CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. — When Master Gunnery Sgt. Brian R.Yarolem[cqgf] visits an infantry unit to talk about Marine Corps reconnaissance, his audience Marines sees with the jump wings and dive bubble devices on his uniform chest and the "first thing out of their mouth is, "Oh, you're MARSOC."
MARSOC, the Marine Corps' component within U.S. Special Operations Command, does bear some similarities to the service's fabled recon community, both in terms of its sophisticated missions and in the caliber of Marines it needs to perform them. But no, Yarolem always then tells them, "I am a reconnaissance Marine. ..." Well, what's the difference? they'll ask, prompting him to reply, "Let me tell you the difference. You've got 15 minutes?"
Yarolem, a long-time recon Marine and the staff noncommissioned officer in charge of Recon Training Company here at the Marine Corps' School of Infantry-West, hopes to change that perception. He's helping develop a revamped recruiting pitch — and a recon "brand" — to better educate and inform Marines and others about how the two communities are different and why the service needs hard-charging personnel to go recon young men interested in Recon and how it's different from Marine Corps Special Operations Command.
Veterans like Yarolem are tired of telling people – other Marines included – that, no, they're not MARSOC. They are Recon Marines. Recon and MARSOC aren't the same thing.
The long-time reconnaissance Marine and others at the schoolhouse at Camp Pendleton, Calif., are counting on a new branding effort campaign coincides with a and renewed recon recruiting campaign. It begins its push starting this summer. to get more men prepared and primed to become reconnaissance Marines (and Navy recon corpsmen). A separate study is underway to determine how best to man, train and equip the community.
While many Recon and Marines have joined MARSOC have a complicated relationship. When then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld directed the Marine Corps to establish a special operations component, which he did early in the war on terrorism, the service raided its recon units to do so. To this day recon continues to cede men to MARSOC, which offers big-time cash incentives to find and keep the best of the best, though the churn is not as constant as it once was on reconnaissance they note, reconnaissance units and missions remain separate and vital to the Corps. Marine Corps Times examined this dynamic in a 2014 cover story, highlighting the question: Does the Marine Corps truly need both? Another cover story, published in 2012, explored recon's retention challenges.
This new branding and recruiting campaign will remind the Marine Corps that "reconnaissance is still here," "The reality is we have different mission statements," said Master Gunnery Sgt. Christopher L. May[cqgf], a recon point man at Marine Corps headquarters' plans, policy and operations. "We The campaign will remind "the Marine Corps that reconnaissance is still here, we still have traditional mission statements. We still do the direct-action [missions], still do the free-fall, still do the diving."
New So nearly a decade after being plundered to build MARSOC, and with a new preparatory training and leadership development programs already are underway, the timing just might be perfect to build the Recon brand and grow the community. Officials say they The Corps needs 1,146 recon Marines to fully man the community, but that with 928 on the books now, the service is two companies short. With has only 928 on the books right now, or 81 percent, according to Marine Corps figures.
MARSOC has nearly 1,000 critical skills operators within a command of 2,742 personnel.
Yarolem and others, including Recon Training Company executive officer Capt. Jason Quinn, realized the need for better Recon recognition in the months leading to the annual Recon Challenge competition, held May 15 at Camp Pendleton. Within the broader marketing noise of military recruiting market, Marine recon fell woefully short in competing for public attention, said Capt. Jason Quinn, the executive officer of Recon Training Company. Most notably, it was failing to drawing in the young, physically and intellectually fit, smart young men gravitating toward the Marine Corps who might lean toward its special operations force in MARSOC.
So one day, Yarolem said, he called up May, the Reconnaissance Occupational Field Sponsor at Marine Corps headquarters' plans, policy and operations. "I said, Hey, I'm tired of competing with MARSOC. We need to get a general officer on board involved." The experienced Recon men had the same mission and targets in mind.
MARSOC has a flashy recruiting website, where with rich, engaging video it pushes the message that for those who make the cut, "today will be different." It has a slick mobile application prospective candidates can use to prepare for the physical rigors of the command's assessment and selection process. It has dedicated public affairs support and a robust following on social media.
"The reality with MARSOC is, they've got a $500,000 advertising engine behind them," May said. "You go into any movie theater, and there they are," May said."
With recon, by comparison, there was no just wasn't a clear, single consistent message. But that's changing. Recruitment posters and other marketing materials ublications had variations in images and messages about reconnaissance.
