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U.S. Marine Corps Force Reconnaissance

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USMC Force Reconnaissance Patch

Official Name

USMC Force Reconnaissance
Force Recon Marines

Branch

Command Structure

1st Force Recon Co., DRP Co. 3rd Recon Btn.: MARFORPAC; MEF I, III; MEU(SOC) 11, 13, 15, 31

2nd, 3rd Force Recon Co.: MARFORLANT, MEF II; MEU(SOC) 22, 24, 26

4th Force Recon Co.: MARFORRES, Reserves

Description

MEU(SOC) Deep Recon Capability, Special Operations Capability

Readiness

Any shore in the world within six (6) hours of first notice.

Specializations

Deep Reconnaissance, Long Range Patrols, GOPLATS, VBSS, TRAP, Hostage rescue.

Motto

Semper Fidelis
Always Faithful

Units

1st Force Reconnaissance Co.:

Camp Pendleton, California

2nd Force Reconnaissance Co.:

Camp Lejeune, North Carolina

3rd Force Reconnaissance Co.:


4th Force Reconnaissance Co.:


3rd Recon Btn. DRP Co.:


Date of Creation

1954

Purpose of Creation

To supplement Fleet Marine Force with Deep Reconnaissance ability. Later assumed Direct Action roles.

If you were looking for information pertaining to Marine Recon Battalions, there is not an article on them on Wikipedia as of yet. 'Force Recon', discussed here, is a different unit.

United States Marine Corps (USMC) Force Reconnaissance (Force Recon) units are special-purposes units roughly analogous to the Navy SEALs, Air Force Air Commandos, or U.S. Army Special Forces and are widely recognized as the "special forces" of the Marine Corps. Marine Force Recon personnel, or 'operators,' perform highly specialized, small scale, high-risk operations, such as:

Unlike the other special purpose units listed above, Force Reconnaissance units are not a part of the U.S. Special Operations Command, although some Force Recon Marines have been assigned to a special unit, 'MCSOCOM Detachment One', in an attempt to start integration with USSOCOM).

Contents

History

Marine Corps Force Reconnaissance was first conceived in 1954, at Marine Base Camp Pendleton, outside of San Diego, California, when an experimental recon team was formed. Three years later, that team merged with an existing amphibious reconnaissance company to form the 1st Force Reconnaissance Company.

In 1958, half the Marines in 1st Force were removed from the Company and hauled over to the Eastern seaboard, forming the 2nd Force Reconnaissance Company. 1st Force supplemented Fleet Marine Force Pacific (FMFPac), while 2nd, Fleet Marine Force Atlantic (FMFLant).

Force Reconnaissance received their baptism by fire during the Vietnam War, arriving first in 1965 and staying for five years. Forty-four Marines of 1st Force were killed or missing in action through the course of the war.

After US withdrawal from Vietnam, 1st Force and 2nd Force were both deactivated in 1974, and the existing Force Marines were rolled into the non-Force 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion in order to maintain Marine Corps deep recon capabilities. However, the roll-in was never completed to a satisfactory condition, and 1st Force Reconnaissance was reactivated as an individual unit in 1986, and was later deployed in the Gulf War.

Many Force Recon Companies are in existence today, and have been deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Organization

Force Reconnaisance Companies are deployed within a type of larger Marine Corps units called a Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) or Template:MEU(SOC). MEU(SOC)s are deployed onboard Amphibious Ready Groups, a group of United States Navy ships. This group is usually centered around an amphibious assault helicopter carrier (designations for these ships range between LHA, LPH, LHD). There may be as many as three of these groups, with their attendant MEU(SOC)s, deployed around the world at any given time. The mobility and continual rotation of these formations is integral to current Marine Corps operating procedure, which sets a stated goal of being able to field a MEU(SOC) on any shore around the world within six hours of an order being given.

There are currently seven MEU(SOC)s in the Corp. In MEF I WestPac, there are three MEUs: the 11th, 13th and 15th. They responsible for the Middle-East and the Persian Gulf region. In MEF II MedFloat, there are also three MEUs: the 22nd, 24th and 26th. They focus on countries around the Mediterranean Sea. The last MEF, MEF III, has only one MEU(SOC), based in Okinawa, Japan: the 31st MEU.

As of 2004, there are currently four active Marine Force Reconnaissance companies: 1st Force Reconnaissance, based at Camp Pendleton, CA; 2nd Force Reconnaissance, based at Camp Lejeune, NC; 3rd Force Reconnaissance Company, based in Mobile, AL and 4th Force Reconnaissance Company, based in Honolulu, HI. 5th Force Reconnaissance was folded into non-Force 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion as Deep Reconnaissance Company, and is based with 31st MEU(SOC) at Okinawa.

