View Full Version : A special ops blueprint

11-03-05, 04:02 AM
A special ops blueprint
November 03,2005
BY CHRIS MAZZOLINI View stories by reporter

Any good Special Forces mission needs to be clandestine - blurry in concrete information.

And Tuesday's announcement that the Department of Defense will form an elite Marine force that will fall under the authority of the Special Operations Command (SOCOM) has, so far, followed the same parameters.

While much of the details have not been released or need to be worked out, there is some information already available.

The command will be made up of about 2,600 Marines divided into three units: the Marine Special Operations Regiment, the Foreign Military Training Unit and the Marine Special Operations Support Group. Brig. Gen. Dennis J. Hejlik, who has extensive experience with SOCOM, has been tapped as the command's first leader.

The Marine command will be headquartered at Camp Lejeune. SOCOM, which was established in 1986 and has included units from every branch of the military except the Marines, is based out of MacDill Air Force Base in Florida.

Adding Marines to the joint command was described by military experts on Tuesday as an unusual move because of the longstanding Marine Corps position that no Marine is more elite than another.

Opinion was mixed among Marine Corps retirees in the Jacksonville area. While some say it's about time, others think it could put the Marine Corps at a disadvantage.

Maj. Jim Capers, a force reconnaissance veteran who fought in Vietnam, said he thinks the move is long overdue.

"The Marine Corps has long had that capability," he said. "This is not going to be a stretch for the Marine Corps."

Force recon Marines have training beyond the average Marine. They are infantrymen, paratroopers and combat divers who are capable of infiltrating and working behind enemy lines. Capers, who served with all three force recon battalions during his 23 years of military service and often worked with special forces such as the Navy SEALs, Delta Force and the Army Rangers, said he thinks Marines will offer SOCOM something unique.

"All of this training can be pulled together under one command," he said. "It's going to give Special Operations Command a capability that they don't currently have. Your Marine component will be able to come to shore a little heavier and stay there a little bit longer."

Capers said he has no doubt the Marines will work well with the other branches within the command.

"All this interservice rivalry doesn't really exist," he said. "We are all Americans; we are all military. We all bleed and die the same. On the ground level, interservice rivalry is the last thing that comes to mind."

One of the primary reasons for the special Marine unit is that expanding Special Forces capabilities will aid the struggle against terrorists. Capers agrees.

"We are facing an enemy now we can't attack with a division," he said. "I wish we could. We have to have these guys with special skills and go after (terrorists) in their homeland."

Retired Sgt. Maj. Richard "Mac" McGee said he didn't understand why Marines were left out in the beginning.

"If anybody is capable of doing recon and special operations, it's the Marine Corps," he said. "They should have been from the beginning as far as I'm concerned. When you add a Marine to anything, you get quality."

But others weren't so sure about the decision. Retired Col. Jim van Riper said he's leery of any decision made by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

"It seems to me, he's forced it down the Marine Corps' throat," he said.

Van Riper said that if Marines are placed under the joint command, then more Marines will be needed to fill out the operating forces.

"The way I understand it, if those Marines belong to SOCOM, they are no longer deployable with MEFs and MEBs, then that's a hole we need to fill," he said.

Col. W.C. Blaha, a retired Marine who lives in Jacksonville, said he is wary of Marines being commanded by members of the other services.

"I think there's a danger that the Marine Corps is giving up some of its assets exclusively to special operations," Blaha said. "The danger is that those assets now belong to another command.

"It's becoming a little more purple," he said. "I don't know if we've ever experienced that. And this is a step in that direction."

Blaha said the Marines already have special operations-capable forces.

"I had a few months where I was involved in recon battalion," he said. "I can appreciate some of that stuff the special ops do. If we take force recon and give them more opportunity, they are just as capable as special ops. (SOCOM) very well might recognize our recon forces as being able to do those jobs, but they want to get their hands on them and have them under their own command and control."

Contact staff writer Chris Mazzolini at cmazzolini@freedomenc.com or at 353-1171, Ext. 229.