April 24, 2009
Military.com|by Bryan Mitchell
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The Corps' three-year-old Special Operations Command graduated its first class of operators April 22 from a recently developed seven-month training course that prepares the Marines for the high-speed, hush-hush world of commandos.
Forty-four of the 60 Marines who began the course in October graduated while six others received certificates of attendance.
The course represents the first time that special operations Marines joining one of the unit's four battalions will have undergone uniform, service-developed training that "provides a baseline of skills, including essential special operations tactics, techniques and procedures," according to a unit release.
This new cadre of special operators will join a command still nearly 20 percent below its required end strength for operators, according to Maj. Matthew Ceradini, spokesman for MARSOC.
The graduation comes as the Corps begins to open MARSOC eligibility to Marines from all job specialties - not just those from the infantry, recon or other combat arms communities.
The move to open MARSOC to all Leathernecks has created a flood of inquiries, Ceradini said.
"We've had all kinds of interest from Marines who were not combat arms background -- motor transport, air wing, supply guys. You name it, we've probably seen the MOS," Ceradini said.
Problem is, some of those Marines have contractual obligations that won't allow them to jump into the commando ranks.
"The interest is there, but they are committed at other places," Ceradini said, including deployment or other training obligations. "Our pie gets small very fast."
The Corps' spec ops unit is home to roughly 2,600 personnel, which also includes some Soldiers, Sailors and civilians. There are approximately 1,017 critical-skill operator billets filled by Leathernecks who complete the rigorous three-week qualification course and the seven-month training regimen.
Ceradini said the Corps' high op-tempo pushed MARSOC to cast a wider net for applicants.
"We had stuck to combat arms (positions), but because we are getting deployed so much we realized we needed to broaden our horizon and draw evenly across all spectrums of the Marine Corps," he said.
But good snake eaters can be found anywhere within the Corps -- it's more about what the Marine's made of, and not so much his previous training.
"We are looking for individuals who are the right fit for this work. It all comes down to the character of the individual when the final selection goes through," Ceradini said. "Is this person trainable? Does this person have the mindset to operate in this community?"
It's far from rhetoric. Special Operations Marines are trained in foreign internal defense, counter-terrorism and information operations. That's a far cry from the motor pool.
And, of course, you'll not only have to have heart, but also the brawn to back it up.
The baseline threshold for MARSOC is a 225 on the physical fitness test. The average of those selected, however, is a far more robust 278.
"If you're running a 225, you're not maxing out on any part of the PFT and your chances decrease exponentially," Ceradini said.
Trouble in the past will also keep an NCO or officer prospect out of MARSOC.
The command had long offered waivers for applicants with non-judicial punishment in their past, but had yet to grant one. Now, an NJP is a deal breaker.
Part of the thrust to recruit more Marines into MARSOC comes as the first batch of special operators will soon come to the end of their five-year commitment.
"We are going to consider extending a tour here on a case-by-case basis. We need to rotate these Marines back to the fleet to share some of that wealth of knowledge," Ceradini said.
The dilemma of sending highly-trained Marines back into the larger Corps is an issue the service is addressing.
Ceradini hopes this crop of special operations Marines set to return to the fleet will later serve again as MARSOC senior leaders.
"We don't want to see these guys get underutilized," Ceradini said.
More Marines Eligible for Spec Ops Teams