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MARSOC Year in Review 2012-2013

Still growing, but no longer new

As they continued to work, train, educate, and fight alongside their sister SOCOM service components and with partner forces across the globe, Clark added that they have been able to learn from each other, sharing ideas to not only make each organization better, but to provide a better commonality in the operational environment.

“MARSOC will continue to look out ahead of the current operational commitments.”

“The environment outside Afghanistan has found MARSOC doing missions focusing on partner-nation training, assisting in counter-narcoterrorism efforts, and providing other subject-matter expert guidance. MARSOC will continue to look out ahead of the current operational commitments, working with SOCOM and the TSOCs [Theater Special Operations Commands] to anticipate where SOF will be needed, how to best posture SOF to be able to respond quickly to crises, and providing the important aspect of SOF in persistent engagement in the right areas of the globe,” Clark said.

Marine helocasting drills Savannah

Marines with 3rd Marine Special Operations Battalion, U.S. Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command, conduct predeployment training in Savannah, Ga., May 23, 2012. The Marines conducted helocasting drills during the training. Photo by Sgt. Anthony Carter

“MARSOC will also step up its efforts in developing our amphibious capability and committing to interoperability exercises that leverage our MARSOF/MAGTF [Marine Air-Ground Task Force] maritime capabilities. Efforts such as engaging with the MEFs [Marine Expeditionary Forces] and MEUs to inform them on how best to use SOF with a MAGTF.”

The lessons learned from Afghanistan – along with Joint Combined Exchange Training (JCET) exercises elsewhere around the globe – are helping military leaders shape MARSOC for the future.

“We’re going to become more involved with JCET activities – JCET on steroids, so to speak, building capabilities in other countries and establishing relationships. Our philosophy is ‘MARSOC does windows – but in a special way.’ We’re not locked into a particular role, but are much more expansive into operational environments and Phase One relations. Understanding the environment, I think, will be an advantage for us,” Clark predicted.

“As MARSOC grows, we will continue to develop our regionally aligned battalions and our littoral capability, with an eye toward maritime employment options. We believe that MARSOC’s role in SOCOM is as part of our nation’s maritime SOF capability, and this role will provide us multiple opportunities to stay connected to the Marine Corps’ expeditionary operations and future maritime capabilities. MARSOC is developing the capabilities to conduct maritime special operations and to provide SOF support to maritime and amphibious operations.”

“In some cases, we’re talking single-digit numbers out there, where something more than 10 may not be preferable. We have to be scalable, so if we can’t bring those additional people, we can tap into those resources back at the company or battalion or other organizational levels. I don’t see us establishing big operating bases out there like we do now, but using a smaller network, working with the geographic COCOMs [GCCs], TCCs [tactical command centers], and chiefs of mission.”

With Iraq behind them and a drawdown of forces under way in Afghanistan, Clark, who moved from acting deputy commander of SOCOM to MARSOC commander in August 2012, is far more interested in the year to come than in the one just ended – and with further cementing MARSOC’s position as an essential part of the U.S. military capability.

Although no longer defining MARSOC as “new,” the command still spent part of the past year pursuing what has been an ongoing mission since its creation: educating the rest of the military on what MARSOC is – and what it is not. That included not only briefings within its home arena – the Marine Corps, Navy, and SOCOM – but also to elements within the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD), allies, and even academia. Marine special operators also participated in about a dozen SOF, joint, and big Corps exercises to demonstrate their current tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) and further test and develop future capabilities.

MARSOC shura Helmand province

Marines with U.S. Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC) conduct a shura with local villagers outside Nahr-e Saraj district, Helmand province, April 8, 2012. Marines with MARSOC’s 1st Marine Special Operations Battalion returned in late 2012 from a nine-month deployment to Afghanistan, where they commanded Special Operations Task Force-West and oversaw one of Afghanistan’s bloodiest regions. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Kyle McNally

“We must make sure we are involved, early on, in as many exercises as possible, helping them shape the planning up front and understand the utility of SOF and what I call Phase Minus-1, which is well in advance of any campaign plan,” Clark said, adding the goal is to help others “realize SOF is good at building on the human terrain, so when other forces come in, they have this SOF force and expertise to tap into to better help them meet their campaign objectives. We’ve been doing that with recent exercises that have been very enlightening and it has opened some new avenues for integration with general-purpose forces.

“The Marine Corps used to have their MEU(SOC) [Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable)] forces. With the ongoing efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the SOC label came off. But we are trying to find out what kind of relationship SOF can have with the deployed MAGTF, primarily the MEU. A lot of ideas have been raised, but none have really gained traction.”

Clark asked Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James F. Amos to hold a war game in which MARSOC, a Corps MEU, and the Navy could determine, essentially for the first time, how that relationship might evolve in a post-Afghan environment.

“Some say, ‘put MARSOC back on the boat.’ Others say, ‘put MARSOC liaisons on the ship and look for areas of cooperation,’” he said. “But the result of the wargame, at a minimum, will at least provide better capability to the GCCs in having a relationship between a deployed MAGTF and SOF.

“As MARSOC grows, we will continue to develop our regionally aligned battalions and our littoral capability, with an eye toward maritime employment options. We believe that MARSOC’s role in SOCOM is as part of our nation’s maritime SOF capability, and this role will provide us multiple opportunities to stay connected to the Marine Corps’ expeditionary operations and future maritime capabilities. MARSOC is developing the capabilities to conduct maritime special operations and to provide SOF support to maritime and amphibious operations.”

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