United States Marine Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC) continues its development and realignment, during which the critical need to prevail on today’s battlefields is being balanced against the anticipated challenges of tomorrow’s scenarios. In both cases, MARSOC’s ability to assemble and deliver small, flexible, threat-focused Marine Special Operations Teams (MSOTs) represents a key contribution to operational success.
Many of MARSOC’s recent realignment qactivities reflect the guidance of “MARSOF 2030,” a document released in March 2018 that presents a strategic vision for optimizing the employment of Marine Raiders across the globe and in a range of diverse settings.
“‘MARSOF 2030’ was a call to action within the command,” observed the Marine Raider Training Command Commander and “MARSOF 2030” contributor Col. Travis Homiak. “And since its release, the command has made significant progress on each of four identified pathways: Cognitive Raider; MARSOF as a Connector; Combined Arms for the Connected Arena; and Enterprise Level Agility.”
Homiak explained that the first pathway, Cognitive Raider, represents a recognition by the command that the Marine Raiders within MARSOC need to evolve with the operating environment.
“Creating operational and strategic effects in the future will require Marine Raiders with an equal amount of brain to match brawn; foresight in addition to fortitude,” he said. “As such, MARSOC must focus and invest in continuing education, cognitive enhancement, and resiliency. Consequently, the Cognitive Raider pathway is MARSOC’s innovation pathway to increase emphasis on the qualities of intellect, judgment, creativity, and teamwork, while maintaining attributes like determination and endurance that have been the hallmarks of Marine Raiders since World War II.”
While reflecting that proud heritage, the Cognitive Raider pathway places greater emphasis on the attributes that are considered necessary for Marine Raiders to be successful in the future operating environment.
Commander, Marine Forces Special Operations Command Maj. Gen. James Glynn explained, “For the past 15 years, MARSOC has been focused on counter-violent extremist organizations [C-VEO] operations. As we place increased focus on strategic competition, Marine Raiders will have to exercise other ‘muscles’ in order to be effective. The Cognitive Raider pathway is giving today’s Raiders the insight and education necessary for the future.”
“The Cognitive Raider is not a qualification; it’s a mindset,” added MARSOC Operations Senior Enlisted Adviser Master Gunnery Sgt. Otto Hecht. “It includes a level of intuitive expertise, combined with experience, to understand and operate within every domain. Every Marine Raider should strive to be the Cognitive Raider. To be cognitive is a mental process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and senses.”
One foundational aspect of Cognitive Raider is the annual Cognitive Raider Symposium, which is used to develop the force as well as raise the cognitive and knowledge base of the command’s Marines, sailors, and civilians. Additionally, the symposium, which brings subject-matter-experts on cross-domain functions, policy, and strategy operations from outside MARSOC to Camp in Lejeune every year to learn and expand the command’s network, also provides a forum to address the other three pathways identified in “MARSOF 2030.”
The second pathway, MARSOF as a Connector, reflects a global environment in which special operations forces leverage and enhance the effects of the joint force to include the use of other aspects of national power. “In this, MARSOC is in the unique position, given its size and placement, as a key connector to embrace critical government partners and formulate and strengthen networks to achieve operational success,” Homiak stated, noting that the positioning also sets the stage for the third pathway, Combined Arms for the Connected Arena.
MARSOC’s lead cyberspace planner offered the example of the power of intertwining information, intelligence, and cyber: “MARSOC capitalizes on the opportunity to utilize the joint force sensor system and shooter architectures that facilitate both cyber and kinetic ‘kill chains.’ The multi-domain environment provides multiple opportunities for MARSOC to place its adversaries in multiple dilemmas forcing a change in their decision calculus.”
The fourth and final pathway identified in “MARSOF 2030,” Enterprise Level Agility, refers to how MARSOC’s relatively small force size confers an organizational agility that allows the command to rapidly reorient the organization to confront new challenges as they emerge.
DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION
A vital aspect of further expanding that organizational agility can be found in MARSOC’s broad spectrum of ongoing diversity and inclusion (D&I) activities.
