The Force Reconnaissance companies (FORECON or Force Recon) (0358) are one of the United States Marine Corps’s special operations capable forces (SOC) that provide essential elements of military intelligence to the command element of the Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF); supporting their task force commanders, and their subordinate operating units of the Fleet Marine Force (FMF).
Historically, the Force Recon companies, detachments and platoons performed both deep reconnaissance and direct action (DA) operations. Some missions are now shared by the Marine Special Operations Regiment (MSOR), due to the establishment of the U.S. Marine Special Operations Command (MARSOC) in 2006. MARSOC was formed from Force Recon’s direct action platoons, and now are capable of performing many of the same mission sets for USSOCOM. This dual existence now allows the FORECON companies to focus on excelling in their primary intelligence-gathering mission, as well as the VBSS (Visit Board Search and Seizure) side of the specialized raid mission.
FORECON is responsible for operating independently behind enemy lines performing unconventional special operations, in support of conventional warfare. The unit’s various methods of airborne, heliborne, submarine and waterborne insertions and extractions are similar to those of the Navy SEALs, Army Special Forces, 75th Ranger Regiment, or Air Force Combat Controllers, although Force Recon’s missions and tasks do differ slightly with a focus on primarily supporting Marine expeditionary and amphibious operations.
After the creation of Marine Special Operations Command in August 11, 2006, it marked the United States Marine Corps’s first time in history its commitment to the United States Special Operations Command. On February 2006, 2nd FORECON deactivated its command. The most experienced operators were selected to fill the ranks for the newly-established Marine Special Operations Battalion’s (MSOBs) teams. A month later in January, 1st FORECON has met the same fate. The remaining Marines in both force recon companies either molded into new “D” companies within the division recon battalions, forming the Deep Reconnaissance Platoons (DRPs). The DRPs are designed to maintain and preserve the ‘deep reconnaissance’ assets to the MAFTF commanders.
Two different mission types emerged during the Vietnam War: Key Hole and Sting Ray. Key Hole patrols were designed purely around reconnaissance; avoiding contact with the enemy was paramount. Marines in key hole patrols were armed with defensive weapons only, so evasive techniques were employed to break contact from the enemy should the need arise. Sting Ray operations were the exact opposite of Key Hole missions. The goal of sting ray missions was offense, and the Marines involved were heavily armed and utilized artillery support. However, what began as a key hole patrol could become a sting ray patrol with little warning. These practices are known today as “deep reconnaissance” and “direct action”, or what force recon Marines call “green operations” and “black operations”. The versatility of FORECON is demonstrated when missions quickly turn, planned or not, from a deep reconnaissance operation to a direct action operation.
The reconnaissance that are conducted in deep operations are known as the Green operations. They pertain to the preliminary and post-assault reconnaissance (amphibious and ground recon), battle damage assessment (BDA) missions, or placing/recovering remote sensors and beacons. The main purpose of the force recon operators are to collect any intelligence of military importance, observe, identify and report adversaries to MAGTF commanders. They may also initiate terminal guidance for landing zones (LZ) and drop zones (DZ) for heliborne, airborne, or waterborne operations; to include forward operating sites for Marine aircraft. Silence and stealth are vital to reduce chances of mission compromise from contact with the enemy. If a single round is fired, the mission has failed.
The mission of Force Recon’s green operations are in consistence and similarities to the division recon units, however, the force recon platoons operate further inland and deeper in enemy territory. Generally, they operate in such great distances that they are beyond the boundaries, or fan, of any artillery and/or naval gunfire support (NGS). These missions are known as “deep reconnaissance”, unlike their division recon brethren, whose operations are strictly within the artillery and gunfire support fan.
Black operations are the missions that require direct action (DA). They are the opposite of green operations missions, where the force recon operators basically “look for trouble”. Determining on the situation and the target location, the FORECON operators usually conduct direct action missions within the artillery and naval gun support fan; since these operations demonstrate in “small-scale” shock and awe.
Examples are the seizures and occupation of gas/oil platforms (GOPLAT) and the Visit, Board, Search, and Seizure (VBSS) of ships during Maritime Interdiction Operations (MIO). Orchestrating close air support (CAS) is a vital skill exercised in DA missions; force recon operators forward observe from static positions and spider holes for artillery and naval gunfire support, or ordnance and payload delivery.
They also provide Personal Security Detail (PSD) for critically important personnel. They are capable of performing In-Extremis Hostage Rescue (IHR) but this is no longer a Force Recon mission task. The MSPF are designed for IHR missions for the MEU (SOC)s in its stead.
