MARSOC Marine Raiders: Always Faithful, Always Forward


    Marine Raiders are Marines with the Critical Skills Operator Military Operational Specialty (MOS) who serve in one of the Raider Regiments within the Marine Corps Force Special Operations Command (MARSOC).

    The Marine Raider motto is the Latin phrase “Spiritus Invictus”, which translates to “Unconquerable Spirit”.

    Furthermore, Raiders who pass the hallmark Individual Training Course (ITC) earn the privilege of wearing the Marine Special Operator Insignia device. This device is the Marine Corps equivalent to the Navy SEAL trident.

    The insignia is gold, with a size of 2” x 2.75”. It contains a bald eagle clutching a dagger with a superimposed Southern Star constellation: a testament to the shared lineage with the World War II Raider units. (source)

    The official image of the Marine Raiders insignia

    1. History of the Marine Raiders

    Compared to other U.S. special operations forces, Marine Raiders are one of the youngest members of the United States Special Operations Command (SOCOM). However, the history of the contemporary unit traces back to World War II Raider Battalions.

    1.1 Marine Raiders in the Second World War

    The World War II Marine Raiders are arguably among the first organized special operations units within the U.S. Armed Forces. Similarly, to the MARSOC of today, the Marine Corps erected the WWII Raider Battalions in response to a specific need.

    Their history begins with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who was aware of a British commando program that achieved success in Europe and Africa. President Roosevelt imagined the U.S. following in step with the British, and met with Major General Thomas Holcomb, the 17th Commandant of the Marine Corps. Furthermore, Major General Holcomb presented the idea to Admiral Chester Nimitz of the Pacific Fleet.

    By and large, the commanders all shared an interest in cultivating a special operations unit that could deploy to small islands in the Pacific Theater ahead of conventional forces. However, Major General Holcomb expressed some reservation in the beginning. In his eyes, Marines were elite and capable of conducting special operations in their natural trained state, without needing to be separated and labeled commandos. Nevertheless, the General warmed up to the idea, and begun completing the organisation and planning in 1941. (source)

    The Marine Corps activated the First Raider Battalion on the 16th of February 1942, followed by the Second Raider Battalion on the 19th of February 1942. Lieutenant Colonel Evans F. Carlson and Lieutenant Colonel Merritt Edson commanded the 1st and 2nd battalions, respectively.

    Although each Raider Battalion shared the same task and purpose, they differed in unit culture and command philosophy.  

    WWII Marine Raiders being hosted by MARSOC for a Raider Week event at Camp Lejeune, NC
    Charles Meacham and Frank Wright attend Raider Night during Raider Week at Camp Lejeune, May 13, 2022. Meacham and Wright were Marine Raiders who fought during WWII and were one of the first to see combat. This year, MARSOC invited World War II Marine Raiders and alumni from the Marine Corps U.S. Special Operations Command Detachment, also known as Det One, to celebrate MARSOC’s past and look toward the future. (Photo by Sgt. Jesula Jeanlouis)

    1.1.1 Selection and Formation

    The Marines selected for the Raider Battalion were hand-picked and of the highest calibre. These Marines primarily came from 1st Battalion 5th Marine Division.

    As far as training went, there was a difference between Edson and Carlson’s Raiders. In essence, despite sharing the same mission, both commanders possessed a different philosophy in terms of training and culture.

    Carlson took an unconventional approach to the culture within his unit. For instance, the use of rank structure and relationship between officer and enlisted was ultimately diminished. Because of this, Carlson encouraged teamwork and relationships as paramount and was the most significant driver for mission success. In the end, the unconventional approach taken by Carlson is present in special operations forces today. The “gentlemen’s club” mentality signifies a greater level of trust and responsibility in the men within the unit. Of course, with that level of trust requires a mature and capable warrior, as found within the Marine Raiders.

    In contrast, Edson took a more traditional approach to his command philosophy. Despite this, both Raider Battalions proved themselves on the battlefield throughout their tenure in the Pacific. They took part in key battles against the Japanese forces and showed the power of special operations.

    In short, the Marine Raiders in the Second World War were an early model to be revisited in the modern era.

