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Marine Force Recon Training and its Essential Function in Contemporary Warf
Since the onset of advanced military technology, war has evolved from mass armies conducting conventional warfare, to small groups of soldiers operating in unconventional ways, which usually can be more effective against larger armies, because quick surgical attacks can cripple the enemy and then leave them confused. These attacks can then be used to create an opening for larger mechanized forces to take advantage of the commotion and eliminate the enemy. This concept has been adopted in almost every military around the world to train small groups of soldiers in advanced warfare techniques giving commanders more options on the battle field than just rolling in the tanks with overwhelming force. In every branch of the military there are various groups that are created for special functions within their respective branch, which differ depending on the military branch, if it is the Navy, Army, Air Force, Coastguard or the Marine Corps, though technically the Marine Corps is a part of the Navy. In the Marine Corps, special operations—capable units, denoted as Marine Force Reconnaissance or “FORECON,” serve two major functions on the battlefield and fill many rolls on and off the battlefield. The Marine Force Recon teams are trained for two different types of missions designated by the colors black and green, where black engagements are direct action, and green engagements are for reconnaissance. Both types of engagements involve different equipment load outs and tactics, both of which can make the difference between the success and failure of the mission. Due to their missions, these teams can inform their current commanding officers of important intelligence that can change the shape of any battle, and can tip the odds, just by knowing information like enemy locations, strength, and what assets they possess like armor and air support. In this paper the training process, the equipment used, their mission capabilities, and the history of this unit since the first Gulf War will be discussed, including the necessity of similar units in the future (Pushies; Rogers; Jones).
The Marine Force Reconnaissance are a part of the Marine Expeditionary Unit or MEU, and are stationed on various ships all over the globe, so when there is a crisis in need of their particular skill set, they can be deployed faster than most military units. The FORECON teams are made up of fifteen man platoons, in which each of them are put through separate training programs, before being trained as a unit. This allows the teams to have members capable in different areas of combat, allowing the teams to fill numerous rolls as a reconnaissance and as a direct action unit in any war zone. In other words, they are Special Operations Capable or SOC (Jones; Pushies).
According to the James L. Jones commandant of the Marine Corp in 2001:
The primary objective of a MEU(SOC) is to provide the National Command Authorities and Unified Combatant Commanders a certified, versatile Marine Air Ground Task Force (MAGTF) that provides sea-based, forward presence with the inherent operational flexibility to respond rapidly to multiple missions. The forward deployed MEU(SOC) is a uniquely organized, trained and equipped expeditionary force that is inherently balanced, sustainable, flexible, responsive, expandable, and credible. The MEU(SOC) accomplishes this by providing the following four core capabilities: Amphibious Operations, designated Maritime Operations to include the introduction of follow-on forces. The key to providing this forward presence/crisis response capability is the MEU(SOC)’s ability to rapidly plan, coordinate, and execute operations (Jones 3).
This gives a description of the team’s purpose from a commander who utilized them in the field, giving validity to the research question, and showing that the teams will be a part of the Marine Corps for years to come.
Before the team trains together, the individual members take specialized classes in what expertise they enlisted for, which allows for teams with diverse skill sets to accomplish many missions around the world. There are many classes the soldiers could enroll some of which are; the US Army Ranger School, Pathfinder Course, USMC Scout Sniper Course, and the Recon and Surveillance Leaders Course (Rogers). These particular classes give the teams abilities to perform reconnaissance missions from afar, and in close quarters. For instance, the USMC Scout Sniper Course trains the soldier on how to use a long range sniper rifle to eliminate a target from many hundreds of yards away. This skill set when employed on the battlefield can be very demoralizing because the enemy has no idea where the bullet came from, creating a sense of fear in the enemy (United States Military Information). When these soldiers take these classes, they occasionally take them with different branches of the military. For instance, the US Army Ranger School (Rogers); gives the soldier opportunities to learn from many other soldiers, creating an extensive learning environment.
After the soldiers complete their individual classes, they are formed into their platoon to train with each other in what is known as the Training Cell or T-Cell. In this phase of training, the unit learns all aspects of the unconventional and conventional warfare they will partake in, which builds strong teamwork and skills that the standard soldier does not even get trained in. This segment of training takes six months to complete, but this does not include their training in boot camp to even become a marine (Rogers).
The first Training Cell package involves long range communication, for calling in air support, evacuation, or just simply reporting back to the commanding officer any intelligence or Intel the team may have found (Rogers). This becomes very important in combat due to the team’s distance from any friendly unit; the ability to call in air support can be the difference between life and death. For example currently in Afghanistan, most of the fighting is in remote portions of the mountains where the nearest friendly base is many miles away, therefore if the team is on a reconnaissance mission, and they find valuable Intel on the enemy, they are able to inform a member of command on the situation allowing for a faster response (Pushies).