Each Force Reconnaissance company is basically the same, they all contain its command element and force recon platoons. Each company is in command by a company commander and his executive officer.
Force Reconnaissance were developing and performing innovative clandestine insertion methods before the Navy SEALs and the Army’s “Green Berets”; techniques such as the submarine locking -in and -out methods, underwater “blow and go” ascends, high altitude, low opening, or HALO and (-high opening) HAHO parachute insertions.
FMFPAC Amphibious Reconnaissance Battalion
The antecedent Amphibious Reconnaissance Company, consisting of six officers and ninety-two enlisted personnel was organized with a headquarters platoon and four reconnaissance platoons. Each platoon was commanded by a Lieutenant and composed of two six-man squads. And were was outfitted with equipment for embarkation in either two ten-man or three seven-man inflatable boats.
While stationed at Camp Elliot and the Camp Pendleton area, for nine months they trained and honed their scouting and patrolling techniques becoming proficient with their rubber boats in the heavy Pacific surf. They disembarked from both submarines and high speed destroyer-transports, or APDs. They also developed a training film, The Amphibious Reconnaissance Patrol, which is still used in amphibious reconnaissance training.
Sharing their developed skills, they passed their knowledge to the United States Army, training two Army units of the Alaskan Scouts, which successfully captured the islands of Attu and Kiska in the Aleutian Islands Campaign, and later, Kwajalein, from the Special Naval Landing Forces of Imperial Japan.
By August 1943, another nominal change was made and the Company became the Amphibious Reconnaissance Company, V (Fifth) Amphibious Corps, Pacific Fleet, or known as VAC Amphib Recon Company. They were shipped to their new headquarters at Camp Catlin on Oahu in the Hawaiian Islands, adding an additional Recon platoon for a total of five. On 16 September 1943, Captain Jones boarded the submarine USS Nautilus for a month-long patrol, assisting in periscope recon of Tarawa, Kuma, Butaritari, Makin and the Apamama Atolls. Jones returned on 16 October 1943 to brief and prepare the Company for their first mission. By 8 November, Captain Jones and the Company were inbound for Tarawa, and later Apamama aboard the Nautilus.
As a result of combat experience, casualties and increased operational commitments, the Amphibious Reconnaissance Company, VAC was expanded, redesignated and reorganized in the Amphibious Reconnaissance Battalion. This titular change created two recon companies: Company A and Company B with one headquarter company, and the 303 Marine Battalion. The 303 Marine Battalion was later consolidated and redesigned as the Amphibious Reconnaissance Battalion, Fleet Marine Force, until it was disbanded at the end of the war on 24 September 1945. 1st Amphibious Reconnaissance Company, from Amphibious Reconnaissance Battalion, was revitalized later in 1954 for a few years until it was subsequently changed into 1st Force Reconnaissance Company in 1957.
Many of the confluences of the methods performed by the late-Force Reconnaissance Companies were improvised and formed by MCTU #1’s only Reconnaissance Platoon, commanded by Captain Joseph Taylor. The Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Lemuel Shepherd, established the test unit to test new and improvised methods of tactics in preparation of the Marine Corps operating strategically, in cohesion or against, the use of nuclear weapons.
Many of the conceptual ideas for Force Recon was pioneered by Major Bruce F. Meyers, the test unit’s “Reconnaissance/ Pathfinder Project Officer” from MCTU #1’s Plans and Development (P&D) Section, an unillustrated subsidiary to operations (G-6) and training (G-7) officer. Major Meyers tested various innovative methods and evaluated their results for use for parachutist and pathfinder methods in in conjunction of using its heliborne and aircraft wing assets, adding ‘deeper’ reconnaissance penetration capabilities, operating further behind enemy lines.
The Marine Corps Test Unit has concluded that parachute reconnaissance and pathfinding capabilities would exist at force-level (the highest echelon of the Fleet Marine Force), above the Marine division in command hierarchy). At first, the concept was to be formed into a Force Recon Battalion. And this battalion would have as many force recon companies as there were division-wing MAGTFs in the particular Marine forces. Recognizing the limited budget during the fiscal year of 1957, it was recommended that instead, it be formed at company-sized elements, for the west and east coast.
Major Bruce F. Meyers relieved Captain Michael Sparks as the commanding officer of 1st Amphibious Reconnaissance Company on June 18, 1957. The next day, 1st Amphibious Reconnaissance Company received orders from FMFPac and disbanded its colors. 1st Force Reconnaissance Company was activated on June 19, 1957 with Bruce F. Meyers as its first Commanding Officer. Captain Joseph Z. Taylor was his executive officer. Although the MCTU #1 no longer existed to experiment, Major Meyers continued to pursue more unique methods in insertion capabilities.
