Notoriously shrouded in secrecy, Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command may soon lift the veil on its training pipeline, beginning with the assessment and selection course that is held several times per year at undisclosed locations, and continuing with the nine-month individual training course.
Thinking changed when MARSOC focus groups found the lack of information about initial training was actually hurting recruiting efforts.
"What we found is that the knowledge about what goes on at ITC is really pretty sketchy," Boby said. While public information about special ops training for the other military branches is abundant, "we couldn't find that on MARSOC, it's pretty much a black hole," he said, which leaves plenty of room for rumors and tall tales.
But starting in August, Marines will see a whole new side of MARSOC.
Marine officials will release a slew of new information on MARSOC.com, the command's recruiting website, including descriptions of training events and professionally shot photos and videos of training phases that weren't even discussed before outside of ITC.
Boby said the lack of information surrounding MARSOC's work was due in part to the constant changes that the young command has undergone in its eight years of existence.
"I think when the organization was new, you're driving the car while you're building it," he said.
Behind the training
Here's the layout of ITC that MARSOC officials are now ready to reveal:
The course begins with Phase Zero, an initial entry phase. The several weeks of Phase Zero incorporate survival, evasion, resistance and escape (SERE) training, a course used across the Department of Defense to prepare elite troops for scenarios from wilderness survival to enemy capture. Also built into this phase are advanced medical training skills and basic special operations techniques.
While most of the population attrition for MARSOC candidates takes place in the assessment and selection phase, where between 25 and 45 percent of candidates wash out or opt not to continue, Boby said Phase Zero is where much of the remaining attrition takes place.
By the time candidates hit Phase 1, the infantry training phase, they are prepared to go the distance. That phase includes training in patrolling, ambush combat skills, infantry tactics, weapons handling, and a portion of amphibious training with small boats that takes place in Key West, Florida.
Phase 1 ends with Raider Spirit, the first of four culminating exercises all named to reflect Marine special operations history and heritage. While all the exercises are tough, Boby said Raider Spirit is most like the Navy SEALs' Hell Week: MARSOC candidates get scarcely any sleep for the first few days of the exercise, with continuous operations and physically demanding, intense situations.
"It's a man-up exercise," Boby said. "You have to stand up and take what's coming to you. That's a big breakoff."
MARSOC officials still aren't saying much about Phase 2, the basic reconnaissance phase. The phase includes basic skills and traditional reconnaissance work and other tactics and techniques that are far more secretive, Boby said. The details of the culminating exercise, Stingray Fury, named for Marine Force Recon deep reconnaissance "sting ray" patrols in Vietnam, are "close hold," he added.
Phase 3, the close-quarter battle and urban combat phase, contains a lot of the "sexier" training that people associate with special operations, Boby said: breaching doorways and walls with explosive charges, live fire in houses, team tactics and advances weapons training.
The culminating exercise, Guille Strike, requires MARSOC candidates to conduct complex mission planning to take down targets in close-quarter battle, he said.
And Phase 4: the irregular warfare phase, incorporates all the skills that candidates have learned in previous phases, teaching them to apply the training in an austere environment and working with foreign militaries, whether on a train-the-trainer mission in Africa, or mentoring Afghan special forces commandos as some MARSOC units do now.
The final culminating exercise, Derna Bridge, takes place over three weeks at an undisclosed location in the Eastern United States. Boby called the exercise "pretty extensive and pretty wild," saying it incorporates all previous aspects of training and tests the team dynamics of the small — and at this point tightly knit — MARSOC training teams.
Band of brothers
That team aspect of training and operating is another point that MARSOC officials hope to highlight on the revamped recruiting website. It's not enough to describe the extreme missions and the grueling training, Boby said; he has found prospective MARSOC critical skills operators also want to know how they and their families will be supported within the unit.
"We want guys to understand the benefits of being a MARSOC team member, being an ," he said. "You got to give the guys an idea of why they want to be here."
The site will also emphasize MARSOC's Performance and Resiliency program, which focuses on proting physical, mental and spiritual well-being, with health and fitness professionals available to assist anyone assigned to MARSOC, as well as MARSOC family members nad civilians.
"When I talk to a prospective MARSOC candidate, I'm not going to tell him, 'we're going to thrash you and break you,'" Boby said. "We've invested a lot of time and effort into making you a '72. We tells guys all the time, 'you're an asset, and we're going to take care of you.'"
Behind MARSOC's grueling 9-month Individual Training Course
This is the ITC initial entry phase, which includes foundational training:
■ Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) training
■ Medical training
■ Basic special operations
This phase incorporates:
■ Infantry training
■ Patrolling, ambush combat skills
■ Infantry tactics
■ Weapons handling
■ Small-unit amphibious training
Culminating exercise: Raider Spirit
The special reconnaissance phase. This phase ranges from basics such as hiking with heavy packs to top-secret training that MARSOC officials won't describe. The phase also incorporates traditional reconnaissance skills, they said.
Culminating Exercise: Stingray Fury
The close-quarter battle and urban combat phase. Prospective critical skills operators get:
■ Weapons training with pistols and rifles
■ Basics of close-quarter battle to include live fire in houses, team tactics, breaking doorways and walls, and more.
Culminating Exercise: Guille Strike
The irregular warfare phase. Prospective operators learn to apply skills from previous phases in an austere environment, with little support or resources. MARSOC officials said training focuses on scenarios in which MARSOC CSOs train with local troops, such as the Afghan special forces commando kandaks that current operators in Helmand support.
Culminating Exercise: Derna Bridge