The structure of a Force Reconaissance Company is more similar to that of an infantry battalion than a standard company. The command element includes the Commanding Officer or CO (normally a Lieutenant Colonel), Executive Officer or XO (normally a Major), a Sergeant Major and the S1 (Administrative), S2 (Intelligence), S3 (Operations), S4 (Logistics) and S6 (Communications) officers. The bulk of the Company is divided into six platoons, under a Platoon Commander (Captain) and a Platoon NCO (Sergeant, Staff Sergeant or higher). One of the three platoons is a scout/sniper unit retained from the MEU's Battalion Landing Team. Force Recon units also include United States Navy Corpsmen as integrated combat medical personnel, and, like corpsmen in all Marine Corps units, these corpsmen receive the exact same training as the members of the units they support.

Tools of the Trade

General Equipment

Though much of the basic equipment Force Marines use are also standard issue for other branches of the armed service, they do utilize a variety of equipment not in use by comparable Army or Navy units (partly due to the relatively low amount of funding Force Recon, and in fact, all of the USMC, receives when compared to the Army and Navy). Some unique weapons and equipment include:

The Full Spectrum Battle Equipment Amphibious Assault Vest, Quick-Release (FSBE AAV QR)

Missing image
Force_Recon_-_FSBE_Armor_and_Pouches.jpg
The FSBE vest in U.S. Woodland Camouflage

A lightweight assault vest system that incorporates protection (in the form of soft armor coupled with hard ballistic inserts) with cargo retention capabilities (in the form of various pouches and pockets attached via U.S. standard MOLLE stitching). The entire FSBE kit includes the vest body, a throat protector, a groin protector and an assortment of load bearing pouches (see photo at left). A fully loaded vest with armor plates can prove quite heavy, and is only used in high-risk DA (direct action) missions. This vest is unique in its quick release system, where the Marine can ditch the entire vest very quickly in case of emergency. This quick release (ditch) feature (now also used on newer modular plate carriers such as the Paraclete Releasable Assault Vest) was developed in response to a December 9,1999 CH-46E Sea Knight helicopter crash over the Pacific, where several members of 5th Platoon, 1st Force Reconnaissance Company drowned because they could not eject their heavy armor in time to swim away freely (so instead, their gear dragged them down with the sinking helicopter). Only one Marine was able to successfully ditch his equipment and survive. The FSBE vests are manufactured by Point Blank Armor (US), but Recon operators purchase additional modular load bearing pouches from a number of manufacturers. The FSBE II suite of equipment manufactured by Eagle Industries is currently replacing the FSBE AAVs. The FSBE series replaced the older Close Quarters Battle Equipment Assault Vest (CQBE AV) that had been used by Force Recon since 1996. This kit is available to civilians, with prices for the FSBE vest body starting at $500 USD. This price does not include load bearing pouches or hard ballistic armor inserts.

The Modular Integrated Communications Helmet (MICH)

A lightweight ballistic helmet that incorporates excellent ballistic protection with the ability to interface with most tactical communications headsets and microphones utilized by high-speed units, replacing the bulky standard issue PASGT "K-pot." This helmet is now in use with other highly-mobile units such as the Army 75th Ranger Regiment and various Special Forces operators, and is available in three design varieties. This helmet manufactured by MSA Gallet (France). This helmet is also available to civilian consumers for around $450 USD per helmet. Two versions of the MICH, the 2000 and 2002 models are preferred, difference being that the 2002 has earlobes that extend about half the distance than the 2000-series MICH earlobes.

The MEU(SOC) Pistol

Marine using a MEU(SOC) .45 in Iraq
Enlarge
Marine using a MEU(SOC) .45 in Iraq

Seeing the limits of the standard issue M9 9mm pistol (considered by many to be too large to hold comfortably and lacking in stopping power), Force Recon uses a modified and improved M1911A1 .45 pistol, originally used in World War I and only dumped in favor of the 9mm M9 due to logistic concerns (the US had a quality .45 pistol, but the rest of NATO used 9mm ammunition). The pistol is constructed by highly skilled gunsmiths at the Precision Weapons Section at Quantico, Virginia, and are made from original service M1911 frames dating back to the 1940s. MEU(SOC) pistols use a variety of parts from different high-end manufacturers (they are all hand-built and maintained; no two MEU(SOC) .45s are exactly the same) and are some of the most reliable pistols in the world. When a pistol malfunctions due to wear and is irreparable without special equipment or parts (though this occurs, it occurs rarely: even though Marines put many rounds through their pistols, they also clean and maintain them on a very regular basis), the pistol is sent back to Quantico for repairs. Repairs include changing slides and various parts, but the frames are never changed, as the U.S. government no longer produces them (many of the frames have gone through hundreds of thousands of rounds). Most U.S. Special Forces Operators also prefer the M1911 as their sidearm. The MEU(SOC) pistol will be replaced by the commercially-produced Improved MEU(SOC) pistol. The Interim Close Quarters Battle (ICQB) pistol produced by Kimber for MCSOCOM Detachment One is not a replacement for the MEU(SOC) pistol.