Major Meyers and his top swimmers and senior officers of the company would test and train in submarine lock-in and -out methods and ascending techniques. While cross-trained by the Navy’s Master Divers, they learned the operation of the early rebreather systems, and advanced open water swimming. Meyers also understood that his deep recon Marines will be operating 50 to 150 miles away; in order to get his Marines out of a “hot” area, extraction techniques needed to be developed. Bruce Meyer’s 1st FORECON, along with 1st Recon Company and 1st Marine Aircraft Wing were aware of the McGuire and STABO systems that were used by the United States Army’s Special Forces. The Marine Corp created a system that was more simplified rig that had greater capacity, the Special Personnel Insertion and Extraction (SPIE) rig.
Weapons Planning Group, Code 121
The Reconnaissance/Surveillance Section of the Weapons Planning Group, Landing Force Development Center at Quantico introduced Force Recon to new technological methods of achieving their objective. Many of the tests and evaluations that were tried, resembled the tests of MCTU #1. However, MCTU #1 were testing in methods of inserting reconnaissance teams “deep” in the battlefield. The Weapons Planning Group (Code 121) provided the basis of equipment and instruments that would become detrimental to recon Marines. Beacons for helicopter guidance, laser illuminators for terminal guidance of ordnance deliver, laser range finders, and many more were tested.
One of the reconnaissance officers of Code 121, then- Major Alex Lee, brought most of his testing experiences to 3rd Force Reconnaissance Company, when he was assigned as the commanding officer in 1969-1970. He formed Force Recon’s missions that are still distinct today; remote sensor operations. Also, the Surveillance and Reconnaissance Center (SRC) [predecessor to the Surveillance, Reconnaissance, and Intelligence Group (SRIG)] were formed within the III Marine Amphibious Force (IIIMAF). The obsolete pathfinding operations were taken place by the newer beacons and homing devices.
Vietnam War, 1965-1974
1st Force Reconnaissance Company was deployed to Vietnam in 1965, while 2nd Force Reconnaissance Company stayed behind at MCB Camp Lejeune as a contingency and trained new recruits. During the war, forty-four Marines of 1st Force were killed or missing-in-action. 3rd Force Reconnaissance Company was also formed and deployed to Vietnam during this time. 1st Force Reconnaissance continued in the engagement until 1974 after the U.S. withdrawal.
Mission Training Plan
Training within the Company is outlined by the Mission Training Plan (MTP). It is used in conjunction with the training and exercises that are conducted by the Marine Expeditionary Units for their “Special Operations Capable” certification. It follows a systematic approach to training, and the emphasis is to “train as they expect to fight”.
“The best form of WELFARE for our Marines and sailors is first class training; this saves unnecessary casualties.” —MTP quote by S-3 of FORECON companies.
The Mission Training Plan has five phases, and is based on a two-year platoon cycle. Training is ongoing and continuous, and functions as if it were a loop. Before FORECON operators are “Special Operations Capable” they follow the Company’s MTP, which underlines the training protocol of the Pre-deployment Training Program (PTP).
- Phase 1: Individual Training
- Phase 2: Unit Training
- Phase 3: MEU (SOC) Training
- Phase 4: MEU (SOC) Deployment
- Phase 5: MEU (SOC) Post Deployment
The first phase in FORECON’s Mission Training Plan takes place within the MEU’s Pre-deployment Training Program (PTP) Initial Training Phase. At this point, the newcomer recon operators are training to become full-fledged Force Recon operators by training through the ‘Accession Pipeline’, or there are Marines that have already served with Force Recon served abroad the MEU’s deployment cycle. Which ever the case, they both will attend their respective schools and courses during this phase.
The recon candidates of Force Recon are required to obtain the designation of MOS 8654, Reconnaissance Man, Parachutist/Combatant Diver Qualified. In order to achieve that, they must attend the following courses.
- Infantry Rifleman Course — Infantry Training Battalion, US Marine Corps Schools of Infantry (East or West)
- Basic Reconnaissance Course — United States Marine Corps School of Infantry (West)
- SERE School (Level “C”) — Navy Remote Training Sites; NAS Brunswick, Rangeley, ME and NAS North Island, Warner Springs, CA.
