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MARSOC returns to the sea with 11th MEU

Integration teams to begin training with MEUs

Jun. 9, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Air power demonstration
Elements of the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit deployed with the amphibious transport dock New Orleans in 2012. Personnel with Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command will train with the 11th MEU at sea as soon as this fall. (Petty Officer 2nd Class Dominique Pineiro / Navy)
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Personnel with the Marine Corps’ special operations force will soon train aboard Navy ships, a step toward returning special operators to sea for the first time in more than a decade, said Commandant Gen. Jim Amos.

Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command will begin training as soon as this fall off the West Coast with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, out of Camp Pendleton, Calif., said Capt. Eric Flanagan, a Marine spokesman. The mission will be a prototype to prepare MARSOC for a closer relationship with MEUs and their Navy counterparts, Amphibious Ready Groups, Amos said.

Col. Matthew Trollinger, commander of the 11th MEU, said his unit is prepared to conduct its predeployment training “with representation from the special operations community to facilitate planning with Theater Special Operations commands and other spec-ops units.” Doing so will improve the MEU’s support to geographic combatant commanders, he said.

The move comes as MARSOC, established in 2006, assesses its future as forces come out of Afghanistan. This spring, top Marine officials traveled to U.S. Special Operations Command in Tampa, Fla., for a war game that examined MARSOC’s maritime capabilities and a way forward.

Amos, speaking at a May 29 event in Washington, said Marine officials decided to go forward with the “prototype” training mission involving the MEU. It’s a step toward an arrangement that has similarities to operations in the 1990s, Amos said. At that time, Navy SEALs deployed regularly with MEUs, tackling a host of complex missions.

“Every amphibious ready group/marine expeditionary unit had a team of SEALs on board,” Amos said at the Brookings Institution, an independent think tank in Washington. “In about 2000, 2001, that changed, and it became a function of ‘Well, there are other things,’ and then the war in Iraq broke out, and they became preoccupied. They have not been back aboard naval vessels — except for unique, specific, surgical-type operations — on any kind of routine basis since then.”

The recent war game focused on developing special operations “network integration teams” that can train with MEUs and ARGs prior to deployment, a SOCOM official said.

“While the details of this concept are still being developed, SOCOM is leading a planning effort to deploy SOF Network Integration Teams with West and East Coast-based ARG/MEUs in 2014,” the official said. The 11th MEU is one of those units.

Left to be sorted out is when teams of MARSOC operators will return to the sea — and how that will affect other Marine forces. Raids and other complicated missions at sea have been handled in recent years by other Marines, particularly Force Reconnaissance units. In one high-profile example, a Force Reconnaissance platoon with Pendleton’s 15th MEU was called on in September 2010 to take back the German shipping vessel Magellan Star from Somali pirates. They stormed the vessel without any loss of life.

The commandant at the time, now-retired Gen. James Conway, said afterward that he saw Force Recon as a possible solution going forward in similar future missions. Amos, however, has embraced MARSOC since taking over as commandant. At the Brookings Institution, he said he had “no intention of downsizing special operations,” citing their cost effectiveness and ability to build security and partnerships abroad.

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