Interim Fast Attack Vehicle (IFAV)

These are deployed and used by Force Recon. Force Recon used to operate a fleet of Chenowith Fast Attack Vehicles (FAV), popularized by the Navy SEALs as the 'black dune buggy.' However, this vehicle lacked cargo capacity and firepower, so Force Recon moved to a militarized Mercedes-Benz G-Class (Geländewagen) 290 GDT diesel 4x4, a much more traditional 'Jeep' type truck. The IFAV is considered "an alternative to walking," though it has numerous defensive weapons, including a Mk 19 automatic 40mm grenade launcher. This vehicle is manufactured by MAGNA STEYR (Austria) for Mercedes-Benz (Germany).

Other Gear

Along with these unique pieces of equipment, the Marines also use more common weapons, such as the M4A1 Close Quarters Battle Weapon (CQBW), the M203 grenade launcher, individual parts of the SOPMOD M4 kit, the M40 sniper rifle and the Marine-specific M14 Designated Marksmen Rifle (DMR), along with the M82A3 SASR .50 anti-material weapon. Machine guns include the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW), the M240 General Purpose Machine Gun (GPMG) and the M2HB .50 heavy machine gun.

Mission-Specific Details and Gear

Here are some common mission gear setups for Force Recon Marines.

Greenside Operations

'Greenside Operations' are operations that are not intended to include direct contact with opposing forces. This encompasses the bulk of traditional Force Reconnaisance missions, usually "deep" reconaissance patrols where the six-man recon teams are usually too far ahead of the main force to expect artillery support or quick helicopter extractions. In these situations, Force Recon Marines will rely on stealth, evasion and training and not firepower to accomplish their mission. Generally, an operator's kit would include:

  • A 'boonie' hat, more recognizable to the general public as a fishing-style hat in camouflage pattern.
  • Camoflague Utility Uniforms, Marines are now issued the new 'MARPAT' Marine Pattern utility uniforms with a 'digital' or pixelized camouflage pattern.
  • A load bearing vest (LBV), a vest with many pouches for carrying ammunition and supplies. This could either be the current standard issue second generation US Modular Lightweight Load-Carrying Equipment (MOLLE) Fighting Load Carrier vest (FLC) or the late 1980s to early 1990s US Integrated Individual Fighting System (IIFS) non-modular load bearing vest (LBV-88) (the latter of which is actually more popular, since the current issue MOLLE is considered not durable enough for prolonged use by many Marines), or an operator-bought 3rd-party LBV.
  • A rucksack, a large backpack for carrying items that need not be often accessed. Many Marines have publically voiced a preference for the seventies-era All Purpose Lightweight Individual Carrying Equipment (ALICE) packs over the unreliable modern MOLLE packs, but individual operators may buy 3rd-party packs which surpass both aforementioned government issue products in durability.
  • Rations, toiletries, fuel, water, ammunition, etc.
  • Primary weapon depends on the Marine's role in the squad. It can range from carbines (M4) to rifles (M16, M14) to squad automatics (M249 SAW).
  • A sidearm may be carried, but usually not in a tactical thigh-mounted configuration.
  • Boots.

Armor (bulletproof vests such as FSBE vests and ballistic helmets) is usually not worn on greenside operations as they are too bulky, trap heat, and generate noise upon movement. Force Recon operators shown wearing armor and helmets in photos when apparently on greenside operations are actually in training, where the armor and helmet are a safety requirement.

