It's work they've done as far back as World War II, but never before as part of the U.S. Special Operations Command. The change means battalions of Marines will be focused on special ops work just as Navy SEALs and Army Green Berets and Rangers are.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld made the change official after arriving at Camp Lejeune aboard an Osprey tiltrotor aircraft. He said special ops Marines will help "seek new and innovative ways to take the fight to the enemy."
Demand for highly trained special operations forces has increased as the U.S. war against terrorists continues.
"We face a ruthless enemy that lurks in shadows," Rumsfeld said. "It has become vital the Department of Defense and armed forces arrange ourselves in new and unconventional ways to succeed in meeting the peril of our age."
The Marines plan to establish their first special operations company in May and have the command fully staffed with about 2,500 troops by 2010. The command will recruit corporals, sergeants and officers with reconnaissance experience and language training.
As part of the change, the Marine anti-terrorism brigade headquartered at Lejeune will go out of business and shift some of its troops to the special operations command. The command will have combat battalions on both U.S. coasts, along with support units and schools to teach special operations skills to U.S. and foreign troops.
Units to train foreign military officers will deploy within months, Marine Commandant Gen. Michael Hagee said. A special operations company will deploy with an expeditionary unit aboard ships by the end of the year, other military officials said.
The Tampa, Fla.-based U.S. Special Operations Command will control the Marines' special forces.
Special operations will give the Marines "a role they otherwise would not be able to get, to do counterterrorism," said military analyst John Pike of Washington-based Globalsecurity.org.
"The struggle against evil doers is a growth industry and the Marines want a piece of that," Pike said. "The special operations community is getting a lot larger and they need more people."
On the Net:
Special Operations Command: http://www.socom.mil
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