    1.2 The Marine Corps and USSOCOM

    Prior to the creation of MARSOC, and contrary to every other branch in the U.S. Armed Forces, the Marine Corps did not contribute any units to USSOCOM. However, the forfeiture of such a unit did not translate to a complete withdrawal from participating in special operations. In essence, the “special operations capable” designator was the closest thing the Corps had to a full-fledged special operations command.

    Starting in 1985 in the wake of an organisational study into the Marine Corps special operations capability, higher command began restructuring the philosophy and designs of the Marine Air Ground Task Force (MAGTAF). In accordance, the concept of a Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) replaced the traditional Marine Amphibious Unit (MAU), broadening mission capabilities and assigning the SOC designator to some MEU units. (source)

    In the years to follow, the Corps experimented more with special operations training within the MEU. This experimentation was still primal but began constructing a scaffolding to be built upon.

    Undeniably, the September 11th attacks were a watershed moment for the Marine Corps progression into the USSOCOM fold. Moreover, although there was still a rift between the Corps and USSOCOM, the Global War on Terror brought forth a motive to revisit the idea of a formal special operations command within the Corps.

    To this point, Marine Corps Force Reconnaissance (FORECON) was the premier elite unit within the Corps’ SOC roster. However, FORECON’s role, as specialized as it was, primarily functioned to support the MAGTAF.

    Nevertheless, FORECON Marines along with their brethren in the retired Marine Raider Battalions, became the cornerstone on which the Marine special operations pioneers built MARSOC and the modern-day Marine Raiders around.

    1.2.1 Marine Special Operations in a Post 9/11 World

    In the days following September 11th, the landscape of the Marine Corps shifted towards combat readiness. During this time, the special operations side of the Corps simultaneously began taking bolder strides towards manifesting a SOCOM unit.

    One of the key Marines in this evolution was Lieutenant Colonel J. Giles Kyser IV, the head of MAGTAF special operations at the Headquarters Marine Corps. Lieutenant Colonel Kyser held a unique role within the Corps, in the sense that he was one of the central bridging elements between his branch and SOCOM. Moreover, Lieutenant Colonel Kyser worked within his role to establish stronger training relationships between MEU (SOC) forces and USSOCOM. That work, combined with the commander’s observations during a staff tour at Special Operations Command Europe (SOCEUR) in 2001, inspired some interesting ideas about how the Corps could do special operations. (source)

    Lieutenant Colonel Kyser later spent a great deal of time moving between Marine HQ and the USSOCOM headquarters in Tampa, Florida, where he faced both support and opposition for a Marine special operations unit. Nevertheless, his steadfast work as a liaison between the Corps and the special operations community showed signs of fruit, including reaching the office of the Commandant of the Marine Corps.

    On the 9th of November 2001, a memorandum of agreement was signed by the Commandant, General James L. Jones Jr., as well as General Charles R. Holland, the commander of USSOCOM.

    Moreover, the signed agreement established a SOCOM-USMC Board that would further explore a Marine Corps addition to the joint service command. The first board met in January 2002. Thus, the Corps continued advancing closer to a formal inception into SOCOM.

    1.2.2 The Primitive Marine Raiders

    The work that began with Lieutenant Colonel Kyser set conditions for the Marine Corps USSOCOM pilot program. This program is formally known as Detachment One (Det One).

    Det One began to take shape in 2003 as the U.S. Armed Forces prepared for Operation Iraqi Freedom. The bulk of its personnel came from the Force Reconnaissance community and Marine Corps Special Operations Training Group (SOTG), as well as various support personnel to round out the administrative and logistical demands of a coherent war-fighting unit.

    In terms of organisation, Det One was structured to have four reconnaissance teams of six Marines and one Navy corpsman. Furthermore, there was also a fire support and intelligence element to support the primary operators.

    On the 1st of July 2003, Det One entered its official training phase. The concept of “Brilliance in the basics” was ever so present, with the Marines in the unit drilling constantly to gain proficiency in the fundamental elements of conventional and small unit tactics.

    Further training built upon those fundamental blocks and added unconventional and advanced skill development. To that end, Det One Marines went through advanced communications training, mountain warfare, scout swimming, driving, close quarters battle, combat trauma, and helicopter operations.