- USMC Combatant Diver Course — Navy Diving Salvage and Training Center, Naval Support Activity Panama City
- Basic Airborne Course— United States Army Airborne School, Fort Benning, GA
- Special Operations Training Group (SOTG) — I MEF, Camp Pendleton; II MEF, Camp Lejeune; III MEF, Camp S.D. Butler
- Military Free Fall School — John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School, Yuma Proving Grounds, AZ
While the newcomer force recon candidates are training to become qualified MOS 8654, many of the “designated” Force Recon (MOS 8654) operators that have already deployed with the Company can continue to remain with FORECON and take advantage of the individual training phase and set up advanced cross-service training at other schools. Although, many of these schools are not necessarily required; the more senior Force Recon Marines, those that remained and stayed for consecutive deployments, would take advantage of the ‘Individual Training Phase’ and attend special schools from other SOF units (since many of them had already completed the required recon, parachutist, and diving schools). Many Marine Corps training liaisons represent the Marines at many cross-services schools, to ensure training slots and openings are met and filled by the Marines that requested, or were recommended, for advanced training.
- Recon and Surveillance Leaders Course — (All team leaders and above)
- Pathfinder Course — (All team leaders and above)
- Low-Level Static Line/Military Free Fall Jumpmaster School — (2 per platoon)
- Mountain Leaders (Summer/Winter) Course — (1 per team)
- USMC Scout Sniper Course — (1 per team)
- High Risk Personnel (HRP) Course —
- US Army Airborne School — (2 per platoon)
- HRST Master Course — (2 per platoon)
- Dive Supervisor Course — (2 per platoon)
- LAR V Technician Course — (2 per platoon)
- Ammunition Drivers Course — (2 per platoon)
- Laser Operators Course — (1 per team)
The second phase of the MTP also takes place during the MEU’s PTP Initial Training Phase.
Training Cell (T-Cell)
The Training Cell (T-Cell) is regulated by the experienced staff non-commissioned officers (SNCOs) of FMF Recon company’s Operations Section (S-3). This removes the responsibility of coordinating training from the platoon headquarters, and permits them to train with their men (rather than to just oversee the training). There are no officers that go on actual missions with the force recon operators, they remain back with HQ Platoon in Operations and/or Communications to keep contact with his platoon(s). As the platoon headquarters may act as a 4th Team under certain conditions, this training is necessary.
“Fight as you train, train as you fight!”—quote by unknown.
An additional and no less important advantage to the T-Cell is that it acts as a training ground for future platoon sergeants. Those assigned to the T-Cell are all highly trained and experienced operators. Some have deployed as platoon sergeants, and some have not. Experienced FORECON operators within T-Cell monitor, evaluate and improve the training to ensure that exercises meet real-world conditions.
Advanced Long Range Communications Package — (3-weeks) It is conducted by the Company Communications Section. As the term Deep reconnaissance indicates, the platoon will operate well forward of other forces. In order to report observations, call for fires or extract, all members need to have a complete and thorough knowledge of the sophisticated comm equipment carried. It includes manual Morse Code, and long-range High Frequency (HF), satellite, multi- band, and digital communications.
Weapons and Tactics Package —(3-weeks) Involves 5000-8000 rounds fired from the M4 Carbine Special Operations Peculiar Modification kit and the MEU(SOC) .45 ACP. A live fire and maneuvering exercise in immediate action (IA) drills within close range of rotary wing support, as well as transportation, is conducted on the third week. As the Marines become familiar with their weapons, they conduct field exercise, force-on-force, live-fire drills using a militarized version of the Simmunitions kit called the Special Effects Small Arms Marking Systems, or SESAMS. The Marking Cartridge ammunition contains a sabot and a small, plastic round encasing a colored detergent, or paint: usually red or blue. equipped with a
Threat Weapons Familiarization Package — (1 week) Concludes “knowledge of weapons” with identification and operation of threat weapons used by adversaries of the United States. Threat Weapons include assault, automatic and mobilized weapons.
Force Fires Package — Gives the Marines a working knowledge of fixed and rotary wing close air support and Naval Gun Surface Fire (NGSF) by utilizing the AN/PEQ-1A Laser Acquisition Marker (SOFLAM) to “paint” their targets.
Mobile Reconnaissance Package — Covers operating and maintaining the M998 HMMWV and the Interim Fast Attack Vehicle. Rapid deployment of FORECON requires fast mobilization. The current IFAV is a replacement of the two earlier FAVs, the M-151A2 and the Chenowth FAV that were employed in the 1980s and 1990s.
