Marine Raiders will head the staff element heading into Iraq

  A Marine with U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Special Operations Command (MARSOC) provides security during a joint patrol with Afghan National Army Special Forces soldiers in Watan village, Helmand Province April 3, 2012. 

A Marine with U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Special Operations Command (MARSOC) provides security during a joint patrol with Afghan National Army Special Forces soldiers in Watan village, Helmand Province April 3, 2012. 

The Marine Corps' decade-old special operations command will lead the next rotation of operators into Iraq, Marine Corps Times has learned.

Marine Raiders will head the staff element for the next iteration of Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force-Iraq, said Capt. Barry Morris, a spokesman for Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command. 

The unit is set to deploy early next year and will be led by a MARSOC colonel, he said.

While a previous rotation of the task force was led by a joint Navy SEAL-MARSOC team, Morris said the Marines' exclusive leadership of the task force represents a milestone for the command.

"This deployment is the first time MARSOC has formed and deployed a full CJSOTF staff," he said in a statement provided to Marine Corps Times. "In that regard it does represent the next step in the command’s operational maturation.”

The task force includes special operations troops from all the military branches. Little has been made public about the task force's activities in Iraq, where it supports coalition efforts to counter and defeat Islamic State militants. The task force has a liaison officer stationed in Baghdad to help the unit coordinate with other military elements supporting Operation Inherent Resolve, according to officials with Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response-Central Command.

Morris said MARSOC was notified it would lead the upcoming U.S. special operators' rotation to Iraq late last year. The staff element will conduct five months of training ahead of its deployment, he said. That training will wrap up with a culminating exercise later this fall.

The fledgling command, which marks 10 years of existence in February, has already seen a significant share of high-profile assignments.

MARSOC deployed five special operations task forces led by lieutenant colonels to Afghanistan in support of combat efforts, Morris said, and has deployed four colonels at various times to lead special operations force elements in northwest and central Africa. But this new landmark for leadership in the joint special operations community is earning the command praise from top U.S. Special Operations Command officials.

In an address to top enlisted Marine leaders earlier this month, Army Sgt. Maj. William Thetford, SOCOM's senior enlisted adviser, said the assignment highlighted the faith the command placed in Marine special operations."MARSOC has paid their dues, I’m here to say," he said. "There is no 'JV' status. They are absolutely value added to us.” 

Army Gen. Joseph Votel, commander of SOCOM, said the Marine Raiders' early development exceeded that of even more established special operations units. "MARSOC Raiders are a more mature force in 10 years than the Rangers were at their 10-year mark," Votel said, in a statement presented by Thetford during his address.

This Iraq assignment proved that point, Thetford added. "Going into Iraq carrying the flag — that wouldn’t happen to a Ranger Regiment in 1985."

As proof that MARSOC was ready to lead its peers, Thetford cited MARSOC's impressive tally of decorations for valor: 233 Bronze Stars with combat valor device, 20 Silver Stars and seven Navy Crosses. He said the ability of Raiders to provide strike force and unconventional warfare capabilities in a single unit made MARSOC especially valuable to special operations commanders. In the Army, he said, those capabilities are divided between the Rangers and the Green Berets.

"MARSOC continues to be an agile force, grounded in both the Marine Corps and [special operations forces] ethos," Morris said. "MARSOC units are in high demand among the theater special operations commanders due to [the command's] reputation for professionalism and combat-proven small unit tactics, cultural awareness and operations-intelligence integration at all levels."


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