CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. — The commander of the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit recently returned from a seven-month deployment with the first ever said that the Corps' first Special Operations Forces Liaison Element, which leaders describe as was an invaluable asset that and made Marines a better partner to the special operations community.

The MEU deployed with a six-man Special Operations Forces Liaison Element, or SOFLE. The team included five enlisted special operators from across the services lead by a Marine lieutenant colonel.

The liaison team and helped spec ops commanders in the Asia-Pacific region and the Middle East, where the MEU was operating, determine how they could use Marines with the MEU to support their missions. The SOFLE will also serve as a model for future deployments as the Marine Corps works to improve interoperability with U.S. Special Operations Command.

"We were as plugged into each other's activities as much as we possibly could be," said Col. Matthew Trollinger, commanding officer of the 11th the MEU during a roundtable event here Monday's CO, said. "I had much better access. I don't think I could have had better access to what was going on in their headquarters as they were working a plan and determine how we could support their plan." he said.

During the deployment, Additionally, the stronger relationship with special operations meant that a company-sized detachment of reconnaissance Marines took on attached to the MEU could take over some some of the special operations force's steady state obligations in the region.

"The SOFLE did a lot of work identifying, then actually, planning, coordinating different activities that my reconnaissance Marines were able to so with a lot of SOF entities," Trollinger said.

That is helped build a rapport between the MEU and special operators SOF, Trollinger said. That way if a crisis broke out while underway, they had already developed a rapport and strong working relationship.

The liaison element started training with the MEU and working with SOF commanders early in the predeployment work-up cycle, Trollinger said. They met at various special operations headquarters overseas, explained the MEU's capabilities, and detailed the skills of the Marine recon detachment.

Throughout the deployment, the SOFLE communicated regularly with leaders from SOCOM and the MEU. The team also helped with the planning, preparation, coordination and execution of missions, Trollinger said.

"If you can do it in steady state, all of the MEUs will make a difference in their deployment. And it just establishes you when you have to respond to a crisis. You have familiarity, you have relationships built," he said.Paraphrased -- a pretty confusing quote. GH

The liaison team, or SOFLE, is going to be a regular component of MEU deployments, Lt. Gen David Berger, I Marine Expeditionary Force's commanding general, said SOFLEs will go a long way in of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, said. MEUs compliment special operations well, and vice versa, so it makes sense to improving the coordination between U.S. Special Operations Command and the entire Marine Corps. two organizations,, he said.

"They needs things from us that they don't have. We need things from them that we don't have," he said. "We have really complementary capabilities and it works out perfect."

Building a stronger relationship with SOCOM is a top priority for Marine leaders. For the last few years top leaders have pushed for a better relationship between the Corps and the military's special operations organizations, and improving interoperability between Marines and special operators in some of the Corps recently-released directorates and plans. Expeditionary Force 21, a blueprint for the Corps' future released in April 2014, stresses the importance of SOFLEs to deploy not only with MEUs, but any forward-deployed Marine air-ground task force.

"We must seek every opportunity to collaborate, plan, exercise and experiment with Special Operations Forces in order to achieve operational synergy during steady-state, crisis response and contingency operations," the plan states reads.It calls on integrating special operations planners into Marine exercises and war games and developing "limited objective experiments focused on operational and capabilities integration in complex terrain and circumstances that explore relationships, information sharing and equipment interoperability."Expeditionary Force 21 says that SOF integration should be a component of all forward MAGTFs.

Commandant Gen. Joseph Dunford, the 36th commandant of the Marine Corps, re-emphasized the complementary nature of the Marine Corps and SOF, and how the two organizations have to have a better working relationship in his recently-released planning guidance."Marines and SOF are highly complementary and have many similar characteristics; it is only natural that our efforts should work to improve interoperability between the Marine Corps and United States Special Operations Command," he wrote. "While our commitment to Marine Corps Special Operations Command is enduring, our partnership with the SOF community must extend to the entire Marine Corps. A closer alignment of special operations capability with expeditionary (Marine air-ground task forces) is a natural arrangement within the Joint Force and a daily reality in the Operating Forces."

The 11th MEU was the first to deploy with a SOFLE, but others are following suit. The North Carolina-based 24th MEU arine Expeditionary Unit is currently underway with a SOFLE the liaisons embarked. and Trollinger said that he's also speaking with other commanders about lessons he learned over the 11th MEU's seven-month deployment, which could lead to some changes when SOFLEs deploy with other units.SOFLEs will remain a part of MEUs, but they may evolve over time, Trollinger said.

"The SOFLE concept will stick around. It may not look exactly like what I had," he said.

Berger said the SOFLEs can ultimately help combatant commanders make quicker decisions in the event of a crisis when there's little time to act.

The liaison team also streamlines communications between the MEU and the SOF community, and allows commanders to make quicker decisions in crises where there is little time to react, Berger said.

"They make it a more capable force. And that's what's important to us, to give the combatant commander on the other end the best force, the most capable force, we can," Berger said.

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