By Jim Kuiken
Isn’t that an oxymoron?
The popular characterization of Marines is knuckle-dragging, muscle-bound, loud-mouthed guys, either in battle gear running around shouting “Oorah!”, or overbearing bullies in “Smokie the Bear” hats screaming at recruits, and occasionally, in Dress Blues with all the medals, standing solemnly in a parade, at some public building, or folding a flag at a funeral.
Very few folks see them as highly intelligent, adaptable and professional military men…and women! Marines come in all shapes, sizes, colors, religions, genders, etc…because they come from the general population. I know it is hard to believe, but they’re not born in uniform, or like in some of the movies, made into super soldiers in some lab…they’re American people who choose to join the Marines and become “One of the Few, the Proud…”.
I don’t mean to imply that Marines aren’t respected by most Americans (and feared by America’s enemies), and that Marines don’t tend to have a high opinion of themselves and the Marine Corps…an opinion that has been earned, tested and proven… Whenever trouble starts, the first thing you hear is; Send in the Marines!
I’m just saying that the Marines are a lot more complex than you may think. As Gen. William Thornson, U.S. Army said, “There are only two kinds of people that understand Marines: Marines and the enemy. Everyone else has a second-hand opinion.”
One of the most misunderstood thing about Marines is that they are not strictly a ground-pounding bunch of Grunts, but are in fact made up of many inter-connecting facets; from ground and air combat units, to support units, administration and supply, artillery, armored vehicle units, and…wait for it…special operations (Marine Corps style) and intelligence assets, as well as many, many more.
So…back to the intelligence (not of Marines, but within the Marine Corps). The direct intelligence assets within the Marine Corps are varied, but mostly centered in the Marine Corps Intelligence Activity(MCIA) – a national intelligence asset, fully integrated with all the other 3 letter assets. In fact, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA, the military counterpart and partner organization with the civilian CIA) is headed up by a Marine as its director, LtGen. Vincent R. Stewart.
As for the collection assets (those who actually go out and collect information, particularly in the field) in the Marine Corps, that generally falls to the Marine special operations folks – up to lately, pretty well unknown to most people – called Force Reconnaissance, or “Force Recon”. I was privileged to have spent a good part of my Marine Corps career as a Force Recon Marine.
Force Recon has two main missions, which are; “Green Ops” (operations), or deep reconnaissance (DR) missions; and “Black Ops”, or direct action (DA) missions. What we’re talking about here are the deep recon missions, when the Force Recon teams are sent in, normally from 5 miles behind enemy lines up to around 500 miles behind enemy lines, to gather relevant information that can be sent back and processed into intelligence.
Force Recon Marines are highly trained and skilled, with most going through years of training, and many of the schools listed in this Wikipedia article. As an example, here are just some of the schools and training I went through – see SgtMaj James Kuiken (under Military Credentials).
For the guys out in the field, a couple of those schools are particularly helpful. I found the Army Special Forces (Green Beret) Qualification Course (Q Course), and the MAGTF Intelligence Specialist course to be very useful, because they helped with techniques of working deep in hostile areas without support, working with indigenous populations in a cooperative manner, and in differentiating between what were normal activities in those areas, and what was important raw information that could be useful in developing “actionable intelligence”, or real intelligence that commanders could use in planning.
Even though Force Recon Marines go through many special schools and training, we don’t wear any special patches, berets, or other identifying “special” uniforms. As our former Commandant General Alfred M. Gray (a former enlisted Marine, and a Recon Marine) when asked about this said, we don’t need any special forces uniforms. All Marines are special forces. Generally, the only way you can tell a Force Recon Marine apart from other Marines in uniform is that most of them have Jump Wings and a Scuba (or now, Combat Diver) Badge over their ribbons or medals. That isn’t intended to be a special operations identifier, they’re just qualification badges for some of the insertion methods used to get to where they need to be – by parachuting or swimming into the area to do their job.
In short, the deep reconnaissance operations, or Green Ops of Force Recon are an extremely important part of gathering information, deep in enemy, hostile, or not-so-friendly areas, with actual human eyes viewing and interpreting what is going on. The exploits of Force Recon teams, from 2 to 4, or up to 12 men, deep in hostile territories or foreign lands are very rarely brought to light, but you can be sure that they are out there right now – today and every day – gathering the information needed to keep us safe here at home, and supporting the combatant commanders during planning, and during wartime; unseen, but with eyes locked on target.