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What are the Marine Corps Special Forces?

By Nicholas K.
Updated: May 17, 2024

The Marine Corps Special Forces is an arm of the United States Marine Corps responsible for special reconnaissance and counterterrorism. This unit is also referred to as the Marine Corps Special Operations Command (MARSOC) and was created in the midst of the Iraq War. Personnel in this unit, who may be directly involved in foreign internal defense, are highly trained and under the direction of the MARSOC Commander and the MARSOC Sergeant Major. The Marine Corps Special Forces recruits promising Marines for its multi-stage training process.

MARSOC was created in 2005 as a reaction to the need for counterterrorism forces in the Middle East, and it deployed for the first time in August 2006. Special Forces personnel have been responsible for assisting American missions in Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, and other nations. The headquarters for the command is Camp Pendleton in California. Additional training facilities and quarters are housed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

This military unit is tasked with assisting the United States military with direct action, counterterrorism, and reconnaissance. Direct action missions carried out by the Marine Corps Special Forces include engaging military assets and destroying pinpoint targets. Members of the the unit may be sent to terrorist havens to knock out communications systems and gain intelligence on terrorist cell movements. Reconnaissance missions cover everything from pre-strike geological layouts to post-strike damage assessments. Special Forces personnel may be also responsible for defending cities and regions occupied by the United States military from counterattacks.

The chain of command for MARSOC starts with the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) which assigns the MARSOC commander to oversee training and mission execution for the group’s three battalions. The MARSOC Sergeant Major oversees enlisted and non-commissioned personnel within the unit. The Inspector General is assigned to investigate any wrongdoing or illegal behavior within the command.

The training process for a member of the unit begins with a rigorous assessment and selection process. A prospective member is given psychological and physical testing to determine the trainee's threshold for stress. The seven-month training program features courses in demolitions, marksmanship, and communications systems. Mission planning and foreign languages also form part of the curriculum. Upon completion of this training program, a member of this Marine component participates in drills and simulations for 18 months before entering combat areas.

America Explained is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon1004076 — On Nov 11, 2020

First off, lets get ride of some misconceptions:

The Marine Corps is not a special operations force. What makes them different from the Army is that they are naval infantry and are taught how to act as such. That however does not make them a special operations force. They are a expeditionary force for the Navy. Second, they did not kill Osama Bin Laden. The Navy SEALs took that mission with support from CIA COD and ISA. Unfortunately, the Marines where not even there.

Third, the Marine Special Forces groups are as follows: Marine Raiders, Marine Force Reconnaissance, Marine scout sniper, and one of the many MARSOC units.

By anon1002289 — On Oct 16, 2019

The Marine Corps itself is considered special forces. that is why you cannot be drafted into the Marines. There are many even more specialized units in the Marines, but you are always a Marine before you're anything else.

By anon355768 — On Nov 19, 2013

Can I make e-9 in eight years if I'm in Special Forces?

By anon330638 — On Apr 17, 2013

I have been dating someone for a few months now who has been in the Marine Corps for almost eight years now. He's been part of the Special Forces for a few years now, and although he doesn't ever tell me where he goes to and what he does, the training he tells me they have to go through is quite impressive and the amount of mental and physical strength that one must have in order to withstand the hard duties is tough.

There have been times when he's out on missions for a few days and I wouldn't really hear from him. It is quite scary because you don't really know if they something happened or if they just haven't had the time to talk because of the duty they have with the mission they're on.

I've always known being part of this wasn't easy, but ever since I've actually been talking to someone who's so heavily involved with the Marines and as the strong-minded person he is for sticking through with Special Forces, I've become familiar with this part of the military.

By matthewc23 — On Dec 02, 2011

@jcraig - I have absolutely no idea how substantiated the stories are but that in itself may be the beauty of the Marine Corps Special Forces.

The Marine Corps Special Forces are building a reputation really quickly and they are doing so in their secrecy. We as civilians do not know a lot about what the Marine Corps Special Forces do and it is a matter of conjecture. Out of their secrecy a legend has been created and stories of their exploits have spread.

By jcraig — On Dec 01, 2011

@Izzy78 - The Marine Corps Special Forces are building quite a name for themselves and are becoming quite mythological or legendary.

I have also heard of the Marine Corps Special Forces not having a very long life span. I have heard that they are only allowed to be a member for eighteen months simply because of the high risk of their operation, but I do not know how reliable this belief is.

I have also heard that they only take their orders directly from the President and that they engage in the most high risk black ops type of assignment, but then again how substantiated is this statement?

By Izzy78 — On Dec 01, 2011

@kentuckycat - Just imagine that they probably go through the training twice. In order to become a member of the Marine Corps Special Forces they have to first pass the basic training required to become a Marine in the first place.

I imagine that they also have to take a test if they are interested in becoming a member of Special Forces, but I know for sure that they require additional training that involves certain specializations.

It is not easy to become a member of Special Forces and they go on a lot of dangerous missions that they may not return from. It is a privilege to serve in a Special Forces Unit, however I have heard that since the Marine Corps Special Forces go on such dangerous missions they are not expected to have a long active duty life span.

By kentuckycat — On Nov 30, 2011

I did not hear about the Marine Corps Special Forces until I heard that they were the ones that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. Before hearing that I assumed that Special Forces was only relegated to the Army and that they were the only Special Forces out there.

Upon hearing the Marine Corps have Special Forces I began to read stories involving the training that they went through and the tumultuous nature of their basic training. I can say that it is not for the weak of heart and that you have to be one tough individual in order to become a member of the Marine Corps Special Forces.

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