|Marine Corps Special Operations Command Detachment 1 (MCSOCom Det 1) was created with a charter to examine the issue of a permanent Marine Corps force contribution to the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCom). Formally referred to as a "proof of concept," Det 1 completed a successful deployment under the operational control of USSOCom, demonstrated that Marines are fully capable of operating at the level of our Nation's other special operations forces (SOF), and paved the way for the creation of a Marine component to the USSOCom. As we prepare to case the colors of Det 1 and stand up U.S. Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command (MarSOC), it is appropriate to review and discuss what made Det 1 successful and any potential pitfalls to avoid as we move forward.
Although the idea of a Marine Corps force contribution to USSOCom had been discussed since USSOCom's inception in the mid-1980s, it came to fruition only with the renewed emphasis placed on special operations in the wake of the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon in 2001. That fall, the Secretary of Defense (SecDef) directed the Commandant of the Marine Corps (CMC), Gen James L. Jones, and Commander, USSOCom (CdrUSSOCom), Gen Charles Holland, USAF, to explore ways for the Marine Corps and USSOCom to work more closely together in what came to be known as the global war on terrorism (GWOT). The subject of assigning a Marine Corps unit-a force contribution-to USSOCom was raised early in the discussions and took on added significance in many Marine leaders' eyes when two of the Marine Corps' "crown jewels"-the 15th and 26th Marine Expeditionary Units (Special Operations Capable) (MEU(SOC)s)-were forced to sit on the sidelines during the early stages of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM (OEF) in Afghanistan. Resistance from SOF commanders already on the ground and indifference from the Navy chain of command under which they were operating left the 15th MEU(SOC) languishing offshore for over a month. Even when these and later Marine units did make it ashore they were most often employed piece-meal in supporting roles to provide capabilities that SOF were deficient in or lacked altogether.
In October 2002 Gen Jones, in consultation with senior USSOCom decisionmakers, sought to answer the force contribution question and increase Marine Corps involvement in the GWOT by approving an initiative to establish a purpose-built Marine unit for employment by USSOCom. In a message to senior leaders in the Marine Corps, the CMC directed them to:
. . . develop a plan to provide forces to the Special Operations Command on a permanent basis in order to cement the relationship of our two organizations at the institutional level and provide our nation with an expanded special operations capability.1
In response to the CMC's message, the Deputy Commandant for Plans, Policies, and Operations (DC PP&O) established a working group tasked with creating a rough table of organization (T/O) and table of equipment (T/E). The T/O they developed included only 86 line numbers divided among 4 sections-a 30-man reconnaissance element, a 29-man intelligence element, a 7-man fires element, and a lean headquarters. The intelligence element was further broken down into a 9-man radio reconnaissance team (RRT), a 6-man human intelligence (HumInt) exploitation team (HET), and a 12-man all-source fusion team. (See Figure 1.) The final administrative requirement was met in February 2003 when DC PP&O signed a memorandum of agreement (MOA) with the Deputy Commander, USSOCom. The MOA was jointly drafted by the Marine Corps and USSOCom and established the parameters for the proof of concept, including the mission, command relationships, and resourcing for Det 1.
A ceremony held aboard Camp Pendleton on 19 June 2003 marked the official activation of Det 1. Execution of the detachment mission training plan began in earnest the week following the activation and culminated with a 3week capstone exercise at the Nevada Test Site and Indian Springs Auxiliary Air Field, NV in December 2003. After participating in an Navy special warfare (NSW) certification exercise and conducting additional sustainment training, Det 1 deployed to Baghdad for Operation IRAQI FREEDOM II (OIF II) in April 2004, just over 9 months after its activation. While operating as part of an NSW task group (NSWTG), Det 1 executed a number of direct action, coalition support, and battlefield shaping missions under the regional combined joint special operations task force (CJSOTF). By all accounts, Det 1 excelled and earned a reputation for professionalism, competence, and being "user friendly." A study conducted by the Joint Special Operations University (JSOU) found:
The operational effectiveness of the MCSOCOM Det was high. . . . The trial deployment demonstrated the MCSOCOM Det could effectively conduct Direct Action (DA) and Special Reconnaissance (SR) in conjunction with a Naval Special Warfare Task Group