In August 2012, Maj. Gen. Mark A. Clark became the fourth commander of Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC), which celebrated its seventh anniversary six months later. He is the first aviator to head the command – and the first with previous special operations experience.
A naval aviator since 1983, he was assigned to the Air Force 20th Special Operations Squadron in 1992 as the first exchange pilot on the MH-53J Pave Low, a long-range combat search and rescue helicopter. He returned to Marine Corps squadrons in 1995; with the start of the war in Afghanistan, he deployed to Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force-South (K-Bar) as current operations officer, then to the Combined Joint Force Special Operations Command in Qatar as the Joint Operations Center chief.
In 2009, Clark was named director of operations at U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), moving up to chief of staff in 2011 and, shortly before taking over at MARSOC, served as SOCOM’s acting deputy director.
Clark spoke with senior writer J.R. Wilson about his plans and expectations for MARSOC, through the drawdown in Afghanistan and into the “Pacific pivot.”
The Year in Special Operations: What is your assessment of the past 18 months for MARSOC?
Maj. Gen. Mark A. Clark: The past year saw MARSOC adapting to the “new normal,” acknowledging the fact we are no longer new. MARSOC has seen many changes during these seven years, but it has stayed the course in becoming an integral member of the SOCOM team, adjusting quickly to the needs of the combatant commanders [COCOMs], SOCOM, and the Marine Corps while being engaged in conflict. No small feat, and a testament to the people and [the] organization.
This past year, MARSOC has continued to work, train, educate, and fight alongside our SOF [special operations forces] brethren and our partner forces across the globe. We continue to learn from each other and share ideas to not only make each of our organizations better, but to provide a better commonality in the operational environment.
What do you expect to be your major areas of concern through the end of 2013?
Resourcing requirements will be even more important in the fiscal environment we’re in, that we do the best with what is good enough right now. I’ve adjusted the concept of building the MARSOC “total force” to building the “right force.” We can’t get locked into decisions we made three or four years ago. We need to adjust to the people and resources available. That may mean a smaller force right now and building up later, but we have to recognize DoD [Department of Defense] is going through some hard licks and we must adjust to that environment.
We’re looking at providing a network for persistent engagement and a crisis responsive force to serve the COCOMs’ needs. AFRICOM [U.S. Africa Command] has a lot of theater-specific requirements that need to be addressed, not just random acts where you visit them once a year, but constant contact, people who understand the culture and speak the language. That’s something SOF is good at and will get better at. We’re making a lot of headway, but there is still a lot of work ahead – you can’t just absorb language and culture overnight.
How did your time at SOCOM help you in taking command of MARSOC?
Each position I had in SOF and the Marine Corps built on each other. When I was at AFSOC [Air Force Special Operations Command], many of the guys I knew there I ran into again when I was assigned during the early days in Afghanistan. You build relationships with others and take things from the tactical to the operational level.
My first assignment at SOCOM really immersed me in the world of combating terrorism and in the development of plans to defeat the terrorist networks. I was educated in the world of the joint staff, the interagency, and the SOF community. My experiences at SOCOM helped me build upon the relationships I have with the SOF community and in the “speed of trust” when working issues with higher headquarters staff. It also helped me look at issues through the SOCOM lens and, conversely, now through a unique MARSOC lens into the SOF community.