At its most basic conceptual level, MARSOC’s diversity, equality and inclusion strategy is nested in both the Marine Corps’ D&I plan and USSOCOM’s D&I Strategic Plan. Both the Marine Corps and USSOCOM’s respective plans consist of four lines of effort (LOEs). The Marine Corps LOEs are 1) Recruitment and Accessions; 2) Talent Management and Development; 3) Education, Training, and Culture of Inclusion; and 4) Commandership. USSOCOM’s LOEs are 1) Organizational Climate and Culture; 2) SOF Integration; 3) Education and Training; and 4) Sustainment.
Translating those lines of effort to a reality that benefits MARSOC, MARSOC began with the establishment of its D&I committee.
“To institutionalize diversity, equality, and inclusion, MARSOC established the Diversity and Inclusion Committee as a top-down approach to provide oversight and guidance throughout the command,” explained Lt. Col. Veronica Kaltrider, D&I officer. “We believe that the commander sets the environment of his/her command and is in the best position to lead change within the organization. The committee meets once quarterly to review the effort of the Diversity and Inclusion Working Group that meets regularly to determine barriers to success and to create appropriate mitigation strategies to address challenges.”
Short-term goals of the committee begin with the identification of where inclusion barriers might exist and determining ways to eliminate them.
“We are looking at our organization, our training, our leadership – nothing is off the table when it comes to determining how to create an environment where all members of this command regardless of gender, ethnicity, religious beliefs, or other factors feel valued for their contribution,” Kaltrider asserted. “A diverse organization is an operational imperative, and we want to capitalize off each individual’s unique skills and experiences.”
Hecht reinforced these thoughts, observing, “These initiatives also tie into our MARSOC 2030 vision to operate within all domains and leverage unique experience and capabilities of all our Marine Raiders.”
Beyond the committee, MARSOC leadership is currently directing and adjusting existing command feedback mechanisms to incorporate D&I topics. Examples range from the addition of D&I questions to command climate surveys to conducting focus groups from all ranks and status to gain a pulse of the command.
These actions are already being applied, as evidenced by the April 2021 Commanding General Readiness Inspection, which included five D&I questions. The MARSOC D&I Working Group is currently reviewing those responses and will make appropriate recommendations to the D&I Committee regarding any issue that might require attention.
“MARSOC will continue recruiting quality personnel from within the Marine Corps,” Kaltrider said. “One challenge has always been finding personnel who want to volunteer for special operations. This includes those who would choose to become a Special Operations Officer [SOO], Critical Skills Operator [CSO], Special Operations Capability Specialist [SOCS], or other Combat Support and Combat Service Support personnel. Diversity is valuable to our organization; our Functional Capability Advisors [FCAs] are in constant coordination with the Marine Corps monitors and occupational field sponsors to bring in Marines that have unique experiences and capabilities that can enhance our command.“
SPECIAL OPERATIONS CAPABILITY SPECIALISTS
A unique characteristic of MARSOC is the inclusion of Special Operations Capability Specialists into all echelons down to the team level. SOCS provide the professional force within MARSOC to conduct specialized activities that require skills not found or skills that require greater individual proficiency than the Marines in the Fleet Marine Forces (FMF).
Assigned to billets at the team, company, and battalion levels, the SOCS provide expertise in eight separate areas: SOCS-E Explosive Ordnance Disposal Specialist; SOCS-F Signals Intelligence/ Electronic Warfare Specialist; SOCS-G Geospatial Specialist; SOCS-H Counterintelligence/Human Intelligence Specialist; SOCS-I All- Source Intelligence Specialist; SOCS-B Fires Specialist; SOCS-C Communications Specialist; and SOCS-D Multi-Purpose Canine Handler.
Marine Raiders have always received critical combat support throughout the command. However, what many once viewed as “enablers” are now more correctly recognized to be cross-trained organic specialists who can be assigned as part of MARSOC’s flexible, threat-focused teams. SOCS not only provide unique skills and capabilities, but they also offer diversity of thought, experience, and individual backgrounds that are necessary in future operational environments.