Next, the team spends three weeks with the weapons they will be using in combat, including the more common M4 carbine, which is replacing the older M16 assault rifle, as the standard service rifle of the US military. During these three weeks the soldiers fire many thousands of rounds, building up familiarity with the weapon and improving accuracy (Rogers). Subsequently it builds up muscle memory, giving them the ability to acquire a target and fire his or her weapon with deadly accuracy in rapid succession. This becomes important in real life scenarios; because the soldiers with the quickest trigger finger and the best aim will be victorious on the battlefield. Also it becomes more important for the soldier in close quarters combat in urban setting where everything happens faster than in an open setting like on a mountainside with a larger view.
After the team becomes familiar with their own weapons that they will be using, they become familiar with many of the common firearms used around the world by both friendly and enemy forces (Rogers). It aids the team in hearing a weapon fired far away to identify what type of weapon it is. This assists the team in discerning what the enemy is equipped with or their strength, giving the team a chance to do any last minute preparations before they engage the enemy. Also it demonstrates to the soldiers how to use the enemy’s weapons, in case they run out of ammunition, or lose their weapon (Rogers). In Afghanistan, the enemy could be on the other side of a mountain out of view from the FORECON team, but just hearing the enemy soldier shoot his weapon, gives the team valuable information on the enemy, allowing them to plan the engagement better.
The teams then go through the Force Fires Package, which instructs the team on how to call in air support in various environments, and in various forms. The ability allows the recon team to find their objective and call in an accurate strike from many different types of delivery systems, helicopter, fighter, bomber, or artillery strike (Rogers). It can be very useful if the team comes in contact with a much larger force which occurs many times because the team is only made up of fifteen members (Rogers). In hostile environments like Afghanistan where the enemy is entrenched in fortified positions the team can call in air support from aircraft like the AC-130 that can unleash a barrage of 40 mm, 105 mm shells, and other close support weapons like the 25mm Gatling gun (AC-130 Spectre Gunship). The deadly attack can decimate an entire enemy force allowing a team to go in an area and finish the mission.
Afterwards, the team goes through the Mobile Reconnaissance Package, where the team learns how to operate various vehicles and how to repair them in and out of combat (Pushies). The training becomes useful, because there are times when the team has to cover large distances of land, like in Iraq and Afghanistan which have miles and miles of desert before they even get to the location they have to conduct the mission, so being able to move from one location to another adds to the unit’s ability to be anywhere at anytime.
Next the team learns all of the skills involved in airborne insertion by means of the HAHO, HALO, and the LALO insertions. The HAHO insertion stands for High Altitude High Opening, where the soldier jumps out of the plane and opens the parachute right after exiting, and differs from the HALO (High Altitude Low Opening) jump, where the soldier jumps, and free falls for a long distance, and then opens his chute. The LALO jump stands for Low Altitude Low Opening, allowing for a mass amount of troops to be inserted rapidly in close proximity (Pathfinder). All three of these methods are useful in modern warfare, because they allow the teams to be deployed anywhere behind enemy lines, which has been a strategic advantage since the start of warfare. For instance, if the team is able to be deployed behind enemy lines, the troops can observe the enemy and conduct missions to prepare for the full invasion of friendly armies, causing the enemy to be confused on where the actual battle will take place. In Desert Storm, and Operation Iraqi Freedom conflicts, Special Forces teams in the US military, including FORECON teams were sent in before the full military force, to engage in reconnaissance missions and to disrupt enemy movements.
The teams then go through the Combat Trauma Package, which trains the members on how to treat most injuries that can be obtained on the battlefield. They are trained to treat injuries from gunshot wounds, shrapnel wounds, and broken bones (Rogers). Trauma training becomes extremely important due to the missions this unit takes on, when the team is in remote places like the mountains of Afghanistan, or in the vast deserts of Iraq. Therefore, if a team member gets injured, medical care would be hours away, therefore the team has to be able to treat their own wounds. In some cases, this might be enough to save the soldier, because they can buy him time until an evacuation helicopter can arrive to extract the injured soldier, transporting him to a more equipped aid station that can operate on his wounds.