    1.2.3 Det One Enters the Global War on Terror

    In July of 2004, Det One was ready to deploy overseas to support Operation Iraqi Freedom. Moreover, they formed Task Force Raider in tandem with support from Naval Special Warfare.

    The recorded accounts of Det One in Iraq showcase an overall success. To this end, task force participants took part in an array of sensitive operations, including the second Battle of Fallujah.

    In view of the deployment conclusion, Det One proved itself to be a proficient special operations asset. However, some issues regarding the historic tensions between the Marine Corps and the broader special operations community remained. In essence, there was still some reservation from SOCOM officials about the utility Det One could offer beyond their success in Iraq.

    Also, this tension was not isolated with USSOCOM. Higher levels of command within the Corps, including the Commandant, General Michael Hagee, who expressed an interest in maintaining the Marine Corps’s traditional outlook on special operations. In effect, General Hagee believed such operations should be Marine Corps internal and to support the MAGTAF over USSOCOM.

    Thus, Det One Marines prepared for what seemed to be an inevitable unit deactivation. Surprisingly, the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, thought differently than General Hagee. (source)

    1.2.4 United States Marine Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC)

    The Marine Corps formally deactivated Det One on the 7th of February 2006.

    Subsequently, with this deactivation, Det One entered history among the Marine Raiders of WWII, as contributors to what would soon become a formal special operations command.

    Even though the unit was deactivated, the story of Det One was only the beginning of something greater. Although the role of the Marines was seemingly abandoned, the Secretary of Defense saw an opportunity to finish what they started.

    Secretary Rumsfeld conducted a meeting with the commander of USSOCOM and the Commandant of the Marine Corps, which resulted in a prescription for the branch to raise a full-fledged special operations command.

    Thus, on the 24th of February 2006, the United States Marine Forces Special Operations Command activated at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. The initial staff size was small, including Marines from the Foreign Military Training Unit who specialized in foreign internal defence. By the large, the goal was to raise a force of around 2,500 Marines within MARSOC that would support USSOCOM. (source)

    Later, Marines from the 1st and 2nd Force Reconnaissance Companies folded into the command, thereby bringing valuable experience stemming from FORECON’s special operations experience.

    Eventually, as MARSOC matured and refined its structure and mission, they went through a rebranding. Thus, in 2015, the command rejoined its Second World War roots and became the present-day Marine Raiders.

    2. Organisation of the Marine Raiders

    MARSOC organises Raiders into the Marine Raider Regiment (MRR). Furthermore, within the MRR there are three Marine Raider Battalions (MRB) and one Headquarters Company.

    The three MRBs are based in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, as well as Camp Pendleton, California. Moreover, the MRBs break down further into Marine Special Operations Companies (MSOCs) and then Marine Special Operations Teams (MSOTs).

    As a base unit, MSOTs contain:

    • 14 Marines
    • 1 Team Commander (Captain)
    • 1 Team Chief (Master Sergeant)
    • 1 Communications SNCO

    Furthermore, each team includes two identical tactical elements. Each element contains:

    • 1 Element Leader (Gunnery Sergeant)
    • 3 Critical Skills Operators (Sergeant/Corporal)
    • 1 Special Amphibious Reconnaissance Corpsman (element medic)
    The Organizational Structure of MARSOC

    3. Tactics, Techniques and Procedures (TTPs)

    As a whole, MARSOC is a command structure that contains an array of elements to support Marine Raiders. In a modern sense, the term Marine Raider is primarily concerned with Critical Skills Operators, who possess the 0372 MOS designation.

    CSOs are the core element of MARSOC in the same way Navy SEALS are the core element of Naval Special Warfare. Although there are Marines from various MOS backgrounds supporting them, only the few who have made it through assessment, selection, and the Individual Training Course (ITC), earn the privilege of wearing the Marine Raider insignia.

    3.1 Becoming Marine Raiders

    Like all the other special operations communities within the U.S. Armed Forces, becoming a Marine Raider is long and challenging. The invitation to try out for assessment and selection is open to all MOS backgrounds Marine Corps-wide, as long as a basic list of standards is fulfilled.