Due to the vital nature of their contributions, as well as the sensitivity of some of their operations, SOCs and CSOs described their contributions only by Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) and SOCS code.
In the case of SOCS-E, for example, MARSOC is the only component within USSOCOM with an organic SOF EOD capability that provides the four pillars of MARSOF EOD support: Assault Support; Technical Support and Technical Surveillance; Support to SOF Sensitive Site Exploitation; and Support to Theater Counter Weapons of Mass Destruction efforts.
“The mission of the MARSOF EOD program is to recruit, screen, and select Marine EOD Technicians to support the full range of special operations assigned to MARSOC in support of the USSOCOM commander, and/ or the geographic combatant commanders via Theater Special Operations Commands,” explained one SOCS-E technician. “All U.S. Marine Corps EOD personnel are manned, trained, and equipped to detect/locate, access, triage, diagnose, stabilize, render safe/neutralize, recover, exploit, and/ or dispose of hazards from foreign and domestic sources, unexploded explosive ordnance, improvised explosive devices, and weapons of mass destruction that present a threat to operations, installations, personnel, or materiel. In addition, MARSOF EOD is manned, trained, and equipped to support all SOF core activities and operations assigned to MARSOC.”
He highlighted five unique qualities of Marine SOCS-E: Marine Raiders possess the only EOD Technicians that operate independently, while all other services operate in two- to three-man teams; MARSOC EOD Techs are integrated into the Marine Special Operations Teams and are not “bolt on” attachments prior to deployments; MARSOC EOD have a service-approved school teaching SOF EOD; MARSOC EOD have Human Intelligence-trained SOF EOD Techs; and MARSOC EOD are the only SOCS in MARSOC with the exact same physical standards as the CSO/SOO.
Asked to elaborate on the SOCS training pipeline, he offered, “It teaches SOF-specific skills related to shoot, move, communicate, medicate, and then goes into how to adapt your technical MOS training to support the different SOF missions. MARSOC EOD Techs are expected and assessed on their ability to perform as a one-man EOD Team Leader.”
“The MARSOC EOD Tech is exposed to more unique opportunities than the conventional EOD techs,” he continued. “They have the experience of dealing with events that are in the national news, because they are constantly deployed in politically sensitive environments. They are embedded with intel and all other cross-domain requirements and reports to feed the U.S. government intelligence community.”
On a personal level, he identified his most memorable SOCS-E experience as “exploiting a first-seen ISIS-produced improvised rocket launcher as part of the Mosul offensive,” adding, “SOCS, like all other Marine Raiders, are quiet professionals who don’t often advertise their accomplishments, but they are a force multiplier that allows the formation to adapt to any mission or threat.”
One CSO was quick to concur, offering his own vignette involving his combat deployment with SOCS-Es:
“As SOCS are so thoroughly integrated at every level within the command, there are few memorable moments I can recall where a SOCS was not involved in some way,” he offered. “That said, the most memorable moments I’ve had with SOCS has to be with the SOCS-Es Explosive Ordnance Disposal Techs on my deployments to Afghanistan. My team was in the Helmand province on both of my Afghanistan deployments. Those who know anything about that region know that IEDs were the central operational problem facing coalition forces fighting the Taliban. While I was always impressed with the expertise and bravery our SOCS-Es brought to bear on the problem, it was the sense of responsibility that my techs had for the team that sticks with me the most. The SOCS-Es on my teams understood that a large portion of the responsibility for the success and survivability of the team rested on their shoulders. Our techs were ruthless in preparing the CSOs and the other SOCS on the team for the type of environment we had to operate in. Like most running around those regions at the time, we were not perfect in avoiding every IED. But by the grace of God, luck, and the dedication of our SOCS-Es, my teammates and I came home with both legs attached.”
While SOCS-Es provide EOD expertise, SOCS-Gs optimize the impact of geospatial intelligence.
