The history of MARSOC is the history of the Marine Raiders

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Marine Raiders past and present
Composite picture of WWII Marine Raiders with modern-day MARSOC operators. (Courtesy of MARSOC)

Disclaimer: This article was sponsored by the Marine Corps Special Operations Command (MARSOC) and contains content developed in collaboration with their team.

Marine Raiders are a special breed within the U.S. special operations community. Established in their modern form in 2006, Marine Raiders have fought and excelled on numerous battlefields ever since.

Although they are the latest member of the U.S. special operations family, Marine Raiders can trace their history back decades.

Forged in combat

It’s during World War II, in the jungles and islands of the Indo-Pacific, where the legacy of the Marine Raider Regiment begins.

With the Imperial Japanese Army sweeping throughout the Indo-Pacific after the Pearl Harbor attack, the Marine Corps decided to set up small and agile special operations units that could harass the Japanese forces and stem their advance. Soon, the Marine Raider battalions were in combat.

Marine Raiders hold a lot of rsts. Sergeant Clyde A. Thomason, the first enlisted Marine to earn the Congressional Medal of Honor during World War II, was a Marine Raider. Marine Raiders were also the first special operations unit in history to conduct a submarine-borne raid during the Makin Island operation of 1942.

But in 1944, the Marine Corps decided to disband the Marine Raiders, and it would take 62 years for the unit to re-emerge at the forefront of the U.S. special operations community.

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Marine Raiders reborn

New critical skills operators and special operations officers receive their Marine Special Operations Insignia upon completing Individual Training Course during Raider Night at Camp Lejeune, N.C., May 11, 2022. Raider Week combined MARSOC’s annual Cognitive Raider Symposium with various Individual Training Class graduation events along with a team-based competition. 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. Raider Week focused on four themes throughout the week: reflection, remembrance, Raider Pride, and the Cognitive Raider. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Jesula Jeanlouis)

The modern history of the Marine Raiders begins in 2006 with the creation of the U.S. Marine Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC). At the time, the Global War on Terror (GWOT) was in full swing, and the U.S. military was engaged in a complicated two-front war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But to make sure that MARSOC would be viable, the Marine Corps prepared for its creation years earlier with the establishment of Detachment One. Essentially a special operations task force, Det One was composed of a direct-action platoon and special reconnaissance platoon, a security platoon, and a headquarters element that provided organic, full-spectrum intelligence support to the kinetic elements. With approximately 300 special operators and support personnel, Det One deployed to Iraq soon after the invasion in March 2003.

The unit quickly made a name for itself in the counterterrorism campaign that kept the entire U.S. special operations community busy for years. The die had been cast and the success of Det One prompted the Marine Corps to establish MARSOC as a permanent organization. The Marine Raiders were back. The 1st and 2nd Marine Special Operations Battalions were manned with Marines from the 1st and 2nd Force Recon Battalions, which were disbanded.

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Marine Raiders prepare to fast-rope from a UH-1Y Huey Helicopter during a MARSOF Helicopter Insert Extraction Techniques course in Jacksonville, N.C., July 21-23, 2021. MHIET facilitates a Marine Special Operations Team’s rapid infiltration or exfiltration via a rotary or tilt-rotor-wing aircraft, into and/or out of small or restricted, austere, and amphibious environments. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Brennan Priest)

MARSOC was set up as the Marine Corps’ component of the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM). It is composed of the Headquarters, Marine Raider Regiment, Marine Raider Support Group, and Marine Raider Training Center. Marine Raiders specialize in a variety of mission sets, including direct action, special reconnaissance, and foreign internal defense.

Even though the large-scale counterterrorism campaigns of previous years have slowed down, Marine Raiders continue to deploy all across the globe, enhancing partnerships and setting the conditions to defeat adversaries if called upon. Marine Raiders are constantly deployed overseas.

At any given time, a Marine Special Operations Team could be in Africa, Europe, South America, the Middle East, and the Indo-Paci c. In 2020, Retired Lieutenant General Dennis J. H. Hejlik, MARSOC’s first commander, told the new generation of Marine Raiders about the importance of their legendary lineage.

“Know and understand the history of this exceptional group of warriors, where you came from, why, and how,” he told them.

As the United States military pivots toward Great Power Competition with geopolitical rivals like China in the Indo-Pacific, Marine Raiders find themselves in familiar territory. Once more in their history, the Corps’ elite are called to deter and, if necessary, protect with force U.S. national security interests in a key region of the world. And if history is a guide, they will do it well.

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