    3.1.1 Prerequisites

    Before being considered for Assessment and Selection (A&S), all prospective Marines must (source):

    • Be eligible to obtain and maintain a secret clearance
    • Have a minimum GT score of 105 on the ASVAB
    • Have no more than two NJPs (non-judicial punishment) on current enlistment
    • Be able to pass the MARSOC swim assessment
    • Be eligible to reenlist
    • Meet the MARSOC medical screening criteria
    • Have no more than 18 months time in grade as a Sergeant before checking into ITC
    • Make a lateral move into the CSO MOS upon selection

    3.1.2 Assessment and Selection

    Upon passing the prerequisites, Marines will receive a temporary assignment to A&S. The environment at A&S is highly competitive, which is a small expression of the ethos within the Marine Raiders. In reality, the Raider community promotes constant growth and resilience. Simply meeting the minimum standards is not enough to earn the coveted title. Seats are few, and only Marines who want it the most, and tangibly show the desire to become a Raider succeed.

    Before arriving at A&S at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, MARSOC expects Marines to prepare themselves physically and mentally. Minimum physical standards include:

    • 250 or higher on the Marine Corps Physical Fitness Test
    • Strong aquatic skills
    • Ability to maintain a 4 mph pace (15:00 a mile) while running with a 45-pound rucksack for any distance

    A&S itself is two distinct phases:

    A&S Phase One

    Phase One of A&S is three weeks long. Throughout this phase, Marines undergo intense mental and physical stress. Despite this stress, MARSOC expects Marines to perform and exceed standards under the constant watch of the training cadre. Included are a series of evaluations (source):

    • Physical Fitness Test
    • Abandon ship drill
    • 300-meter swim
    • 11-minute tread
    • 12-mile ruck
    • Physical in-test
    A&S Phase Two

    The second phase of A&S is shrouded in secrecy. It takes place in an undisclosed location, and there is limited public information on what the phase entails. Nonetheless, the Marines that are selected at the end of the second phase return to their parent unit and await an open seat to ITC, the next step of becoming a Marine Raider.

    3.1.3 Individual Training Course

    The MARSOC Individual Training Course is a rigorous 9-month long course that prospects must graduate from before earning the title of Marine Raider and becoming a Critical Skills Operator. Furthermore, the bulk of ITC takes place at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

    Overview of the Individual Training Course

    ITC is a four-phase course that trains Marines in the art of special operations (source):

    Phase 1 – Basic Skills (10 weeks)

    Phase 1 is all about brilliance in the basics. Skills developed during this phase include:

    • Hand-to-hand combat
    • Physical fitness (with a functional fitness/combat athlete approach)
    • Swimming & amphibious training
    • Navigation
    • Patrolling
    • Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE)
    • Tactical Combat Casualty Care (TCCC)
    • Mission planning
    • Communications
    • Fire support
    Phase 2 – Small Unit Tactics (8 weeks)

    Phase 1 is foundational and sets the tone for Phase 2. Also, Phase 2 introduces advanced tactics with a focus on the small unit:

    • Scout swimmer operations
    • Small boat operations
    • Crew-served weapons operations
    • Demolitions
    • Photography and information collection

    In addition, Phase 2 includes two large exercises that require the application of skills learned to this point. Operation Raider Spirit is two weeks long and focuses on patrolling and combat operations. Operation Stingray Fury follows and focuses on reconnaissance operations in urban and rural environments.

    Phase 3 – Close Quarters Battle (5 weeks)

    Phase 3 has a focus on weapons proficiency and TTPs in an assault environment. Similar to Phase 2, the end includes a large exercise called Operation Guile Strike, where students plan and conduct raids on urban and rural targets.

    Phase 4 – Irregular Warfare (7 weeks)

    Phase 4 has a focus on irregular warfare (IR). As defined by the Department of Defense, “Irregular warfare is a struggle among state and non-state actors to influence populations and affect legitimacy.” (source)

    Types of IR skills developed during Phase 4 include:

    • Unconventional warfare
    • Stabilization
    • Foreign internal defense
    • Counter-terrorism
    • Counter-insurgency operations

    The conclusion of Phase 4 leads prospective Marines to the final ITC exercise called Operation Derna Bridge. This operation requires a practical application of all the skills taught during the entirety of ITC.