“Prior to joining MARSOC, I held the MOS of Imagery Intelligence Analysis Specialist, which strictly deals with the interpretation and analysis of both still and full-motion imagery,” said one SOCS-G. “My current mission within MARSOC is to provide direct geospatial intelligence [GEOINT] support to a Marine Special Operations Company and respective special operations teams. Specifically, as a SOCS-G, I’m responsible for the direct tasking and control of aerial intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance [ISR] assets, the production, analysis, and dissemination of geospatial products and data, collections operations management, and providing a liaison between the Marine Special Operations Company and external intelligence organizations.”
He also highlighted the differences between the SOCS training pipeline and that of his previous occupational specialty.
“A SOCS candidate receives advanced training within the pipeline from Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) and the Special Operations Fundamentals course, which are both designed to give the SOCS requisite special operations tactical knowledge. For the intelligence SOCS, the pipeline ends with graduation from the Multi-Discipline Intelligence Operators Course [MDIOC]. MDIOC provides advanced training to create an expert within each respective intelligence field, but also incorporates cross training into the different intelligence fields such as GEOINT, HUMINT, SIGINT and All-Source Intelligence. MDIOC ends with a culminating 10-day exercise that fully immerses the SOCS candidates into a multi-discipline deployment scenario, where they are evaluated on their abilities as a multi-discipline intelligence operator. This pipeline, and the training it entails, is leaps and bounds beyond what the traditional Marine Corps occupational training provides, in both the challenges it presents and the learning opportunities it provides to the candidates,” he said.
SOCS-F Signals Intelligence/Electronic Warfare Specialists deploy at every MARSOF echelon to inform the commander on the adversary’s capability through collections and analysis of the adversary’s communications.
Noting that the MDIOC allows MARSOC to combine seven individual Marine Corps occupational specialties into the SOCS-Fs, one specialist highlighted the criticality of integrating SOCS, CSO, and SOO capabilities at the Marine Raider Training Center and continuing that integration throughout individual and unit training phases, stressing, “The SOCS are integral members of the team and not attachments.”
Another SOCS specialist, a SOCS-H, described his tactical contributions as a specialist who is trained to answer intelligence requirements utilizing the multi-discipline intelligence operations approach to conduct special operations:
“A SOCS-H has two different missions: human intelligence and counterintelligence,” he explained. “Human intelligence, or HUMINT, is derived from information collected and provided by human sources, including intelligence interrogation, source operations, and debriefing. HUMINT is often the only source that can satisfy critical intelligence requirements, as information derived from HUMINT collection is often unavailable by technical means.
“By comparison,” he continued, “counterintelligence encompasses five functions [collection, analysis and production, investigations, operations, and functional services] conducted to identify, deceive, exploit, disrupt, or protect against espionage, other intelligence activities, sabotage, or assassinations conducted for or on behalf of foreign powers, organizations, or persons, or their agents, or international terrorist organizations or activities.”
MARSOC’s SOF All-Source Intelligence Analysts (SOCS-I) provide the ability to conduct all-source analysis, target development, collections requirements management, and the integration of multi-intelligence reporting and analysis into fused assessments, products, and reports across the full spectrum of special operations core activities. SOCS-Is are in a variety of analytic billets across the Raider Intel Enterprise.
SOCS-B Fires Specialists are Fire Support Marines also certified and qualified as Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTACs). As such, they function as the primary aviation, surface, and naval fire support and assault support subject-matter expert to special operations forces within SOCOM at the team level.
SOCS-C Communications Specialists are premier multidiscipline tactical communications professionals who provide technical expertise in the full array of communications systems and are capable of enabling command and control in the most challenging austere environments. Frequently deploying with Marine Special Operations Teams and Companies, they are subject-matter experts in all communication situations.
“SOCS-Cs are SOF Communicators, [and] as part of the Raider team, must shape fully connected operational environments to support the full spectrum of special operations in all domains and environments,” explained one. “They are multi-disciplined communication professionals able to plan, install, operate, maintain, and defend joint networks, and services, in order to ensure Marine Raiders succeed in all information environments.“
Another critical SOCS specialty is the SOCS-D Multi-Purpose Canine Handler (MPC). Manned, trained, and equipped to support all SOF core activities and operations assigned to MARSOC, the MARSOC MPC teams provide assault support and assist with the SOF sensitive site exploitation process.
