It’s time for the Marine Raiders to say goodbye to the Golden State as Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command officially has announced it is moving its entire elite special operations unit to the East Coast.
The consolidation will see roughly 900 Marines, sailors and civilian employees with the 1st Marine Raider Battalion and 1st Marine Raider Support Battalion, both located at Camp Pendleton, California, join the rest of the Raider community at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
The move will take part in three phases, with the goal of having the entire force on the East Coast by the end of the summer 2022, MARSOC officials told Marine Corps Times in an exclusive interview.
The Corps plans to plug its MARSOC gap by growing by 300 more Marines than originally planned.
The first phase of the move started in the fall of 2019. It involves minimizing the amount of MARSOC Marines assigned to the West Coast, with the goal of keeping the bare minimum number of personnel required to complete missions in California by the end of 2020, said Gary Oles, MARSOC’s acting assistant chief of staff for operations.
The second phase will move two Raider companies along with the headquarters element of 1st Marine Raider Battalion and 1st Marine Raider Support Battalion ― roughly 50 percent of the West Coast Raider element ― to North Carolina during the summer of 2021, Oles said.
Phase three will see all remaining Raiders, support personnel and equipment moved to North Carolina during the summer of 2022, he said.
The move is supposed to maximize the unit’s capabilities, increase its agility and save a significant amount of money for both MARSOC and the Corps as a whole.
But West Coast Raiders moving from Camp Pendleton ― the unit’s home since its creation in 2006 ― may lead to heartbreak over the loss of the lore and heritage built in Southern California.
And, it may bring changes to operational culture for Marines with the 1st Raider Battalion.
Stress on Raiders and their families is a big concern with the move, according to Derek Herrera, who was a Marine officer with the 1st Raider Battalion in Camp Pendleton, California, until his medical retirement in 2014.
The move also could decrease the unit’s training efficiency ― ultimately harming its internal culture and morale, and possibly decreasing recruitment and retention.
About 18 months ago when the move was being deliberated, Marines brought up their concerns about leaving California, MARSOC officials said.
Any move that may harm retention of Raiders must carefully be considered by the Corps, as the elite unit cannot quickly be replenished.
It takes nearly seven-months for a Raider to complete the Individual Training Course required to earn the 0372 Critical Skills Operator military occupational specialty, while support personnel from intelligence, electronic warfare and communication fields each have their own lengthy pipelines to complete.
Herrera said any move will cause stress to Raiders and their families, and may cause them to consider leaving the Corps or take their focus off the mission they are tasked with.
The consolidation’s planning process accounted for the turmoil a cross-country move could cause to families, Marine officials said.
The Corps has timed both major personnel movements with the school years in California and North Carolina to ensure no Marine’s children will be forced to change schools mid-year.
The officials also argue that having one location for all Raiders will give Marines who earned the coveted Raider insignia a level of stability unlike any other job in the Marine Corps.
“So, imagine yourself to be a sergeant, just graduating ITC, you just earned the 0372 MOS, you know that, with the exception of a few assignments later in your career, you're going to be at Camp Lejeune for the rest of your Marine Corps career,” Oles said.
“You can buy a house, you can establish yourself in the community and you know that you’ll get different assignments within MARSOC, but that you will be able to retain your home of record right here at Camp Lejeune."
Herrera acknowledged that some Marines may find the stability attractive, but added that no amount of planning could completely eliminate the stress of a move.
He also brought up fears that the unit’s morale will be damaged by leaving behind the home of 1st Raider Battalion.
“Look at the long and storied history of the performance of the men and women in the unit and my fear is that some of that might be lost,” Herrera said.
“At the end of the day there is going to be a definite change to the culture of the community, of MARSOC in general,” he said.
Herrera also focused on the loss of convenient access to range 130 on Camp Pendleton, California ― built specifically for use by Raiders and which has no equivalent at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
On Pendleton, Raiders can drive 15-minutes from headquarters and be on a range conducting live-fire exercises with the entire spectrum of weapons Raiders have at their disposal.
“It’s incredibly efficient,” Herrera said.
“There was plenty of discussion about, ‘Hey, we like California’ or ‘we like the training ranges here’ or ‘we’re close to NSW (Navy Special Warfare Command),' so plenty of those items got considered during the planning phase,” Oles said.
Raiders will still train on range 130 and retain “primacy” over the range, Oles said.
Sending Raiders across the U.S. already is a normal part of MARSOC training, and the extra cost of having to travel to range 130 is more than offset by the savings the unit will see, he said.
Even with Marines traveling from North Carolina to California to train on range 130, MARSOC will still be able to reduce or eliminate nearly 2,000 days of temporary additional duty each year for Raiders traveling between the two bases.
The MARSOC consolidation will save money on several different fronts, Marine officials told Marine Corps Times.
And, having all three Raider battalions together will actually create greater training opportunities, said Col. Rob Zyla, the assistant chief of requirements for MARSOC.
Almost all of initial MARSOC training happens on the East Coast, and by consolidating there MARSOC will be able to “more efficiently utilize our resources to provide that training and produce combat ready forces,” Zyla said.
The lower cost of living in North Carolina compared to Southern California will save the Corps millions, the MARSOC official said.
By moving all Raiders to Lejeune, the Marine Corps will save $55 million between 2021–2026 from reduced basic allowance for housing and the elimination of permanent change of stations, Oles said.
And, by eliminating the need for duplicate equipment, MARSOC will reduce gear acquisition costs by $65 million and will be able to return $33 million worth of gear to the Marine Corps, he added.
Though the numbers may be small compared to the larger military budget, the extra funds will be a huge windfall for the relatively small Raider community.
What is not yet known is how much money MARSOC will have to spend on building new facilities in North Carolina to accommodate the nearly 1,000 new Marines and support personnel, MARSOC spokeswoman Maj. Kristin Tortorici told Marine Corps Times.
Tortorici said it was still unknown what would happen to the 1st Raider Battalion’s barracks, warehouse, vehicle maintenance lot and training facilities, which were built in 2007 for nearly $50 million, according to a Navy budget.
Though the savings will be helpful for MARSOC and the Corps as a whole, they come only as a byproduct of consolidation.
“The cost results were a happy result of consolidation, but consolidation had nothing to do with cutting costs,” Oles said.
“It was all about creating efficiencies and poising the command to take off to the next level of operational opportunity."
Oles said MARSOC will be better able to use all its forces for whatever mission it is tasked with, increasing the unit’s response time to national security crises around the globe.
It’s part of the Raiders’ plan to comply with the National Defense Strategy, the commandant’s planning guidance and MARSOC’s own MARSOF 2030 vision, MARSOC commander Maj. Gen. Daniel Yoo said in a written statement.
All three documents were created with the idea of orienting the military away from the counterinsurgency wars it has been fighting for the past 18 years in order to prepare for a fight with a near-peer adversary like China or Russia.
Consolidation will “position MARSOC for more economical experimentation, testing, and evaluation of future operating concepts and near-peer offset capabilities, while streamlining organizational learning to enhance component-wide standards, performance, training, and readiness across the force,” Yoo said.
While it is still undetermined how the consolidation ultimately will change MARSOC, the Raiders are confident that the elite unit will remain one of the world’s premier fighting forces throughout the consolidation process.
“Marines, especially Marine Raiders, will step forward and answer the call and make it happen," Herrera said.
Overseas operations reporter Shawn Snow contributed to this report.