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MARSOC Year in Review 2012-2013

Still growing, but no longer new

As the Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC) celebrated its seventh anniversary in February 2013, MARSOC’s fourth commander, Maj. Gen. Mark A. “Droopy” Clark, the first aviator to head the Corps’ special operations forces (SOF), told his operators they are no longer a “new” command.

“One of our core strengths has been to build a highly effective integrated C2 [command and control] capability to exercise networked command and control from the SOTF to the company to the team level across a vast area, including C2 of other SOF component units under its control,” Clark told The Year in Special Operations.

“We are a young organization. We are still growing, but we are no longer new,” he said. “We are accepted and respected in the special operations community. Our operations in Afghanistan and elsewhere over the past 12 months have demonstrated our maturation as a command and have proved our value.”

Exercise Raider Spirit Camp Lejeune

A Marine with Individual Training Course (ITC), Marine Special Operations School, Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command, patrols during Exercise Raider Spirit aboard Camp Lejeune, N.C., Oct. 6, 2010. Exercise Raider Spirit is an event that combines the training the ITC students have completed to that point. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Thomas W. Provost

During that period, MARSOC Marines and sailors received 135 valor medals, 112 combat action ribbons, and 25 purple hearts. The command also continued its leadership role with U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) special operations task forces (SOTFs), an evolution within the joint force that Marine leaders have seen as proof of MARSOC’s growing capabilities.

For most of 2012, the 1st Marine Special Operations Battalion (MSOB) commanded SOTF-West: Marines, Army Green Berets, and Navy SEALs responsible for Badghis, Helmand, Nimroz, Farah, Herat, and Ghor provinces – a 100,000-square-mile area incorporating some of Afghanistan’s bloodiest regions. During that time, they became the first SOTF to effectively transition an entire province – Badghis – to the control of the Afghan government.

SOTF-West also spearheaded the incursion of more than 14,000 SOF, conventional, U.S., and international forces into Helmand’s upper Gereshk Valley, another extremely violent region that had been relatively untouched by coalition forces. As a result, three new coalition sites were established in what had been an insurgent stronghold, enabling special operators to extend their Village Stability Operations (VSO) mission to train local Afghan defense forces in the area.

VSO and advanced operating bases, where special operators embed themselves in villages and bring together local leaders – often age-old enemies – to work on common goals and defenses, are key to preparing Afghanistan for a future without U.S. and coalition forces. Creating a new local structure in which even those historically hostile to each other work together then provides a framework for cooperation with Afghan regional and national government efforts, something never before seen in Afghanistan.

“One of our core strengths has been to build a highly effective integrated C2 [command and control] capability to exercise networked command and control from the SOTF to the company to the team level across a vast area, including C2 of other SOF component units under its control,” Clark told The Year in Special Operations.

“Our operations in Afghanistan and elsewhere over the past 18 months have demonstrated our unique capabilities in this area, providing great utility to the SOJTF [special operations joint task force] commander. Not only has this proven a great asset in the current fight in Afghanistan but will certainly prove its value in other expansive areas, such as Africa and the Pacific.”

While continuing to focus on ensuring MARSOC forces deploying to Afghanistan and elsewhere are well trained and prepared, work also has continued to enhance the enabling support SOF core teams and companies receive from the command and big Corps.

“This has proven instrumental in ensuring a tightly knit, effective combat unit before deploying,” Clark added. “Deploying a unit fully enabled with intelligence, logistics, EOD [explosive ordnance disposal], etc., is one of the distinguishing attributes of MARSOC.

CH-47 marines rappel onto cargo ship

Marines with the 1st Marine Special Operations Battalion, U.S. Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command, rappel from a CH-47 helicopter onto the deck of a mock cargo ship during visit, board, search, and seizure (VBSS) training with the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment near Camp Pendleton, Calif. VBSS, which consists of maritime vessel boarding and searching, is used to combat smuggling, drug trafficking, terrorism, and piracy. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Kyle McNally

“To help with the enabling support, MARSOC established three new battalions as part of its ‘Right Force’ build, increasing our organic logistics capability and ability to deploy fully enabled SOF capable of distributed operations in austere environments. We continued to focus on the right training and equipment to prepare us as an expeditionary responsive force for crises in whatever clime and place we are called upon,” Clark said.

In the fall of 2012, MARSOC reorganized its Special Operations Support Group (SOSG) to create those new battalions, focused on the command’s growing combat support (CS) and combat service support (CSS) requirements.

“I think one of our truest gains is the synergy we build between the CSO [critical skills operator] and SOCS/SOCSS [Special Operations Capabilities Specialist/Special Operations Combat Services Specialist] community by way of the six-month training prior to a Marine Special Operations Company deploying.”

“We established the Marine Special Operations Combat Support Battalion by combining the Intelligence Battalion and Support Company at Camp Lejeune [N.C.] and grew Detachment-West into Marine Special Operations Support Battalion at Camp Pendleton [Calif.]. Additionally, we stood up a brand-new battalion, Marine Special Operations Logistics Battalion, at Camp Lejeune to provide garrison and deployed CSS. These three battalions have all received their commanders and sergeants major,” Clark said.

“I think one of our truest gains is the synergy we build between the CSO [critical skills operator] and SOCS/SOCSS [Special Operations Capabilities Specialist/Special Operations Combat Services Specialist] community by way of the six-month training prior to a Marine Special Operations Company deploying. Also, with the SOCs now being a part of the organization for five years, we can afford to enable greater partnerships and relationships with the greater MARSOC community. This direct support relationship speaks volumes regarding continuity and trust while deployed.”

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