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  • Writer's pictureForce Recon Association

Strong Men Armed-Part I

Article by: Patrick A. Rogers

The Marine Corps 1st Force Reconnaissance Company

The following is the first part of a 3 part article spanning 4 issues of The Accurate Rifle. Part I : January 2000 Volume 3 Number 12 Part II: February 2001 Volume 4 Number 1 Part III Section 1: April 2001 Volume 4 Number 3 Part III Section 2: May 2001 Volume 4 Number 4 The Accurate Rifle 222 McKee Street Manchester CT 06040

(Editor: We consider our writer here, by reason of extensive personal involvement over the years with Force Recon, to be uniquely qualified to write the three part series that we assigned to him. Part II will deal with the Special Operations Training Group (SOTG), and Part III will be "the good stuff", namely all weapons and equipment. While The Accurate Rifle does not intend to really cover the military scene, nonetheless there is always one way to get an exception to the general rules around here...make it darn interesting! The American Rifleman, in it's golden era, had frequent articles about US Military small arms, and just about everyone found them to be interesting reading at the time. In the author's cover note to me, accompanying this article, he casually commented " The FAST Platoon that I trained in Bahrain last month was deployed to Yemen today".Trust us; we've got just the writer for the assignment here).

Part I : History, Mission and Organization

The United States Marine Corps is a relatively small and parochial organization. Numbering only 172,000, it is the smallest of the Nation's armed forces. It also epitomizes the warrior ethic, much to the consternation of the socialists present in our society today.

The Marine Corps is, and has been throughout its existence, an expeditionary force. Consequently it is task organized to land its forward deployed units worldwide. Because we are a naval force, the primary method of force projection is amphibious, and the forcible entry option into a non-permissive environment is powerful and decisive.

Within the Marine Corps exists a small group of highly trained and superbly competent Marines; those assigned to the Force Reconnaissance community. Relatively unknown outside of the Department of Defense (DOD), they neither seek nor suffer the publicity of others in this business.

I'll attempt to provide a small look into the world of Force Reconnaissance. The amount of information will require three separate articles. This first installment will be a brief overview of the history and organization of Force Reconnaissance and how it fits into the Marine Corps mission. The second will be concerned with selection and training, and finally the third will cover weapons and equipment used by these silent warriors. There is a fair amount of jargon and acronyms involved, which I have hopefully softened and explained without gentrifying the story.


Currently, the only stand alone Force Reconnaissance Company in the Marine Corps is 1st Force. The 2nd Recon Bn. (East Coast) and 3rd Recon Bn. (Okinawa) have a Force capability embedded in their respective Reconnaissance Battalions. This may change (again) in the near future, but as of this time only 1st Force is capable of independent operations. Because of the different command relations that exist, this article is concerned primarily with 1st Force.

The Marine Forces Reserve have 3rd Force Recon in Mobile, AL, and 4th Force Recon in Honolulu, with a detachment in Reno, NV.

It's necessary to clarify the difference between Force and Division Reconnaissance.

The Reconnaissance Battalion supports the Division, and it provides tactical reconnaissance in the Distant Battle.

Force Reconnaissance supports the Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF), a Corps equivalent, and conducts Operational Level reconnaissance in the Deep Battle.

Force Reconnaissance had it genesis in Camp Pendelton in 1954 when a test unit was formed to evaluate methods of insertion for reconnaissance teams. These two platoons, (a Parachute Reconnaissance Platoon and a Pathfinder Platoon) were eventually combined with an existing Amphibious Reconnaissance Company to form 1st Force Reconnaissance Company in 1957.

In 1958, one half of the Company was transferred to the east coast to form the fledgling 2nd Force Reconnaissance Company. 1st Force was then a part of Force Troops, Fleet Marine Force Pacific (FMFPac) and supported both the 1st and 3rd Marine Divisions. 2nd Force was assigned to Force Troops, Fleet Marine Force Atlantic (FMFLant), and supported the 2nd Marine Division.