Direct Action Operations

Direct Action (DA) or "blackside" operations are operations involving a high probability of direct contact with opposing forces, and can include Tactical Recovery of Aircraft Personnel (TRAP), Gas/Oil Platform (GOPLAT) raids, Vessel/Board/Search/Seizures (VBSS) and other missions involving close quarter battle. The unit may also include special operators as the mission requires, such as explosive ordnance disposal personnel, electronic warfare specialists or others, and the unit may be inserted into the mission area by a variety of means via land, air (parachute drop or helicopter), or an amphibious method. A common operational kit includes:

  • The MICH Helmet and a hands-free communications headset (Usually a TELEX Stinger 700) and tactical goggles. A NOMEX balaclava (a hood with a large opening for the eyes). NOMEX is a fire-retardant fabric developed post-Korean War for use by aircraft pilots. It has since found uses in other missions.
  • NOMEX Flightsuits and NOMEX aviator's gloves. These are usually sage-green in color, but there appears to be a khaki version as well for desert operations.
  • FSBE vest with attached pouches for magazines, grenades, flashbangs, breaching charges, gas masks, medical supplies and communications equipment. Ballistic insert plates are used in this case.
  • High-tensile nylon pistol belt or rigger's belt with suspenders, used to attached more pouches or drop-leg devices. This may be worn like a traditional belt (mostly rigger's belts) to keep their trousers, or as a second belt, specifically for equipment.
  • A thigh-mounted tactical holster (usually a Safariland 6004 holster) with the MEU(SOC) .45 sidearm, at times with an underframe flashlight installed. This sidearm is usually attached to the operator's belt via a retention lanyard.
  • Another drop-belt thigh setup on the leg opposite the operator's handedness, either with a 'dump' pouch, for easily stowing spent magazines, or additional ammunition and munitions pouches.
  • Tactical kneepads and elbow pads, for protection and operator comfort as he moves into various firing positions.
  • Boots, or specialized hiking shoes (seen in Iraq).
  • The primary weapon for Force Recon is the M4A1 Close Quarters Battle Weapon (CQBW), which replaced the Heckler & Koch 9mm MP5 in 1998. M4s can be found configured with a variety of reflex sights and attachments for quicker target acquisition.

The owner of Eagle Industries (http://www.eagleindustries.com/), a manufacturer of high-quality military personal and load-bearing gear, is apparently very close with the Force Recon community, and many Eagle Industries items can be seen in use with Force Recon units.

Photos

Missing image
FORCE_RECON_M4_CARBINE_SHOOT_CQB.jpg
A Force Recon operator in CQB gear. Using an M4 carbine with RAS and wearing both MICH and FSBE. 'Telephone Cord' lanyard can be see on right side, assumingly attached to a MEU(SOC) .45 holstered on the right thigh. Large green pack on his back is a CamelBak hydration reservoir and tube, for quick drinks in the heat of battle.
Missing image
FORCE_RECON_M4M203_PATROL_GREEN.jpg
Force Recon operators in patrol gear. Forward man carrying an M4 with an M203 grenade launcher attached and utilizing Vietnam-era LBE ALICE gear. Man behind to the right carrying an M4 and using current issue MOLLE gear. Note short-brim boonie 'fisherman's' covers.
Missing image
FORCE_RECON_M40A3_DESERT.jpg
Marines from BLT Scout/Snipers Pltn. attachment to 1st Force Recon Company. Sniper is using a USMC M40A3 rifle with Unertl telescope. Spotter utilizing a Leupold spotting scope.
Missing image
FORCE_RECON_IFAV_C130_IRAQ.jpg
Force Recon Marines load IFAVs into C-130 during Operation Iraqi Freedom. M240 Vehicle-Mounted GPMG with ELCAN M145 Machine Gun Optic in foreground.
More Force Recon Marines in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Enlarge
More Force Recon Marines in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Two Force Recon Marines laying prone. Both are outfitted for Greenside operations, and both are utilizing the CamelBak MULE Hydration Carrier/Backpack. Both Marines are using similar weapons: 14.5" barrel A2 carbines outfitted with M203 grenade launchers. Man in foreground also seems to have a SureFire Turbohead-type weaponlight mounted on his weapon's A-Frame front sight at the one o'clock position. It is very rare to see Marines carrying weapons so new and unblemished with wear.
Enlarge
Two Force Recon Marines laying prone. Both are outfitted for Greenside operations, and both are utilizing the CamelBak MULE Hydration Carrier/Backpack. Both Marines are using similar weapons: 14.5" barrel A2 carbines outfitted with M203 grenade launchers. Man in foreground also seems to have a SureFire Turbohead-type weaponlight mounted on his weapon's A-Frame front sight at the one o'clock position. It is very rare to see Marines carrying weapons so new and unblemished with wear.

Final Words

Though Marine Force Recon is not as widely known as Navy SEALs or Delta Force, they are undoubtedly as well trained as any U.S. military unit (they receive training in combat diving, advanced parachute HAHO/HALO, long range and desert patrol, explosive breaching and close quarter battle, extensive oil platform and ship boarding training along with training in MOUT operations).

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