Since the teams are able to conduct missions at sea, they take the Amphibious Training Package, which teaches nautical skills like boarding vessels and navigation (Rogers). It has been a strong suit of the Marine Corps since its creation, due to the fact that every Navy vessel has Marines onboard. This demonstrates how the Marines can be anywhere on the planet in short time. Due to the fact they are stationed on ships, many of their methods of infiltration into an area involve some sort of sea faring device, which creates the necessity for them to be able to navigate. The next phase then leads into their diving courses that they take, which teaches them safe diving techniques that allow them to stay together and not get lost. They also learn how to use all of the dive equipment involved with all the maneuvers that they use at sea. Nautical and diving training has recently become important due to the maritime dangers off of the Somalia coast instigated by Somalia Pirates boarding and holding ships and crew hostage. Since these recent events, the navy has stationed ships in the area to prevent further problems, and to perform missions to rescue any captured vessel.
After the team completes the T-Cell training, they gravitate to the next area of training which involves taking all what they have learned and putting it together in various practice missions that they have to complete. During this six month period, they train in environments that are new to them, like urban, jungle, maritime, and any other setting that they might have to operate in. Involved in this part of the training is the team’s utilization of all their skills that they previously learned. This becomes important when they actually arrive in combat, the enemy will be trying to kill them, and not like in training where they use non-lethal projectiles, here exists real danger (Rogers).
After the unit’s twelve months of training is accomplished, the FORECON team is assigned to a particular ship, where they stay for six months. While on the ship, the team continues with normal physical training and practice shooting with small arms like the M4 carbine and other service weapons. During these sixth months, they travel the globe with other FORECON teams, which generates a Marine presence all over the world, ensuring that there is always a team in place to complete any mission where their expertise is needed (Rogers). Currently, there are Marine bases in Cuba, Bahrain, Belgium, Greece, Greenland, Iceland, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Spain, Turkey, United Kingdom, Afghanistan, Djibouti, Germany, Diego Garcia, Japan, Kuwait, and South Korea (Army Times Publishing Company). These are not including the bases in the US, which cover the Western Hemisphere. Through these installations; the Marine Corps presence is global, which allows them to operate wherever there is a conflict.
During the First Gulf War, the Marine Force Recon’s skills were put to work against the forces of Saddam Hussein. After the Iraqi forces started to advance into Kuwait, The Marine Expeditionary unit sent in 90,000 marines and liberated the country. The US then insisted the Iraqis exfiltrate their armies past a certain point. To ensure that this was accomplished the US sent in FORECON teams to monitor the movement of the Iraqi Army. This mission was classified as a green mission; therefore the teams were not carrying any sort of heavy weapon, just the standard M16 rifle. One of the many teams assigned to participate was following a group of Iraqis, when they identified themselves as US Marines, to get them to evacuate. After the encounter, the marines reported the incident back to command, and an evacuation was called in, because the team was sixty five miles away from the nearest marine base, making any assistance non existent. The team was located five miles from an Iraqi division, creating a problematic scenario. Fears were realized when a company of 250 Iraqi soldiers assembled into position to attack the Marines, and moved onto the Marine’s position, but after the team waited, and the Iraqi’s moved within forty yards, the helicopter arrived (Pushies).
Another type of mission the FORECON teams can engage in is one of direct action. This type of mission is becoming more useful in today’s era of fighting, with Somali Pirates, Al Qaeda, and Taliban forces, in which they do not engage in the open, but in various secluded environments. For instance, the Force Recon teams have been conducting searches for weapons of mass destruction, or WMDs, and raids against known terrorist strongholds to wage the war on terror globally. An example of this type of mission could be a fortified Taliban position that overlooks a key road into a town in the mountains, where the Taliban have heavy weapon emplacements and bunkers along the hillside. The town which they are defending may house key enemy personnel, and the Marine Corps is given the mission to capture the town and any known enemy high-ranking officials. The initial phase of the plan would be to first get Intel on this particular position and on any other possible positions. Next, the FORECON team would help initiate the attack by moving into various positions that would allow them to eliminate key enemy positions from both long distances by means of sniper rifles, and close ranges with standard weapons like the M4 Carbine, Since the FORECON teams uses the element of surprise they are able to eliminate the key enemy positions allowing the main invading force to quickly take the town, and capture any located personnel.
These missions are one of the Marine Force Recon team’s forte, where they provide valuable Intel on enemy movements, allowing the commander to respond to the movement of the enemy and adjust any tactical plan put in place to confront the enemy threat in the best manor possible to limit friendly casualties and collateral damage of nearby non-combatants.
Due to the unit’s advanced skills with unconventional and conventional warfare, these forces remain a powerful asset to any military commander with the face of war changing from massive armies to smaller, more equipped armies fighting on the battlefield in more secluded environments. Their skills in unconventional warfare are also becoming more necessary with the war on terror, involving small groups of guerilla fighters in hiding globally, and past experience has demonstrated that mass armies cannot win this fight; therefore the need for highly trained groups of soldiers fighting in small groups will always be a prerequisite on the battlefront