For this week’s American Heroes, we’re going to focus on not only a specific branch of the military but an elite unit within that branch. Our first piece of the year covered the Army Infantry, and now we’re going to take a closer look at a group of men that tends to go unnoticed by the general public, at least from a broad perspective. Today it’s the Navy SEALs and Delta Force operators tending to garner the lion’s share of the headlines, not necessarily due to their own desires but more as a result of the political machinations in Washington, D.C., along with the actions of the brass. But there are other special forces operators out there, among them a group of men who make up an expeditionary force that’s rather young by special forces standards: MARSOC (United States Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command). This week we take a closer look at the courageous men of MARSOC, a look meant to bring their bravery and selflessness just a bit further into the public eye. After all, OPSEC may need to be respected, but gratitude can still be shown.
First, a little history. MARSOC is part of SOCOM, and though their creation was decided upon in 2005, they weren’t officially active until February 24, 2006. It was actually the dark events of September 11th that spurred the creation of MARSOC; prior to 9/11 the Corps felt Force Reconnaissance should stay within the Corps’ command, and after 9/11 it was decided detaching an elite unite from the Corps to work with SOCOM would be a positive move rather than a detriment to their overall strength and effectiveness. The pilot program for MARSOC was made up of Force Recon and worked alongside Navy SEALs, and thanks to the obvious success of the unit’s creation, they quickly became a free-standing entity, not to mention a force to be reckoned with.
In order to fill the ranks within MARSOC, Marine Special Operations Individual Training Courses began in October of 2008 at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. And although what goes on during training isn’t quite as well-known as certain other special forces’ processes, we now know a thing or two about the goings-on of the training undertaken to sculpt already seasoned Marines into MARSOC operators.
Prior to even setting one booted foot onto the training grounds for MARSOC, Marines must meet the following requirements: first of all, they must rank between E-3 and E-5 – officers between O-1 and O-3 – and then are required to have a minimum GT (general technical) score of 105, a minimum physical fitness score of 225, and also must pass medical screening, swim assessments, and, of course, they must qualify for a high level security clearance. Once qualified, the real work begins.
Training begins with Phase One Assessment and Selection, which is a basic skills course, although just because it’s considered “basic” does not mean by any stretch of the imagination it’s anywhere in the neighborhood of easy. During the first phase, Marines muscle through the expected physical fitness, which includes swimming and running, and also go through more extensive hand-to-hand combat training along with patrolling, fire support, combat medic training, land navigation, SERE training, and mission planning. Phase One includes a weighted ruck run of a distance between 8-12 miles. A lead instructor says there is also considerable weight put on candidates’ ability to process and handle training mentally. Assuming the men pass Phase One, they then move onto the joys of Phase Two. Gutting through Phase One and being granted entry to Phase Two does not guarantee selection for MARSOC.
Phase Two focuses more specifically on special ops skills and is highly competitive. Marines who make it to the second phase are expected to master intelligence gathering, small unit tactics, small boat handling, and maritime navigation while undergoing extensive field training exercises in both urban and non-urban settings. Get through Phase Two, and you can move on to Phase Three. Phase Three is, of course, even more grueling; the third phase is when training gains true intensity and precision. This is ITC (Individual Training Course) and is currently listed as nine months long. Now Marines undergo CQC (Close Quarters Combat) training and hone their marksmanship skills while learning to function and maneuver as a team. Strategy and critical thinking are an important part of ITC. During this phase, Marines also learn the nuances of AW (Asymmetric Warfare) which has to do with learning to think like the enemy, anticipating their moves and learning guerilla warfare. For officers comes Phase Four, TCC (Team Commanders Course) which is four weeks long. Instructors say Marines who succeed are those who go in with the mindset they’re going to bull through to the end come hell or high water rather than those who try to spend those challenging weeks and months convincing themselves along the way. Marines who get through training and become MARSOC operators are some serious badasses.
Word is there are currently about 2500 Marines in MARSOC. MARSOC base units are made up of 14 men and are known as MSOTs (Marine Special Operations Teams). An MSOT is led by a Team Commander, an O-3, and the Team Chief, an E-8 who is the commander’s second. Teams have two mirror image squads known as Tactical Elements which are headed by Element Leaders, who are E-7s. MARSOC has three subordinate commands and is based at Camp Lejuene, although there’s also a West Coast base at Camp Pendleton. The HQ company is known as the Raider regiment, and while MARSOC focuses on DA (direct action), special reconnaissance, and foreign internal defense, they are also tasked with counter-terrorism and information operations.