Advanced Airborne Package — Extremely important to Force Recon for inserting Marines behind enemy lines. In this three-week period, Marines will transition from conventional LLSL insertions into the hallmark HAHO techniques. Usually it consists of consecutive night jumps with night combat equipment, but HAHO training is also done in the Paraloft of the S3 Section using a complex virtual reality-based (VR) computer system. While wearing a VR headset device, the Marines hang suspended from the Paraloft ceiling that resembles the MC-5 Ram Air parachute. Many simulations are factored in this Virtual Reality Parachute Simulation; it allows the Marine to jump at high altitudes and visually check his main canopy for proper deployment, alleviate malfunctions, to cutaway and deploy a reserve parachute, then employ guidance and control to an unmarked drop zone (DZ).
Combat Trauma Package — Examination of first aid and medical treatment that can prepare Marines in many realistic scenarios where Marines can become casualties. This package is built for Marines to give them confidence and knowledge to apply medical attention to themselves or others while operating in hazard environments whether they are engaged in combat or not.
Amphibious Training Package — (2 weeks) While Marines were introduced to amphibious reconnaissance from the BRC, the T-Cell outlines the Amphibious Training package before they are attached to a MEU(SOC), this package refines their ability to conduct amphibious operations, and conventional and selected maritime special operations capabilities incorporating all their skills for Marines to work as a team. Refreshes long-range nautical navigation, and refines the platoon SOP for conducting hydrographic surveys. Launch and recovery is from a variety of naval vessels, including surface combatants and submarines. This training takes place at Seal Beach and San Diego, CA on the west coast; and Onslow Beach, NC on the east coast.
Combatant Dive Package — Designed for concentrating on the unit’s capabilities in the water. They will learn more about the LAR-V rebreather as they have been taught at the USMC Combatant Dive Course. The T-Cell will introduce the Diver Propulsion Device (DPD) and the “buddy line”, a 15 to 20-foot pipe made from composite plastics that every Marine is attached to when diving. This ensures that the team remain close together as the water may be impossible for visuals contact in subsurface swimming.
Other training packages are available to mold the Marines into a fully functional Recon unit, including long range patrolling in desert areas, such as Twentynine Palms or MCAS Yuma, mountainous terrain and other environments relevant in peacetime or conflict. At the end of Phase 2 Training, the platoon is completely stood up in all aspects of the Deep reconnaissance mission. More importantly, they have spent 6-months of ‘platoon-oriented’ training together.
This 6-month training phase emphasizing more in the direct action, or “black operations”. It is conducted by the Special Operations Training Group (SOTG). This phase takes place during the MEU’s PTP Intermediate Training Phase. These courses involves both aspects of maritime and urbanized environments and how to apply close quarters combat and science in demolition, gas/oil platform Visit, Board, Search, and Seizure (VBSS), shipboard assaults The recon operators get the chance to train in unfamiliar urban areas and maritime structures. (GOPLAT) training, cordon and search, training and humanitarian operations.
Once the SOC Certification Final Training Phase is finished, the MEU with the detached Force Recon platoon as a functionable special operations capable force. Then they sail on a six-month deployment. This long deployment are known as the ‘Deployment Phases’ to Force Recon, they sail from either three locations, off the east or west coast, or Okinawa. The I MEF on the west would deploy its Marine Expeditionary Units (MEUs) to the western Pacific and the II MEF’s MEUs on the east coast sails across the Atlantic to either the Mediterranean Sea or the Persian Gulf. And, the III MEF’s only 31st MEU in Okinawa southwest Asia to central Pacific. The III MEF is the only MEF of the FMF that is permanently fully deployed at all times. to be used as a contingency for reinforced support spanning from
While Force Recon is afloat, they still remain focused on their self-disciplined training sessions. They conduct small arms live fire training on the deck of the ships and physical fitness training. Also in many cases, foreign maritime forces alike participate in joint exercises or training maneuvers, such as the Royal Thai Marine Corps, British Marines, and Australian Forces. But while they may be training, the MEU are capable of projecting fully forward deployed operational task forces. Thus, epitomizing the infamous Marine Corps slogan, “force-in-readiness”.
The last phase is the post-deployment phase. After 18-months of training and deployment, the platoon is granted 30-days of military leave. Once a force recon operator has finished deployment, they have a decision to make. What makes Force Recon unique from Division Recon, and the other SOFs, is the career style that is emplaced in the Force Recon company structure. They can choose to stay with the Force Recon Company and continue their assignment with the MEU, recycling its loop cycle; or they can get release from the FORECON company and go back to their original assignment, whether it being administration, motor transport, or infantry. However, on average, approximately 50% of the platoon will leave, their time in Force having expired.