The early years were spent developing the doctrine and skills that bore fruit in the crucible of South East Asia.1 1st Force and 3rd Force2 went into the former Republic of VietNam in 1965, supporting 3rd Marine Amphibious Force in I Corps. During its five years in country, 1st Force ran over 2,200 reconnaissance patrols.

Forty-four Marines and Sailors of 1st Force were killed or remain Missing in Action during that conflict.

The Company was deactivated in 1974, as part of the post war draw down. The 1st Platoon was transferred to 1st Reconnaissance Bn. at that time, in order to retain a deep reconnaissance capability for 1st Marine Division.

The mixing of Force with Division Recon has never been entirely satisfactory, and the Company again stood up in 1986. 1st Force operated in Southwest Asia during desert Shield/ Storm, and has since deployed to multiple hot spots including East Timor last year.


The Company has two Mission Profiles- Deep Reconnaissance and Direct Action.

On the conventional, or "Green" side, the mission is to conduct Amphibious Reconnaissance, Deep Ground Reconnaissance, Battlespace Shaping, and surveillance to observe, identify and report enemy activity.

They conduct specialized terrain reconnaissance that includes hydrography, beaches, roads, bridges, routes, urban areas, helicopter landing zones (HLZ), airborne drop zones (DZ) and aircraft forward operating sites.

When task organized with other forces, equipment or personnel, they can assist in special engineer, Nuclear, Biological and Chemical (NBC), Radio, mobile or other reconnaissance operations.

Additionally, they can implant or recover sensors and beacons, conduct Initial Terminal Guidance for helicopters, landing craft and parachutists. As directed, they can designate and engage selected targets with Force fires, including terminal guidance of Precision Guided Munitions (PGM).

They can conduct post strike reconnaissance to determine and report damage to a specific target or area, or perform other operations as directed by higher command.

An example of this type of mission is the Personal Security Detail (PSD). Members of the Company are regularly tasked with providing protection to high-ranking military or civilian members in hostile areas. Generally a very high profile detail, the Marines of Force have the proper attitude and mindset to keep themselves and a principal alive in the bad neighborhoods of the third world.

On the Direct Action, or "Black" side, Force conducts Gas/ Oil Platforms (GOPLATS), Vessel /Board/Search /Seizure (VBSS), capture/ recovery of selected enemy personnel and equipment, and Tactical Recovery of Aircraft/ Personal (TRAP).

Note that the Company is capable of conducting Direct Action missions inside the Deep Battle area when task organized with other elements-specifically a Reconnaissance and Surveillance (R&S) element, Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) technicians, Radio or Electronic warfare specialists and such.

The Company is equally capable of conducting reconnaissance or direct action missions on very short notice.

One task recently removed from Force was In- Extremis Hostage Rescue. (IHR). While USSOCOM Tier 1 assets (Combat Applications Group {CAG} and DevGrp) have primary cognizance of hostage recovery, it was recognized early on that when the bad guys were executing hostages right now, a capable forward-deployed unit could be useful.

Recently it was felt by some that the IHR mission requires too much training time to be proficient, and that time spent in training for DA missions would degrade the Deep Reconnaissance capability. To that end the Marine Corps no longer advertises the IHR mission. However, Maritime Interdiction Operations, GOPLAT, prisoner recovery etc. all require a high degree of proficiency in surgical shooting and CQB skills. The Marine Corps has wisely not lowered the shooting standards and while IHR may not now exist as a mission, the capability is still resident in the Company.

To accomplish the mission profiles, Force utilizes special insert/ extraction techniques. These include:

Motorized - Improved Fast Attack Vehicle (IFAV)

Amphibious - Submarine, Surface Combatant, Sub- Surface (Closed Circuit Mk-25 Drager) or SCUBA (Open Circuit), Over the Horizon (OTH) via the CCRC (Zodiac), Soft Duck/ Hard Duck

Air - Helo; fast rope, rappel, Special Patrol Insertion/ Extraction Rig (SPIE Rig); Parachute, including Low Level Static Line (LLSL), High Altitude High Opening (HAHO) up to 25,000', and High Altitude Low Opening (HALO) up to 35,000'.