    Upon completion, Marines become Critical Skills Operators and earn the coveted title of Marine Raider.

    In reality, only 120 Marines graduate from ITC each year.

    3.1.4 Marine Raider Training Pipeline

    Upon assignment to one of the three Raider Battalions, fresh CSOs enter the unit training pipeline. However, this pipeline varies for each Marine based on the unique requirements of their assigned unit.

    The extended training period is roughly 18 months long. A selection of courses include:

    • Joint Terminal Attack Controller School (JTAC)
    • Advanced Mountain Leaders Course
    • Helicopter Rope Suspension Training
    • Explosive Ordinance Disposal
    • USMC Combatant Diver Course
    • Basic Language Course
    • Advanced Linguist Course
    • USMC Sniper School (along with its extensions)
    • Army Airborne School
    • HALO/HAHO School
    • MARSOF Advanced Sniper Course
    • MARSOF Master Assaulter Course

    4. Equipment

    Like any special operations unit, the armament and kit used by Marine Raiders is vast and ever-changing. In light of this, gear and weapon load-outs among Raiders are partially available through open-source information.

    4.1 Weapons

    • Glock 19 9mm pistol
    • Colt 1911 .45 caliber pistol
    • FN SCAR heavy weapon system
    • Daniel Defense MK18 SBR carbine rifle
    • M110 semi-automatic sniper rifle

    4.2 Optics and Lasers

    • PVS 31 night vision googles
    • Norotos Shroud helmet mount
    • Eotech XPS 2 rifle optic
    • PEQ 15 rifle laser

    4.3 Armor and Kit

    • Ops-Core FAST helmet
    • Crye G3 combat top and bottoms
    • Crye Cage plate carrier
    • Crye smart pouch suite
    • TEA Hi-Threat headset
    • Surefire HL1 mounted light
    • Surefire Scout mounted light
    • Manta helmet-mounted strobe light

    4.4 Vehicles

    • MRZR Tactical Warfighter ATV
    • Oshkosh M-ATV
    • M1161 Growler
    • M1288 Ground Mobility Vehicle 1.1
    A Marine Raider training with the M110 semi-automatic sniper rifle
    Marine Raiders fire the M110 semi-automatic sniper system during a company training event in Jacksonville, N.C., Oct. 1, 2021. The Marine Raiders refined their marksmanship techniques on various weapons systems including sniper rifles, machine guns and grenade launchers prior to conducting team-level training. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Brennan Priest)
    Marine Raiders training with the M2 .50-caliber heavy machine gun
    Marine Raiders fire the M2 .50-caliber heavy machine gun during a company training event in Jacksonville, N.C., Oct. 1, 2021. The Marine Raiders refined their marksmanship techniques on various weapons systems including sniper rifles, machine guns and grenade launchers prior to conducting team-level training. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Brennan Priest)

    5. Notable Operations

    Despite its young lifespan, the operational history of the current Marine Raiders is enriched with accounts of heroism and battlefield success. Because MARSOC started during the Global War on Terror, the operations conducted by Raiders narrowed down to the Middle East, Central Asia, and Africa. However, an important disclaimer: the true extent of Marine Raider and MARSOC operations is not known to the public, as is the staple with unconventional units.

    With that aside, there are a few notable operations and regions Marine Raiders have confirmed history in:

    • Operation Iraqi Freedom
    • Operation Enduring Freedom
    • Operation Inherent Resolve
    • The Battle of Marawi
    • Operation Pacific Eagle
    • Operation Juniper Shield
    • Operation Freedom’s Sentinel

    As of 2019, MARSOC has awarded over 300 valour awards to operators for acts of bravery. Also, the command has deployed roughly 300 times, across 17 different countries. The unfortunate cost has been the lives of 43 Raiders, including two service canines. (source)

    Michael Ellmer
    Michael Ellmer
    Michael is the Head of Research and Editor at Grey Dynamics. He spent eight years the United States Marine Corps infantry, and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in strategic intelligence analysis at Brunel University London.

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