May and Yarolem led the creation of came up with a Marine Recon brand and recruiting campaign with posters and other materials about reconnaissance to help fill the approximately 500 contracts annually. They pitched their grass-roots idea to senior officers, including Brig. Gen. John Love, a former recon Marine and head of the PP&O's operations division within Marine Corps Plans, Policies and Operations at the Pentagon. They won him over.
Yarolem and May developed a new Recon logo. in white lettering simply states, the words "Marine Corps RECON" beside next to a half skull-and-crossbones. "It's very clean, it's very descriptive," Yarolem said. "You won't see the old timey [one] where it had three bullet holes in the head and everything else with pain, misery and suffering, because people got offended with that. So we cleaned a lot of that up."
They also created videos and came up with a half-dozen posters, with color and black-and-white photos, and information that also bear the brand logo. "We went in there with a theme. It's called 'Air, Sea and Land,'" Yarolem said. "It has the information on it" to go Recon. So Marines can contact their unit career retention specialist and get information about going into recon, and recruiters will have information for civilians about what it is to become a Reconnaissance Marine. Other materials will carry the message, too, including postcards and physical fitness cards that detail different types of exercise, he added.
The posters show different faces of Marines and different phases of the mission: Using mostly color photographs, posters show Marines rappelling from an H-60 helicopter onto a ship, pausing on a ground mission, underwater with scuba gear. Another set highlights all three skills. Still another is informative, with sections explaining "About Marine Recon," "Basic Reconnaissance Course," "Common Missions and Skills." The branding campaign echoes what the community is about. Each one states: "Marine Corps Reconnaissance. Swift. Silent. Deadly. All It Takes Is All You Got." with phrases including "Never Quit," "Never Below You," and "Overcome Your Fears" in background above photos showing a Marine with a weapon, jumping into the ocean and parachuting.
The Marine Corps already is distributing the posters and flyers, with some hanging in places around Camp Pendleton and Marine Corps Base Quantico in Virginia. A service-wide recruiting tour starts soon "We'll go on a recruiting campaign after the Recon Challenge here. We'll start on the West Coast," said Yarolem. Another Recon veteran, Master Sgt. David Jarvis now with 1st Recon, will join him and May and be the point man at SOI-West on recruiting.
A new 'Heartbreak Ridge'
Just what other pieces will encompass the new campaign weren't yet detailed. Marine Corps officials ADD/UPDATE.
Along with posters, the campaign likely will include short videos that recruiters can use that are, well, in the 21st Century.
When Quinn enlisted in 1996, the recruiter's office had a recon poster that depicted a guy holding an M16 and with his face covered in painted in camouflage paint, wearing a booney cover and holding an M16 rifle. "It said recon on the bottom of it. I didn't know anything about recon. I was like, 'hey, what's that?' " Quinn said. The recruiter told him, "grab that movie right there and watch that, and come back tomorrow and talk to me."
The movie was? The 1986 film starring Clint Eastwood, "Heartbreak Ridge," a Clint Eastwood classic from 1986.
"So that was a recruiting tool. So I went home and watched 'Heartbreak Ridge,' and I go in there and said, Yeah, I want to go recon. It wasn't a primary [military occupational specialty] MOS then, so he said — he was honest with me — you want to go do that? The fastest way is [the infantry MOS] 0311. I'm like, 'good, I want to be a grunt anyway.' "
Quinn isn't sure just how much most recruiters know about the distinctions between recon, and how it's not and MARSOC. Perhaps the new campaign, and a more-modern movie that resonates with young men today, could catch their attention.
"'Heartbreak Ridge' is a great recruiting tool. But what do we have now?" he said. A young man today might have watched "Surviving the Cut," the Discovery Channel series that includes a Marine Corps recon piece.
"So we've got to get our brand back out there, and we've got to find our 'Heartbreak Ridge'," said Quinn said. "... We've I'm not saying we're going to use 'Heartbreak Ridge' — we've got to find our Hearbreak Ridge, to find guys motivated when they enlisted to train prior to going to boot camp and keep their goals set for recon and get after and pursue it and take the indoctrination and try to get into Recon."
Or maybe even a video game, too, with website links or realism to show prospects going in what it takes to go Recon.
Yarolem envisions recon creating a video game, perhaps, where "you are the (Recon) applicant, you've got to train in order to get through the schoolhouse, and that will show them similar to what they'd be going through." Maybe the gamer is on the joy stick, "trying to keep up with water or 30-minute tread," he added. "Guess what? They're fingers are going to get a little sore, they're going to think, I can't even get past that level."