“The mission of the MARSOF MPC program is to recruit, screen, and select Marine MPC Handlers to support the full range of special operations assigned to MARSOC,” offered one SOCS-D handler. “All U.S. Marine Corps MPC personnel are manned, trained, and equipped to detect and identify conventional explosive hazards from foreign and domestic agitators, including unexploded explosive ordnance and improvised explosive devices, that present a threat to operations, installations, personnel, or materiel. In addition, SOCS-D teams are trained to detect, deter, immobilize, and apprehend high-value targets attempting to hide and/or flee target locations.”
They identified key areas where the SOCS-Ds are unique: MARSOC MPC Handlers have the largest service commitment in the SOCOM enterprise to become masters at their craft to provide the highest-quality capability of explosive and human detection; MARSOC MPC Handlers are specifically trained to integrate into the Marine Special Operations Companies prior to deployments and within the MSOC according to the mission.
BENEFITS TO THE FLEET MARINE FORCE
SOCS are employed within every USMC formation. As SOCS progress and develop, they can be assigned to multiple units within and outside of MARSOC to enhance and develop USMC force design along with MARSOC 2030.
“The SOCS experience within MARSOC provides advanced knowledge and tactics, techniques and procedures that are established within a SOF environment, that conventional units cannot always provide,” offered one SOCS-E. “The SOCS experience also provides opportunities for movement into external units or opportunities, and allows these joint relationships to follow back into the FMF.”
“Returning SOCS to the FMF contributes to the Marine Corps’ mentally agile professionals who are suitable for any challenge, in a rapidly changing world,” echoed a SOCS-F/G/H/I representative. “The experience gained from non-standard deployments, to often austere environments, against a determined enemy is invaluable. A SOCS may do three deployments while at MARSOC, and each one is uniquely different. This exposure naturally equips SOCS returning to the FMF with the innate ability to understand the utility of emerging technologies, and provides unique perspectives on the nation’s adversaries.”
Other SOCS were equally enthusiastic about the exchange of skill sets between MARSOC and the FMF.
“Operational tempo, learning to invest in your own training, and exposure to the joint environment are just some of the areas where I see direct benefits,” said a SOCS-B JTAC. “The joint environment is rarely seen by Fire Support Marines in the fleet. With the MAGTF [Marine Air-Ground Task Force] being a self-sustaining, self-supporting agency, it’s rare to work with a NSW [Naval Special Warfare] higher headquarters, host/partner nation indirect fire, or supporting assets from the U.S. Air Force. But a SOCS-B brings those experiences back into the FMF.”
“Throughout a tour at MARSOC, SOCS are exposed to areas in and out of their primary occupational specialty,” added a SOCS-F. “This exposure and experience is not normally found in the FMF. I left MARSOC in 2012 as a SOCS-F and went back to the FMF. While there, I realized my exposure and experience in collections, analysis, reporting, communications, policy, and the range of military operations made me a better-rounded SIGINT/EW Marine.”
“MARSOC takes the determination, drive, intelligence, and expertise of FMF Marines and exposes them to unique opportunities,” said Hecht. “We have the benefit of great Marines in our ranks from the FMF and we capitalize on their experience and character to make our ranks better. For our part, we return them to the FMF on a reoccurring basis to allow for their professional development and educations. These FMF returners are also uniquely qualified to enhance FMF capabilities and USMC future force design.”
Summarizing how the size and structure of MARSOC provides unique benefits to USSOCOM, Glynn concluded, “MARSOC’s size is part of its strength. In other words, the organizational dexterity and unity of action MARSOC possesses provide SOCOM with an agile, adaptable force to meet unexpected or rapidly changing technological and operational requirements.”
This article was originally published in the 2021 edition of Special Operations OUTLOOK