To understand how Force Reconnaissance functions, we need to understand how it fits into current Marine Corps doctrine.

The Marine Corps is broken down into three Marine Expeditionary Forces (MEF), each consisting of a Marine Division, a Marine Air Wing, and a Force Service Support Group.

Various non-operational units exist to support the MEF and subordinate units. As with the subordinate MEU, a single commander is responsible for ground, aviation and support elements.

Forward deployed are the Marine Expeditionary Units (Special Operations Capable) {MEU (SOC)}. The MEU (SOC) is the smallest of the Corps Air/ Ground Task Forces, consisting of approximately 2100 Marines and sailors.

The reason why it is "Special Operations Capable" and not "Special Operations" is that neither the Marine Corps nor any of its units belong to U.S. Special Operations Command. While Joint (or Purple) Operations are the rage in the halls of the Pentagon, the Marine Corps has always believed (and with great justification) that other services will deny the Marine Corps the use of its own specially trained assets during a crisis.

This has occurred on several occasions during the Viet Nam War, and more recently in the Gulf Conflict.

As a prime example, Marine Corps aviation exists solely to support the guys who actually do the fighting (the Grunts). Joint Air "managers" have long sought to remove these very valuable assets in order to make more "efficient" use of tactical air. The end result is that when a Marine infantryman needs that specially trained Marine pilot to deliver ordnance at danger close, he might be making toothpicks many miles away. The alternative is no air, or pilots who have not been properly trained in Close Air Support (CAS). The feeling is that if Force was assigned to USSOCOM, they might also remove the Force Reconnaissance assets from supporting a MEF or MEU.

The MEU (SOC) is comprised of a Ground Combat Element (GCE), an Aviation Combat Element (ACE), a MEU Combat Service Support Group, and a Command Element (CE).

The GCE is the Battalion Landing Team (BLT), an infantry battalion reinforced with artillery, Amphibious Assault Vehicles (AAV's), Light Armored Reconnaissance assets, Tanks, Engineers and a Division Reconnaissance platoon.

The Aviation Combat Element (ACE) is a Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron (HMM) augmented into a composite squadron. It will usually consist of 12 CH-46's, 4 CH-53's, 3 UH-1N's, and 4 AH-1W Cobras. It may also have 6 AV-8B Harrier fixed wing aircraft attached.

The ACE also has an Air Control detachment, 6 Avenger Air Defense HMMV, and a Light Air Defense (LAD) Detachment assigned.

The MEU Service Support Group (MSSG) contains all of the specialists and equipment necessary to keep the GCE and the ACE functioning. This includes motor transport, mechanical, engineering, medical, dental, postal and other technical experts.

The Command Element provides the Command and Control for the three components of the MEU. In addition to the MEU Commander and his staff, a Radio Recon Bn. Detachment, an Intelligence Detachment, and a Force Recon platoon are included.

The MEU (SOC) is forward deployed on a three ship Amphibious Ready Group. (Usually an LHD or LHA, and an LPD and LSD). Generally speaking, and depending on sequencing, two or sometimes three MEU (SOC)'s are forward deployed around the world at any given time.

The MEU (SOC) is self sustaining and capable of executing an amphibious operation at night or under adverse weather conditions, by surface (in LCAC's and AAV's) or by air (in the embarked helicopter squadron) within six hours of receiving the execute order.

It can also launch amphibious raids, conduct NEO's, (Non Combat Evacuation Operation) reinforcement operations, security operations, or humanitarian operations. It can seize airfields or ports, and conduct Counter Intelligence and Signal Intelligence operations.

Though 1st Force is a Company, it is administered along the lines of a battalion.

There are approximately 200 Marines and Sailors in the Company. Leading the Company is the Company Headquarters consisting of the Commanding Officer (CO), a LtCol, the Executive Officer (XO), a Major, and a Sergeant Major.

Supporting the operational platoons is the S1 (Administrative) Shop; the S2 (Intelligence) Section; the S3 (Operations); and the S4 (Logistics and Supply); and the S6 (Communications) Shop.

