this organization when it stood up, and in the last five years, in partnership with our sister services in SOCOM, we have developed into a force that can be effective on the battlefield and work with SOCOM as a whole. From a regimental perspective, we see a challenging, but rewarding, future for our participation in SOCOM missions.”
Also in 2011, the 3rd Marine Special Operations Battalion (MSOB) was concentrating on missions outside Afghanistan – Indonesia, the Philippines, Brazil, and Africa (Mali, Mauritania, Senegal, Kenya). That has included a focus on SOCOM-sponsored JCETs.
“We get to benefit from those by going to international partners and bringing regional and theater environmental experiences for our operational capabilities. In Indonesia, for example, we can do amphibious training in a new and different environment with a partner force that makes it more realistic for us,” noted 3rd MSOB Commander Lt. Col. Darren Duke, adding that such variety makes JCETs as important to the Marines as they are to partner nations. “Every location has something to teach us.”