Easing the pressure from MARSOC
This new education and recruiting effort comes at a pivotal time for the reconnaissance community, which is re-energizing after nearly a decade since it saw its units nearly drained of experience as MARSOC established itself in 2006. Within a year it formed 1st Marine Special Operation Battalion at Camp Pendleton, drawing men from most of the Corps' recon and force recon units. It had a priority for manning.
At the time, Yarolem was the operations chief with 1st Recon Battalion, which falls under 1st Marine Division at Camp Pendleton. He saw quite a few seasoned recon Marines go to 1st MSOB.
"We were the first battalion – 1st Recon Battalion – that paid the full price right up front. That was all of our middle management, that was our corporals all the way to staff sergeants. So they gutted the entire battalion," he said. "I was getting ready for another deployment cycle, to (Iraq), and I was like, where am I going to get a fully-trained Recon Marine in order to go into harm's way? Everybody else was like, you can't touch us."
It was a tough transition, but 1st Recon rode it out. "It was like, We'll pay the price now. But, guess what? We are off limits for like the next four years," he said. "They were good about that."
The pressure on Recon units has eased as MARSOC works toward filling its billets. MARSOC's end-strength, as of February, included 960 critical skills operators within a command of 2,742, Marine Corps Times reported in mid-February.
What it takes to go recon
Officials also are putting stock in recon's Moreover, officials said, a retooled preparatory program. Begun just last year, it already is getting a lot more men through the community's challenging training pipeline.
All prospective recon Marines must has to graduate from the Basic Reconnaissance Course, held at Camp Pendleton. But they can't get into the BRC unless they also complete the Basic Reconnaissance Primer Course, or BRPC.
"With the creation of the Basic Recon Primer Course, we've seen our attrition in BRC decrease, so BPRC is actually working," said Quinn. The schoolhouse averaged about a 35 percent graduation rate, and "sometimes it was at 80 percent attrition. Since the inception of BRPC, we now average about an 82 percent graduation rate in BRC."
The five-week primer course was developed to organize what was an unstructured, informal program under the MART platoon, short for Marines Awaiting Recon Training. , platoon, and get more prepared and fit enough to graduate from BRC. Before, the MART program had a mix of young Marines at different points awaiting training, but essentially a single instructor staff to guide them. A holding platoon remains, however.
The five-week primer course combines includes physical training with core, such as the obstacle course, and recon skills like mountaineering. It also features but also a hefty amount of swimming and water survival training, which can be difficult for many. Most prospective future recon Marines come from the infantry. But they, too, face difficulties particularly in the water, which fuels high attrition. "You need to be able to swim and you have to stay calm in austere environments," said May.
May hopes to draw more infantry corporals with a deployment or two who are thinking about into re-enlisting into recon. "We can give them the opportunity to do something different," he said. He'd like to see more machinegunners and mortarmen, Marines whose weapons experience and skills would be valued as "we're looking to build that internally."
The attrition-graduation trend is likely to bolster the health of the existing community and help it meet the high demand for recon-trained Marines. Recon Marines are conducting anti-piracy, crisis response and training foreign militaries.
More men coming into the community also means better advancement opportunities for other recon Marines. Developed in 2009, Recon Training Company's team leaders course and unit leaders course didn't attract as many NCOs as prior due to repeated wartime deployments. As recon fills its vacancies, commanders will be able to send more Marines to school.
"You've got high attrition in BRC, coupled with casualties in combat and just the high turnover rate in our MOS of losing guys to MARSOC, losing [special amphibious recon] corpsmen to MARSOC, and guys just naturally getting out after a couple of deployments," Quinn said. "So you don't have the group of men to send to the Team Leaders Course and Unit Leaders Course, because they're tied up and, I mean, they are turning and burning. They are home for only seven months, and they're back out."
But, "since that's going away, we're getting a lot more interest in the Team Leaders Course, which I think is going to fuel the Unit Leaders Course," he said.
Recon's demand overseas, May said, will only grow in the future.
Staff writer Hope Hodge Seck contributed to this report.
Recon Marines assigned to the Corps' crisis response-force for Africa train alongside Spanish paratroopers at Naval Air Station Rota.
Photo Credit: Cpl. Michael Petersheim/Marine Corps