A jumpmaster with Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command conducts a freefall jump. Lt. Gen. Dennis Hejlik says MARSOC could grow to more than 5,000 Marines. (Lance Cpl. Kyle McNally / Marine Corps)
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Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command could eventually balloon to between 5,000 and 6,000 Marines and have its own aviation assets, said the three-star general who served as its first commander.
Lt. Gen. Dennis Hejlik, now head of Marine Corps Forces Command, out of Norfolk, Va., told reporters during a June 30 breakfast in Washington that MARSOC's recent growth could continue until there are as many Marine special operators as there are Navy SEALs.
"I personally and professionally think that someday they will have air assets like a MAGTF," he said, referring to a Marine air ground task force. "I firmly believe that. That will take some time, just because of the cost and the war we're in right now. But, that's where I see them going. I see them as a force someday of about 5,000, like equivalent to the number of SEALs that we have on the battlefield. Between [5,000] and 6,000."
Hejlik commanded MARSOC from its birth in February 2006 to July 2008. As commanding general of MARFORCOM, he oversees the deployment of East Coast assets.
If his prediction holds true, MARSOC's end strength would grow to twice its current size, about 2,600 Marines. The Corps' current long-term plans call for the command to add about 1,000 Marines ó primarily combat support and combat service support jobs.
Lt. Gen. John Allen, set to be the next commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, told Congress last month that the military still is struggling to meet the needs of special operations forces in Afghanistan, particularly those working to train Afghan police and to stabilize villages. Spec-ops teams will need more aircraft, surveillance capabilities and road-clearing equipment, he said.
There is no plan in place to add aviation assets with MARSOC, but discussing it is a nod toward the way conventional Marine forces deploy with air, ground and logistics personnel working together in a MAGTF, Marine officials said.
Hejlik said conventional Marine forces eventually could spend more time working with U.S. Special Operations Command personnel, especially in African countries and other nations that have militaries willing to work with the U.S., but do not want a battalion of Marines on their soil. He offered an example in which conventional Marine forces would train with conventional forces in Chad while U.S. special operators partnered with commandos there.
"The Marine Corps will be operating in more dispersed units, again a lot of it aboard naval shipping," he said. "… The small teams are what's going to be allowed into those countries."