June 2006
By Alan W. Dowd

Marines Add Special Ops
For the first time in its storied history, the US Marine Corps is training and deploying its own Special Operations force. The Marines’ Special Operations Command (MARSOC) opened for business at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, in late February. Gen. Dennis Hejlik serves as MARSOC’s first commander.

Once fully operational, MARSOC will comprise 2,600 Special Ops Marines. Some will specialize in training foreign troops; others will be paired with Marine Expeditionary Units at sea; and still others will stand at the ready at bases on either coast—North Carolina’s Camp Lejeune and California’s Camp Pendleton. According to National Defense magazine, the two battalions will draw heavily from the USMC’s “Force Recon” units.

To underscore the USMC’s determination to prevent any stratification within the Corps, MARSOC Marines will be rotated back into regular Marine units after just three to five years in Special Ops. When asked by Proceedings magazine about the name of his new cadre of Marines, Gen. Hejlik’s response said it all: “Marines.”

The Pentagon’s Special Operations Command (SOCOM) has been around for 20 years, and the Marines have remained politely, if noticeably, absent until now. Most observers say the Marines were finally pushed into creating a separate Special Ops component by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld—and by the unmistakable reality that the War on Terror, which could last for decades, is a Special Ops war:

-The Pentagon has shifted much of the authority for prosecuting the war to SOCOM, in an effort to improve the speed and lethality of the global anti-terror campaign.

-In Afghanistan, Special Ops forces spearheaded an inter-service, inter-agency team that took down the Taliban in a matter of weeks. At the height of the Iraq war, almost 10,000 Special Ops forces were deployed; they proved essential to tracking and neutralizing Saddam Hussein and other regime leftovers.

-In the last five years, Special Ops teams have been deployed to Timbuktu and the Horn of Africa, to the Philippines and Thailand, to Georgia and Uzbekistan, on and probably inside the Syrian and Iranian borders, to Pakistan and Afghanistan and Iraq, and into scores of faraway places undisclosed to the public.

As Hejlik put it in his interview with National Defense magazine, “Irregular warfare is here to stay.”

Melting Pot Military
A recent study on the US Armed Forces published by the Population Reference Bureau revealed that ethnic diversity has been a hallmark of the US military from the very beginning. For instance, Congress authorized the creation of a German battalion in 1776. During the Civil War, fully 22 percent of the Union Army was foreign-born, including a unit of German riflemen detached to the New York militia and a brigade comprised of Irish immigrants from New York and Massachusetts.

“The foreign-born share of soldiers increased to about half in the decade following the Civil War,” according to the study. By 1898, 25 percent of the US Army was born somewhere other than the United States. During World War I, “the commander of the 77th Infantry Division, manned by draftees from the New York area, claimed that 43 languages and dialects were used in his unit.” And during World War II, Washington created an all-Norwegian battalion “for an invasion of German-occupied Norway.”

Today, according to Pentagon estimates, almost 31,000 of the troops who are defending us are not yet American citizens.

As a contributing editor to The American Legion, Dowd writes columns and news briefs on national security, foreign affairs and U.S. politics each month for the magazine's "Rapid Fire" section.