Within MARSOC, CSOs (Critical Skills Operators) are the primary special operators. CSOs receive specialized training including languages and are awarded MOS 0372. The training process for CSOs is described as “unforgiving.” There are also some Combat Support Marines who are allowed into MARSOC based on their MOS; these Marines are SOCSs (Special Operations Capabilities Specialists). Billet fields for SOCS include EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal), Intelligence, Dog Handlers, Communications, and Fire Control Specialists. Once these men pass screening they go through STC (Special Operations Training Course), which is six weeks of absolutely unleashed, unhindered training in war fighting skills, SERE training, and training specific to their MOS. MOS-specific training varies according to MOS. SOCSs are awarded the AMOS 8071.
To say the Marines in MARSOC are hard-charging and seemingly fearless might be a bit of an understatement. It can be difficult to profile their heroism specifically because they seem to appear in the news so rarely, but public displays do come along now and then. Two such examples have recently surfaced as MARSOC operators have been recognized for acts of extreme courage in the face of certain death.
Chief Petty Officer Justin A. Wilson
On September 28, 2011, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, Chief Petty Officer Justin A. Wilson displayed selfless heroism to save his brother Marine in combat. Wilson is a Special Amphibious Reconnaissance Corpsman with the 1st Marine Special Operations Battalion, United States Marine Corps Forces, Special Operations Command (MARSOC). On the day in question, Wilson volunteered to accompany MSOT EOD Tech Staff Sergeant Nicholas Sprovtsoff and MWD (Military Working Dog) handler Staff Sergeant Christopher Diaz to clear an IED that had been placed near an Afghan PD in the Helmand Province. The IED detonated while Sprovtsoff was approaching it, filling the area with dust and debris. According to Wilson’s citation, “despite being disoriented by the dust and overpressure from the blast, and knowing the enemy’s tactic of emplacing multiple IEDs in proximity, Petty Officer Wilson immediately left the safety of his position and searched the checkpoint until he located the severely wounded EOD Tech.”
“I knew what lay ahead. I think they [Diaz and Sprovstoff] what lay ahead and I think everybody knew what was going to happen that day.” Chief Petty Officer Justin A. Wilson
Once Wilson had located Sprovtsoff, two other team members approached to assist in removing the wounded Marine from the kill zone. Wilson was fully aware there would be other IEDs in the area, and yet he went, and as he attempted to carry Sprovstoff to safety, another IED detonated. Wilson was terribly injured in the second blast, but he continued on, moving his fellow Marine to safety and rendering aid. Tragically, Sprovstoff succumbed to his wounds, but the crisis was far from over. There were still two other Marines out there in need of help, and despite his own wounds, Wilson refused to leave them.
Running through a minefield, towards the susurrus of gunfire, Wilson sought out his remaining teammates. When at last he found them, though, both were already dead, killed by insurgents’ bombs. Only then did Wilson allow his own wounds to be treated.
Wilson was awarded the Navy Cross for his actions that day, making him the first sailor assigned to MARSOC and the seventh Marine in MARSOC overall to receive the honor. In the 95 years of the Navy Cross’ existence, less than 6500 service members aiding the U.S. naval services have earned it. And while Wilson may not see himself as a hero, rather choosing to see his actions as simply doing what needed to be done, there is no doubt he is a MARSOC American Hero deserving of enormous respect.
Staff Sergeant Andrew C. Seif
Michigan native Staff Sergeant Andrew C. Seif is a CSO with 2d Marine Special Operations Battalion, U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Special Operations Command. On July 24, 2012, Seif and MARSOC teammate Sergeant Justin Hansen were tracking an Afghani IED expert responsible for a number of U.S. service members’ casualties. Seif and Hansen closed in on the insurgent and found themselves engaged in a firefight against multiple enemies; as they fought to prevent their target’s escape, Hansen was wounded. Without hesitation, Seif rushed to his teammate’s aid while continuing to lay down fire. Seif later said Hansen let him know where the shooter was, helping him assault through. Seif crossed open ground on his own and cleared the entire compound alone, then returned to Hansen. He managed to move Hansen to a safer position, but the enemy pressed back. Seif continued the battle, still trying to help his teammate; unfortunately Hansen succumbed to his wounds. Later, Seif would credit Hansen with the mission’s success. Without Hansen, Seif said the mission would have been a complete and utter failure.
Seif was awarded a Silver Star for his actions that day on March 6, 2015. During the ceremony Major General Joseph L. Osterman, the commander of the U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Special Operations Command, said “the fact that [Seif] continued to fight through the objective to get Sgt. Hansen taken care of, putting himself in the line of fire, speaks volumes to who he is and demonstrates that he would never leave a Marine behind.” Of Hansen, Seif said, “He was larger than life. If you didn’t know him, you heard about him.”
The motto of MARSOC is “Always faithful, always forward” and it’s abundantly clear the Marines within the elite unit take those words to heart. To the Marines of MARSOC, respect and gratitude is due in no small portion. I can think of no better American Heroes to honor than those so immediately willing to give their lives for their brothers. There is truly no greater love.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.
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