Under the cognizance of the S3 is the indispensable Training Cell and the Paraloft. The S4 Shop has control of the Dive and Amphibious Lockers, the Motor Transport Section, and the Armory.

The Company has medical and dive personnel assigned from the Navy. While Corpsmen have always been held in high regard by Marines (and for obvious reasons), those Corpsmen assigned to Force Recon are definitely a breed apart. These Special Amphibious Reconnaissance Corpsman go through all of the training that the Marines in Force go through, plus their own advanced Combat Trauma Training. When assigned to the platoons, they are shooters first and foremost, and indistinguishable from their green brothers.

Though the Table of Organization is for six operational platoons, only five are actually funded.

The Operational platoons are staffed with a platoon headquarters consisting of a Platoon Commander (usually a Captain), a platoon sergeant (usually a Staff Sergeant or Gunnery Sergeant), Platoon Radio Operator (normally a Staff Sergeant or Gunnery Sergeant), a Navy Special Amphibious Reconnaissance Corpsman, and a platoon Equipment NCO (Rigger/ Armorer).

There are three, six man teams in the platoon. Each Team consists of a Team Leader (SSgt), an Assistant Team Leader (SSgt/ Sgt), a Radio Operator, and three Reconnaissance Scouts.

The six-man team concept reflects real world experience. The Company formerly fielded 4 man teams but there were a number of issues that impacted negatively on the Marines. Consider that they must jump, dive, or walk in with all the gear necessary to complete the mission. The new surveillance and communications gear is lighter, stronger and more efficient than what it replaces, but there is more of it. Less then six cannot carry the equipment necessary for Deep Reconnaissance missions. Equally important is what the team does with a friendly casualty. Unless a 4-man team was willing to cache all of its equipment, they would not be able to carry a casualty out.

In Deep Reconnaissance, survival is based on stealth, and stealth is a by-product of alertness. A 4-man team does not have the numbers to provide an adequate rest cycle while maintaining proper security.

Though a Deep Reconnaissance mission requires that the team not be compromised, the reality of life is that they may. When that happens, the rules change. Because they are in the deep battle area, they cannot count on artillery support, and CAS and the extract birds may be a long time coming. They must be able to shoot, move and communicate, but unlike a Grunt, they are operating in a friendly vacuum. The 4 man team simply does not have enough guns to work as two elements.

The 6 man team also provides the numbers necessary to perform a Direct Action mission. Remember that these missions will take place in a non-permissive (or at best, a semi-permissive) environment. The smaller teams are just an invitation for failed missions and higher casualties.

On the other side of the coin, increasing the team drastically increases the chance of detection. More than 6 and the patrol becomes too unwieldy for clandestine operations.

6 man teams are a compromise, and it is the best available solution.

For Direct Action missions, the platoon is configured into a single unit, and task organized with Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) technicians, a Reconnaissance and Surveillance (R&S) section (drawn from the BLT Scout/ Sniper Platoon), and a Security Element (also drawn from the BLT) as well as other mission related personnel.

You may note that the rank structure is significantly more senior then in conventional forces. This accurately reflects the length of time one spends in training before he can get into a platoon, and is commensurate with the maturity and responsibility of these Marines. Considering the amount of sophisticated surveillance and communication gear available to the platoon, the training required to operate and maintain it, and what it is they actually do, any issues about rank become amazingly inconsequential.

The Force Reconnaissance Company is the personal eyes and ears of the MEF Commander - a three star Corps level equivalent. They provide him with real time information in the Deep Battle area not available by other means.

The Marines of Force Recon do not consider themselves to be "elite" or "special". Their attitude is that they have been fortunate to be selected to a unit that provides unique challenges and opportunities, and makes full use of their talents. They are tough, rugged men, whose job is to support the guy who does the real fighting - the Marine Infantryman.

Fortune Favors The Brave, Bruce F. Meyers, Naval Institute Press

1 Fortune Favors The Brave, Bruce F. Meyers, Naval Institute Press

2 Force Recon Command, Alex Lee, Naval Institute Press

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