March 20, 2006
Short-lived, elite ‘MarDet’ yields to new order
By Christian Lowe
Times staff writer
It was the only one of its kind, though it derived from Marine traditions dating back to the Raiders of World War II.
It was to be a steppingstone for the Corps’ entry into the special operations world.
It was the cream of the Corps’ crop — the best of the best in a service that deems itself elite by nature.
And after little more than three years in existence, it’s gone.
On March 10, the Corps cased the flag of Marine Corps Special Operations Detachment 1, sending its 86-man team of high-speed shooters, intel specialists, fire-support experts and covert operations planners back into the fleet. Though the unit — known as the “MarDet” — has ceased to exist, its legacy has not.
“The historical precedents of what they achieved probably cannot be stated today,” said Col. Bob Coates, former MarDet commander, in a March 8 interview. “The type of missions we were handed — we were very proud that the trust, the credibility and the confidence was there to execute those things.”
Launched in reaction to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s emphasis on special operations forces to fight the war on terrorism, the MarDet was to be a “proof of concept” to show the Corps could play ball with commando units. After decades of holding the special operations world at arm’s length, realities of today’s fighting forced the service to take a new look at contributing a significant force to U.S. Special Operations Command.
Within little more than three years, the Corps formed, equipped, trained and deployed an 86-man team that experts said performed as well as any of the best commandos the military has to offer.
The unit headed to Iraq in April 2004 as part of Naval Special Warfare Squadron 1, where it executed 23 direct-action missions that yielded nine insurgent leaders killed or captured and disrupted seven improvised explosive device cells, according to a formal evaluation of the MarDet conducted by the Joint Special Operations University based at Hurlburt Field, Fla.
The MarDet’s “assault element is the equal of any of my SEAL task units,” said Cmdr. Bill Wilson, the squadron’s chief, in the MarDet’s assessment report, which was obtained by Marine Corps Times.
‘Planning your own funeral’
The “proof of concept” went so well that the Corps agreed to join special operations formally late last year, and Marine Corps Special Operations Command was stood up at Camp Lejeune, N.C., on Feb. 24.
But despite its success, little of the unit’s organization was preserved for the formation of the MarSOC.
“It’s been kind of like planning your own funeral,” Coates said.
Leaders of the MarDet, and those who helped plan its introduction, had hoped to expand the concept into a slightly larger, more independent force by integrating an aviation element, boosting the headquarters staff and organizing the groups into regionally oriented detachments.
The Joint Special Operations University study suggested starting the formal Marine contribution to SOCom with a 130-man unit headquartered at Camp Pendleton, Calif., “[leveraging] existing … infrastructure, year-round training facilities and proximity to Naval Special Warfare Command.”
“The world wasn’t ready for that,” Coates said. “I think in the end, when the MarSOCs are all said and done, it might come close to that. But only time will tell.”
Shit, but WHY?
Are they going to have a larger SOCOM component to replace the loss?