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Marines Get OK for Special Forces
The News and Observer  |  November 02, 2005
The Marine Corps is getting its own Special Operations Command, and its headquarters and the bulk of the 2,600-strong force will be at Camp Lejeune, the Department of Defense announced Tuesday.

The command will include a special operations regiment, a unit that trains foreign troops and a support group. Part of the regiment will be stationed at Camp Pendleton, Calif.

Some of the command's Marines will come from a Corps expansion authorized in the current federal budget, while others will come from existing units, said Maj. Douglas Powell, a Marine spokesman at the Pentagon.

There's no firm start date, but the command's first leader, Brig. Gen. Dennis J. Hejlik, has already been chosen. Hejlik not only has combat experience, but has served as chief of staff at U.S. Special Operations Command, an umbrella command that oversees Army, Navy and Air Force units -- and which also will include the new Marines force.

The new force is a natural, said said Daniel Goure, a defense analyst with the Lexington Institute, a think tank in Arlington, Va. For years, the Marines have trained and used troops for some special operations missions.

"What you've got is units that are already there, or nearly already there," he said. "This is a clear recognition of existing skills."

Also, he said, by maintaining a tight relationship with the Corps, the Marine special operations unit would avoid problems that special operations units in the other services report, such as little control over their transportation, problems with communications systems and issues getting backup from conventional troops with assets such as armored vehicles.

For years the Corps has been inching toward a full role in the special operations community, which is best known for the Army's Green Berets -- whose headquarters is at Fort Bragg -- and the Navy's SEALs. The U.S. Special Operations Command and the Marines signed a memorandum of agreement in November 2001 to start working together more.

Since then, said Powell, Marines have worked with special ops troops from other services everywhere from the mountains of Afghanistan to the streets of Fallujah.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the elite special operations units have been worked harder than at any point in history. While they've been getting increasingly more funding, Goure said, they've also been losing seasoned veterans to the Army's Delta Force and the Navy's SEAL Team 6. Those secretive anti-terrorist units, he said, are reportedly growing in size.

Also, many veteran special forces troops have been lured into the booming private security industry, where their skills can command salaries of more than $200,000 a year.

Meanwhile, the pool of Army, Navy and Air Force personnel who meet the rigorous requirements for recruits to special operations units has remained flat. So it makes sense, Goure said, to turn to the Marines, the one service that has an all-but untapped pool of troops who fit the requirements.

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