A MARSOC Marine downrange sports the iconic Marine Raiders patch, though it's not officially approved for wear. (Level Zero Heroes via Facebook)
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The fabled Marine Raiders live again, if in name only. The commandant of the Marine Corps said Wednesday that Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command will be renamed and rebranded in honor of the elite World War II unit.
During MARSOC’s change of command ceremony at its headquarters in Sneads Ferry, N.C., Gen. Jim Amos said all units within the parent command would undergo a name change: 1st Marine Special Operations Battalion would become 1st Marine Raider Battalion, and so forth.
The move is a significant reversal for Amos, who has been careful to maintain official distance between the eight-year-old legacy of MARSOC and that of the Raiders, who many people consider the first elite Marine operators. In 2011, Amos rejected a proposal to rename MARSOC for the Raiders during a gathering of general officers in New Orleans, saying, according to one general in attendance, ‘your allegiance, your loyalty … is to the Marine Corps, based on the title you have on your uniform.’”
Nonetheless, Amos has been lobbied heavily by the Marine Raider association to make the change. Amos appeared at the organization’s annual reunion last August as the guest of honor, where a member of the group managed to surreptitiously slap a Raider patch on his uniform just as photographers snapped a photo.
In March during a social media forum, Amos hinted that the issue might resurface, saying officials were looking into the name change. He finally made the decision at an executive off-site meeting with other generals in late July. That meeting also resulted in the creation of a new primary military occupational specialty for MARSOC officers.
“The recent Marine Raider reunions have highlighted their strong desire for their legacy to not be forgotten and to be carried on by another Marine Corps unit,” MARSOC spokesman Capt. Barry Morris said in a statement. “We feel we owe it to those Marine Raiders still alive and their families to make every attempt to do so.”
Morris said the move also creates a logical historical link between the work of MARSOC and the elite Pacific missions of the Raiders, seven decades ago. Raiders were renowned for mounting long-term operations deep behind enemy lines, with little to no logistical support from larger American forces. Not unlike the Army’s Long Range Recon Platoons years later in Vietnam, Marine Raiders were proficient at the types of unconventional warfare methods most often attributed to today’s Special Operations Command.
“It helps tell our story that the Marine Corps is not necessarily new to the world of special operations,” he said.
While the MARSOC units will adopt the Raider name, Morris said they will not be authorized to use the most famous Raiders symbol : the blue-and-red emblem with stars and a menacing skull. MARSOC operators have been spotted sporting a patch with the raider skull during deployments in Afghanistan, albeit without authorization.
“MARSOC unit emblems will continue to use the blue Raider shield with southern cross,” Morris said.
The blue shield and the constellation, overlaid with an upward-facing Raider stiletto knife, already present in all MARSOC battalion emblems, are a nod to original Raiders imagery.
Nonetheless, Morris said the command expects motivated MARSOC operators to use the patch.
“MARSOC will continue to follow Marine Corps uniform standards with respect to wearing unit patches,” he said. But “We anticipate MARSOC Marines to informally use the original Raider patch as a means to display esprit de corps, unit pride, and Marine Corps heritage.”
MARSOC itself will retain its official title, but the tenant units will be formally reflagged with the publication of an upcoming Marine administrative message, Morris said.
The next change for MARSOC may be updated training that further emphasizes the linkage between today’s critical skills operators and the Raiders. The Raiders legacy is already mentioned during the individual training course that all operators pass through to enter MARSOC; it’s not yet clear how other training evolutions could be modified to reflect the Raiders history.
“MARSOC is the modern-day embodiment of the Marine Raiders of World War II,” Morris said. “Our mission set includes not only the raids and guerrilla operations conducted by the Raiders, but also foreign internal defense, security force assistance, counterinsurgency operations, and a host of other capabilities that are uniquely relevant to modern day conflict.”